Last Saturday brought me a phone call from Kaukab. It had been a few months since she last called and I wasn’t sure what had provoked this special event. The conversation took place whilst watching one of my Saturday morning British comedies.
With Kaukab, only a few topics are allowed; otherwise, the game ends in a forfeit, with Kaukab’s daughter left without an audience.
The topics allowed center around two major categories: food…and weather. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, Kaukab will throw in a consolation category, usually about her fig trees, but only if she’s feeling generous. And, she wasn’t feeling particularly generous that Saturday.
Having a phone conversation with Kaukab is a lot like throwing a boomerang. She asks a question and then immediately answers it while the receiver attempts to insert her own, never fully accomplishing a completion. If said receiver attempts to initiate a new topic, Kaukab merely denies the existence of such topic and throws another boomerang.
Such was the case Saturday. I had mentioned something about making some stuffed peppers a few days prior. Innocent enough. Kaukab’s boomerang quickly sliced through my mention of them and followed up with mention of her own pepper-making. I tried agreeing with her about the green ones being more bitter than the reds and yellows we had both cooked, but it was useless, really. She had already moved on to the weather. Cold and snowy. She asked if it had snowed our way, but I couldn’t answer in time. She had already moved on to the fig trees.
I think my peppers fared better.
The secret to these Mediterranean-style peppers is the spice. Kaukab taught her daughter about the subtle influence of a mixture of spices called Arabic Spice, or Five Spice. I know that it contains cinnamon and some nutmeg, but I can’t recall the others. Just look for either of these names, though and you’ll be fine. Generally, you’ll find these at your Middle Eastern or Indian market, as well as natural or whole foods markets.
I like to make my rice-meat stuffing using roughly a 60/40 rice:meat ratio. To this meat mixture of about 1lb to 1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck (I had a couple really large ones, which I cut in half, lengthwise, plus 4 average-sized peppers, so I used the larger meat amount), I used a couple tablespoons of the Arabic Spice. I also poured in about 1/4 of a large can of crushed tomatoes, garlic salt and worstchestshire. I usually add in 1/2 to 1 small finely chopped onion, but I had forgotten, and really, I think it was perfectly fine without it. So, use it; don’t use it. “It dont matter,” as Kaukab likes to say. Don’t forget to add a little black pepper, too.
I parboil the peppers in the microwave, covering them with plastic wrap to steam. Meanwhile, I make the sauce to pour over. With the remaining crushed tomatoes, I’ll add in about 1/4C worstchestshire, roughly 2 – 3 Tbl. brown sugar, wedge or two of squeezed lemon, and a sprinkle or two more of Arabic Spice. You’ll pour this all over the stuffed peppers, like this:
I pour a bit of water to the pan (about 1C) to loosen the sauce and cover the pan’s bottom to keep the pepper from drying out or burning.
Cover the pan with foil and place in a 375 degree oven for about one hour, or until the meat is browned and rice is cooked.
Don’t worry about having enough. Kaukab’s got her own peppers.