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From Scratch: Fake a meaty stuffed pepper meal with lentils


If you are searching for a pulse with a long history, look no further than the humble lentil.

In the Book of Genesis, we learn that Esau gave up his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. In today's litigious society, I'm sure this rash decision would be contested. To this day, though, lentils are still esteemed as a tasty, inexpensive, fast-cooking protein.

One of my favorite ways to use lentils is for stuffing peppers. Although fresh tomatoes won't be seen till next summer, the markets are still full of brightly colored bell peppers.

The usual way is to stuff them with a mixture of ground beef and rice. Lentils will supply this meaty taste at a fifth of the cost. Because of their size, they readily absorb all of the flavors of their cooking liquids to produce a savory dish.

For visual appeal, I like to use a mix of green, orange and red peppers. Despite what social media says, the number of lobes on the bottom of the pepper doesn't affect taste. Choose peppers that are regular in size and shape so they will lie flat when you are baking them.

For the lentils, the bagged supermarket variety is fine. If the recipe makes too much for your needs, keep in mind that they freeze well and can be reheated in a microwave for a quick dinner.

To begin, prepare the following.

Stuffed Peppers

5 bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise with seeds and ribs removed

1 cup lentils

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup fresh tomato pulp or 1/4 cup tomato sauce

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons currants or raisins

1 tablespoon pine nuts

3 to 4 tablespoons bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Pick, wash and drain the lentils.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-size saucepan, add the carrot and onion, and saute over a medium heat until they begin to brown. Blend in the lentils, add the wine, and cook until the wine is reduced by half.

Add 3 cups of water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are cooked, about 45 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil, add the garlic, and saute for 1 minute over medium heat. Stir in the tomato pulp, rosemary and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add the lentils and cook another few minutes to combine well.

Remove from the heat and blend in the currants, pine nuts and 1 to 2 tablespoons bread crumbs — enough to absorb any excess liquid.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Stuff the pepper halves with the lentil mixture. Place the peppers in a large baking dish. Add enough hot water to the dish to bring it one-fourth of the way up the sides of the peppers.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs with the Parmesan and sprinkle over the peppers. Dot the top of each pepper with the remaining tablespoon of butter and bake until the peppers are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.