It’s Lent season, which means Christians are in full repent mode and Cajuns are cooking lots of seafood, including boiled crawfish, crab stews, turtle soups — and shrimp-stuffed bell peppers.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, and continues until Easter to prepare the believer for the resurrection of Christ. Meat products were off-limits as part of fasting during my Catholic upbringing; fish, reptiles and crustaceans were acceptable instead. I used to think the Christians who lived in coastal places like Louisiana and Maryland were cheating since seafood was a year-round staple.
And we either had to give up something or do something extra.
Growing up, my mama always decided our penance, and every year was the same — soft drinks. I think it was the only way she had a chance to drink Diet Coke without five kids sipping at it each time they passed by the kitchen counter.
One year, I took on the challenge of adding an extra penance and swore off candy for 40 days. Two weeks into Lent, my sister caught me eating some chocolate. I convinced her that it was only a half-sin and that God wouldn’t really mind since it was my extra penance.
My favorite Lent food is boiled crawfish, but since I live in Maryland now, my access to shrimp is easier. Hence the shrimp-stuffed bell peppers.
Unlike other recipes that I've found online and used in the past, my dad's shrimp-stuffed recipe makes a stuffing that has a jambalaya texture. And, it has a bit of a Cajun kick, of course.
Shrimp-Stuffed Bell Peppers Recipe
6 bell peppers (any color)
2 tbs. oil
2 sm. onions – chopped
¾ c. celery – chopped
2 bay leaves
8 cloves garlic – diced
1 can Rotel
3 tbs. tomato paste (½ sm. can)
1 lbs. shrimp
2 c. cooked rice
½ c. bread crumbs
1 tsp. Tony Chachere’s seasoning
2 c. tomato sauce
¼ c. basil
leftover water from boiling peppers
Step 1: Prepare peppers.
Clean all peppers (de-seed, rinse). Cut in half, if desired. Blanch peppers – boil peppers for 3 min. in water and immediately after, place peppers in a bowl of ice water. This stops the peppers from over cooking. Save the hot boiled water.
Step 2: Sautee onions, celery.
Warm the oil, and cook down the onions and celery on medium-high fire for about 5 minutes.
Step 3: Add bay leaves, garlic, Rotel, tomato paste.
Add the bay leaves, 4 cloves of garlic, Rotel, tomato paste. Cook until the paste becomes more of a sauce, about 3-5 minutes.
Step 4: Add shrimp.
Add shrimp. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are completely cooked.
Step 5: Add rice, bread crumbs, seasoning
Take the shrimp mixture off the fire. In a large bowl, combine shrimp mixture, cooked rice, bread crumbs and Tony’s.
Step 6: Stuff peppers.
Stuff the mixture into each of the whole or half peppers.
Step 7: Add topping sauce.
Place the peppers in a baking dish. Cover the peppers with the topping sauce (see below).
Step 8: Bake peppers.
Bake the peppers in the oven at 350° for 10-15 min.
Step 1: Cook down tomato sauce, garlic, basil.
In a saucepan, cook down the tomato sauce, 4 cloves of garlic and basil on a low fire. Also include the second ½ of the tomato paste.
Step 2: Add water.
After a few minutes, the tomato mixture cooks into a paste. Add about ½ c of the boiled green pepper water to bring the mixture back up to a sauce. Cook a few minutes longer.