Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nana's Stuffed Peppers (Ham only, without rice).

I'm an idiot.

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and it swirls and gurgles and sits like a stagnant pond. This particular idea wouldn't go away, because it occurred to me every time I went grocery shopping.

It goes something like this:
Sausage is delicious.
Sausage is expensive.
I should buy a meat grinder.

Yeah, a fuckin' meat grinder.

Now, normally I can hold these spastic musings at bay. But then I got my tax return. My silly idiot mind started saying things like, "let's just see what Wal-Mart has in the way of small meat grinders," and, "maybe Amazon has something cheap but effective."

And the most insane one of them all, "Think of all the things I could make!"
Like I said, I'm an idiot.

Idiot like a FOX.

The first thing I did was make some delicious homemade chicken sausage.
Oh yeah, that was good. I promise, there will be a sausage post in the future once I get some more practice.

I also started having dreams about my grandmother's ground ham stuffed peppers. 

Now, I don't think it'll be a shock to anybody when I say that my mother and her mother-in-law were NOT the best of friends. Being the baby of my nuclear family, I don't remember much about this relationship.  By the time I came along, it seemed as though Mom and Nana pretty much stayed out of each other's way. The one thing that they wholeheartedly agreed upon was that one of their favorite things to do was to feed my father (well... everybody) delicious food.

This is why the most common phrase found in my mother's stacks of recipe cards was:
"From the kitchen of Margie Smith"

Unfortunately, when I was contemplating this ridiculous purchase I couldn't find anyone who had the recipe for Nana's stuffed peppers. These peppers are absolutely nothing like any other stuffed pepper you've ever had before. There's: 
  • No beef. 
  • No rice. 
  • No tomatoes. 
I had seen my mother make these probably hundreds of times over the years. They were such a huge family favorite, I knew I'd find a version of it on the internet somewhere.

I didn't. 

I searched and searched and searched and could not find a single recipe that came close to what I remembered coming out of my mother's all-in-one blender/food-processor/meat grinder/etc. kitchen appliance.

So I took to Facebook to see if any of the other Smith relatives had this recipe lying around. Luckily, Aunt Sue posted the comment I needed. "Like you, I know it was ham, broken up bread, maybe onions, and spices... That is all I can remember."

This was exactly what I remembered, so I decided to give it a try. Recipes be damned.

It had to be simple. Remember, my mother was feeding 8 people, every day. My grandmother was feeding God knows how many friends and family members. I remember big green bell peppers stuffed to the brim with ground ham, onion, fresh breadcrumbs and spices and baked until the top is crusty and the pepper is tender.

And that's what I did.
Nana's Ham Stuffed Peppers
This recipe can be scaled up as much as you want to feed you, your friends, your loved ones, your dog, your mailman, everybody. I find one pepper to be a gigantic meal, so I'll usually eat half for dinner and half for lunch. This is one of those recipes that tastes exactly the same when reheated, even in the microwave. 

1 good-sized green bell pepper (I only remember these made with green peppers. I'd imagine that any color will work).
1/3 lb. (5-6 ounces) cooked ham (If you use leftover baked ham, this will be even better. I didn't have leftover ham so I just went to the deli and had them cut me a quarter-inch slice of cooked deli ham.)
1 slice white bread (The heel end of a loaf works beautifully)
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
ground pepper
1/2 tsp paprika

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grind together the ham, onion, garlic and bread.
If you don't have a meat grinder, chop the bejeezus out of the ham, onion and garlic. Then use your hands to knead that mixture with the bread, squeezing and breaking up the bread to mix it all together as well as possible. Then chop it more. Then massage. Then chop. Then massage. Then chop. Then massage...

Okay, you can probably stop after the second chopping, I'm just trying my damndest to justify buying this thing.

I then added the salt, paprika and a couple twists from a pepper grinder, mixed it up a little with my hands and passed it through the meat grinder again. (Also, this step is probably not necessary, unless you're still trying to convince yourself that you're not an idiot for buying a fucking meat grinder.)
Lop off the top of the bell pepper. Remove the seeds and ribs from the inside. Make sure the pepper stands up on its own.  If it won't, slice off a little bit of the bottom to make it flat. Stuff the hell out of this pepper. I mean it, pack this stuffing in there. I actually started with 1/4 lb of ham and ended up grinding in more when I realized that I didn't have enough stuffing to fill it to the brim.
Rub the whole thing with olive oil (If you don't mind getting a little messy, drizzle a teaspoon of oil over the top and then use your hands to rub it all over.) Place the pepper(s) in the baking vessel of your choice. Pour enough water into the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. This is not an exact time. If you're starving, you can pull it out after an hour. If you're not ready to eat yet, just leave it in the oven. The top will just get crustier, which is delicious.
Like I said, a whole pepper is more than a meal for me... so I cut mine in half and save the other half for later.
I will post an update when we finally find the original recipe, but in the meantime, this came damn close.


  1. Looks good Mike! The funny thing is that this was one of my LEAST favorite of mom's staple meals! Ha ha ha. Of course, the things I like now, that I didn't like when I was a kid, number in the millions. This one looks pretty yummy! We'll have to try it. Nice work.

  2. Hey Bry! I hated them as a kid too. Eventually I graduated to being willing to eat just the filling, leaving the pepper part for Dad. Now I can't get enough of 'em.