For many years, the UK was not exactly recognised as a gastronomic hotbed. Overcooked meat, soggy vegetables, pools of grease, bland sauces, and stodgy, oversweet puddings characterised its culinary offerings. Heaven forfend that you should mention you were vegetarian, because a funny look wouldn't have gone amiss, whilst at best you could expect a rather limp, watery pepper stuffed with something unpleasant and coagulating, or a portion of lasagne comprising overcooked pasta, thin tomato sauce, and burnt bits. If you weren't averse to meat, you'd probably prefer to chew off your arm.

Thankfully, this has changed, really quite radically, over the past fifteen or so years. So whilst Heston Blumenthal has been occupying himself with snail porridge and Gordon Ramsay has been extolling foie gras, vegetarian food has benefited from experimentation and a growing interest in local food. In fact, we think that British vegetarian food is some of the best in the world.

Consequently, we're on a mission to restore the honour of the stuffed pepper, because if you get them right, they are absolutely gorgeous and they deserve better than to be associated with unfortunate memories from the 80s. And we definitely don't have any ulterior motives, no, not one. Nothing concerning how easy they are to make, particularly when you're mass catering, nor that they are perfect vehicles for meat or vegan stuffing.

Ingrediments for twenty, as part of a buffet

  • The base
    • 10 bell peppers (we recommend using a mixture of red, yellow, and orange, but not green) — halved lengthwise through the stalk and deseeded

  • For the vegetarians
    • 1 onion — finely chopped
    • 250g (8oz) risotto rice — arborio came out of the larder
    • 1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
    • 100g (3oz) dried apricots — chopped
    • 50g (2oz) sultanas
    • 1 tspn cinnamon
    • 1 tspn cumin
    • ½ tspn paprika
    • 20g (1oz) brown sugar
    • Water
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Splash of olive oil

Method — meat-filled

Chop your onion up finely and heat up a fry pan with a little oil in it. Fry the onions until soft.

Add the lamb and the spices then cook until brown.

Add the chopped apricots (and sultanas if you feel the urge) and cook until soft. Combined these steps should take about fifteen minutes and could be done during cooking the rice section if you are good at multitasking.

Allow to cool; you can drain the fat off by placing on kitchen towel/paper if you wish.

Fill your pepper halves with the mix, packing it in thoroughly into all the corners.

Place the filled peppers in an oven proof dish and add about a centimetre or half an inch of water to the dish. Place in the oven at 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit) for roughly 40 minutes until the peppers are tender. If you find the meat is burning, cover with foil to stop them getting too dried out.

For a little decadence you could add about 150grams (5oz) of crumbled feta cheese to mixture before stuffing or sprinkled on top of the stuffed peppers.

Serve hot or cold.

Method — vegetarian

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large saucepan. If it's non-stick, so much the better: the sugar content of this is quite high, so sticking is a very real possibility. Fry off the onion until soft and golden, which should take about five minutes. Add the rice, and cook for two minutes. It should have a glassy sheen to it. Now lower the flame to something altogether more gentle, and tip in the tomatoes, the spices, the dried fruit, and season it. Now give it a vigorous stir. But not so vigorous that you break up the grains of rice. That'd be bad.

You're pretty much making a risotto here, so when all the juice from the tomatoes has been absorbed, you'll need to add some more liquid. We use water, because this recipe is already full of strong flavours. Add a few spoonfuls of water at a time, stirring after each addition and until the rice is almost cooked. Not quite, but almost. You should have a sticky, tasty mass of rice ready to stuff into your peppers.

Stuff the rice mixture into your peppers.

Arrange your stuffed peppers in a heatproof oven dish and pour in some water to a depth of one centimetre, or half an inch. Sprinkle the top of the stuffing with a little brown sugar. Bake in the oven at 180° Celsius for roughly 40 minutes. The peppers should be melting and tender and the rice cooked through. Serve either hot or cold.