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10-Second Recipes: Turn Your Vegetables into Secret Compartments

(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)

By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate

Rick Rodgers may be one of the only people to have compared red bell peppers to Matryoshka dolls, the famed sets of wooden Russian "nesting" dolls, each with smaller dolls placed inside each other. That's a good reference, though, for The Big Book of Sides author's recipe for tomato- and olive-stuffed bell peppers. Hollowed red bell pepper halves are the secret compartment for plum tomato halves and chopped Kalamata olives, which are all baked together after being drizzled with an extra-virgin olive oil and fresh garlic mixture.

Innovative, fun and nutritious, such vegetable within vegetable fare makes for wonderful light summer dishes. Rodgers' side dish recipe, which he noted was inspired by one that had anchovies rather than olives by famed late food writer Elizabeth David, encouraged me to create the upside-down veggie burger main course that follows.

Usually, a slice of tomato might be served as garnish atop a veggie or meat burger. This time the large hollow, dressing-painted and seasoned tomato is the foundation of a stuffed, crumbled, cooked veggie burger. They are then broiled together to melt the cheese atop and crowned with dill pickle chips and rounds of romaine lettuce leaves before serving.

Here are a few other favorites for vegetables with secret compartments for additional vegetables:

  • Stuff washed, trimmed celery stalks with a mixture of whipped cream cheese, finely chopped pimientos, shredded arugula and chopped dill.
  • .
  • Before baking, fill hollowed eggplant with diced, pitted green olives, cubed carrots, sliced zucchini and corn kernels and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil that's been whisked with curry powder.
  • .
  • Before reheating mostly hollowed baked potato skins, fill with sauteed onions and mushrooms, minced black, pitted olives, chopped chives and top with Muenster cheese. Heat until cheese melts.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The idea tips take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!

Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you - or your kidlet helpers - choose to use can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the baking dish2 red bell peppers
2 small plum tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon (preferably kosher) salt
1/4 teaspoon (preferably freshly ground) black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary or thyme
Yields 4 servings.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 F. Generously oil a shallow baking dish (preferably earthenware) just large enough to hold the bell pepper halves.

Cut each bell pepper in half through the stem and use a paring knife to cut out the ribs and seeds. Cut each tomato in half through the stem and poke out the gel and seeds with your fingertip. Season the pepper and tomato halves with salt and pepper.

Divide the olives among the pepper halves. Insert a tomato half into each bell pepper half. Place the stuffed pepper in the baking dish. Mix the 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and garlic together in a small bowl. Drizzle the oil mixture over the peppers.

Bake until the peppers are tender, about 50 minutes. Let them stand for 5 minutes, or cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

-The Big Book of Sides.

4 large tomatoes, tops cut off and seeds and gel removed 
Store-bought or homemade Thousand Island dressing, to taste      
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste     
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
4 store-bought or homemade vegetable burgers, cooked and crumbled
Cheddar cheese, to taste
Dill pickle chips, to taste
Romaine lettuce, to taste
Yields 4 servings. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Lightly spray a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place tomatoes in dish. With a culinary brush, "paint" inside of tomatoes with Thousand Island dressing. Very lightly season inside of dressing-painted tomatoes with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper, if using. Pack inside of tomatoes three-quarters full with crumbled cooked vegetable burgers. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes, or slightly shorter or longer, just until heated through.

Carefully remove from oven. After removing from oven, turn up oven temperature to broil. While dish is out of oven, top the quarter of each tomato that is unfilled with a small amount of cheddar cheese, still leaving space to fill before serving. Broil, uncovered, until cheese melts, about 30 seconds, watching that tomato skins do not burn.

Carefully remove from oven. Let cool to room temperature so can be eaten by hand. Just before serving, top with dill pickle chips and handfuls of romaine lettuce leaves that have been cut to fit inside or atop the veggie burger-stuffed tomatoes.

QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: Dee McCaffrey writes in The Science of Skinny Cookbook that "the most valuable thing I've learned from cooking processed-free food is that there is almost always a healthy ingredient that can replace a processed one." Following are a few of the examples she gives in an extensive chart: Instead of melting butter, try melting virgin coconut oil. Instead of nondairy coffee creamers, try coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk; instead of refined sugar, try date sugar, raw honey or pure maple syrup.

Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on
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