Growing up, there was so much excitement surrounding Halloween. Figuring out my costume and the best route for trick-or-treating consumed the weeks before October 31. Now, I prefer to spend my time crafting a festive menu to celebrate. And these Jack O’Lantern Southwestern Stuffed Peppers are the perfect dinner before the trick-or-treaters arrive.
My all-time favorite costume as a kid was dressing up as a picnic. It figures that it was centered around food! I hung a plastic red checkered tablecloth from two dowel rods across my shoulders, and hot glued paper plates and plastic food to the front. I affixed a few plastic ants near the food, and carried a picnic basket to collect candy. As I went from house to house, there were several women who exclaimed in delight at my creativity and made me pose for a photo. I might have gotten a little extra candy out of them, too!
My brother and I always ate dinner before trick-or-treating. I’m guessing my mom was trying to fill us up so we wouldn’t eat too much candy afterward. These Jack O’Lantern Southwestern Stuffed Peppers are the perfect meal to feed hungry kiddos (and adults) before the fun begins.
The most time-consuming step is carving the faces with a paring knife. I put the rice on to cook while I complete this step. I used a pen to draw the faces, then carved on the outside of the pen markings to avoid ingesting ink. You could also use a pen with edible ink (they’re fun for decorating fondant or confections made with candy melts, too. And they make colored ink versions!). Or if you’re really talented, you could just carve them freehand!
You’ll want to carve the peppers before cooking, and even before cutting the top off. Otherwise, they’ll be too soft or flimsy. I used my sharpest paring knife and it took about 15 minutes to carve four peppers once I had the technique down.
The filling for the peppers cooks entirely on the stovetop, so they don’t need a significant amount of time in the oven after they are stuffed. You don’t want to eat a raw pepper (though I will say, they lose a little of the vibrant color when cooked), so I cooked them in the microwave for 4–5 minutes first. Then I just stuffed them, topped with cheese, and put them into the oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
The recipe is suitable for vegetarians, too. Instead of ground turkey, you can add one can of rinsed and drained black beans. They fit perfectly with the southwestern theme.
For a side dish, this Apple Pecan Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette would be a good pairing for the peppers.
Jack O'Lantern Southwestern Stuffed Peppers
Yield 4 servings
Choose between ground turkey or black beans to fill these festive bell peppers carved into jack o'lanterns.
- 4 large orange bell peppers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 1 lb ground turkey OR 1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed & drained
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling into peppers
- ⅔ cup salsa
- 1½ cups cooked rice (this is approximately ½ cup uncooked)
- ½ cup canned corn, drained
- 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese, divided
- To garnish: chopped cilantro
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Rinse and dry bell peppers. Carve jack o’lantern faces into each bell pepper using a sharp paring knife. I used a pen to draw the shapes first, and then cut on the outside of the markings with the paring knife. If you’re more talented than I am, you could also cut them freehand.
- Cut ½ to ¾ of an inch off the top of each bell pepper. Set aside the tops. Carefully clean the ribs and seeds out of each pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the peppers in a 8x8 inch glass baking dish and replace the top of each pepper. Put ½ inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish and microwave on high for 4–5 minutes, until the peppers are almost tender.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, jalapeño, and turkey (or black beans). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the turkey is cooked through, about 6–7 minutes. Add the cumin, salt, salsa, cooked rice, corn, and half of the cheese. Stir to combine. Cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the mixture is hot throughout.
- Drain the water from the dish with the bell peppers. Divide the rice mixture evenly among the bell peppers. Divide the remaining ½ cup cheese between the tops of the peppers. Bake for 5–7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the peppers are warm throughout.
- Replace the top on each pepper, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.
Use an edible ink pen to trace the faces first, if you wish!
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