Healthy eating and college donâ€™t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but knowing the right tricks can help turn eating right into a daily routine. Let Kiersten Ferno be your guide for navigating the health-food scene without taking a chunk out of your schedule. Welcome to the inFerno.
Growing up, my Italian grandma was a constant source of scrumptious Italian food, but her stuffed peppers werenâ€™t exactlyâ€¦healthy. Instead of stuffing peppers with high-carb, low-nutrient ingredients, Iâ€™ve put a veggie twist on this Italian favorite.
What youâ€™ll need:
4 bell peppers. These colorful, crunchy veggies are a huge source of vitamin C, A and fiber.
Â½ medium Spanish onion.Â A larger, milder-flavored onion is better for a dish like this, in which a sharp, onion flavor isnâ€™t necessary due to the boldness of the garlic.
1 can of crushed tomatoes.Â Weâ€™ve been through thisâ€¦ tomatoes are chock-full of antioxidants. Boom â€“ cold season survival!
Â½ bag of frozen spinach.Â Fresh baby spinach is preferred, but well, weâ€™re in college. Popeye didnâ€™t gulp down cans of this super food for no reason. Name a vitamin- betcha itâ€™s in spinach. Itâ€™s also a great source of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids (the good fat that your body needs!)
1 cup of wild long grain rice.Â This grain is high in fiber, chock-full of magnesium (important for strengthening your bones and your immune system), and potassium (an electrolyte that builds protein and metabolizes carbs.)
2 cups chicken broth.Â Broth is full of the nutrients and the flavor of chicken. Weâ€™d suggest buying low-sodium, organic chicken broth to avoid any preservatives and a sodium overload.
Â¾ can of black beans.Â Beans have low carbohydrate content, high protein content, and zero sodium. (Woo, that means no bloating!) Theyâ€™re a good replacement for a standard protein like meat, which can often contain fat. Be sure to drain and rinse before cooking- that liquid wonâ€™t do well in the peppers.
Â½Â cup crumbled Asiago cheese. Since cheese has high sodium and fat content, this will act as your â€œsalt.â€ Asiago adds a rich flavor to the stuffing, and it creates little gooey pockets of deliciousness inside the peppers â€“ yum!
Â½Â tablespoons minced garlic.Â Itâ€™s an Italian tradition. I canâ€™t help myselfâ€¦ garlic has a powerful flavor that pleasantly accents, um, everything. Even chocolate.
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.Â Little did you know, this bad-boy of the pepper world increases circulation and lowers cholesterol.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Boil rice in chicken broth (instructions are on the back of the bag) – cooking usually takes about 30 mins. Pay attention to it towards the end to avoid burnt rice and a crusty pan!
3. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Toss in minced garlic (buy it in the jar for easy access). Dice onion and let it sautÃ©e with garlic and olive oil on medium heat. Doing this allows the flavor of the onions and garlic to release and infuse the olive oil, creating a bolder flavor for the dish.
4. Microwave frozen spinach in bowl for 45 seconds, drain and squeeze out excess liquid.
5. Add crushed tomatoes, spinach, and rice to pan.
6. Let cook on medium heat for 5 mins or until all the veggies are softened, stirring occasionally.
7. Finally, add the beans to mixture. (If you stir too often or too aggressively the beans will break down and create a â€œmush.â€ Ew!)
8. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and fold in crumbled Asiago cheese. Turn off heat.
9. Cut off tops of peppers and clean out seeds and veins, then scoop mixture into empty peppers.
8. Place peppers standing up in baking pan. Sprinkle tops with any leftover cheese and bake for 35 minutes or until peppers start to soften.
9. Serve with a spoonful of tomato sauce, a sprinkle of cheese, and a dash of red pepper flakes for an extra kick.
Tip from Inside the inFerno:Â This filling meal-in-one is an awesome first fall Â dinner. Welcome to October!
Photos by Elysia Mann