Punjena Paprika (Stuffed Capsicums)

Loads of cultures have discovered the joy of stuffing meat into vegetables – this follows in that same, noble tradition. Some do it with zucchinis, eggplants, even tomatoes. This one does it with capsicum.

Punjena Paprika is probably my absolute favourite, cold weather, Croatian dinner. It’s warming and delectably savoury with a hint of sweetness from the capsicum, all served on a bed of creamy mash.

And don’t even get me started on the divine smoked ribs that slowly cook in this rich, red sauce until they are falling off the bone.

Normally it’s made with the pale yellow capsicums that grow abundantly in one’s family garden. (If you have a Croatian grandparent or neighbour, just ask them, I guarantee they’ll know) However, they’re not readily available in shops so it’s absolutely fine to substitute with small yellow or red capsicums from the greengrocer.

Just use the smallest ones you can find. And avoid the green ones. Yellow is by far the best option, according to my mum at least.

This recipe also uses one of Croatia’s proudest exports – Vegeta. It’s a vegetable stock powder available at most supermarkets. Many Croatians use it on the daily while others eschew it as there is MSG in there.

If you want it to taste authentic, I begrudgingly admit that you have to use it. Or at the very least use a stock cube of some description. If you want to avoid it, use salt and pepper in the capsicum filling and some good quality vegetable stock when adding water to fill the pot.

Ingredients

  • 6 very small yellow and/or red capsicums (if larger, use 4)
  • 500g pork mince
  • 500g smoked pork ribs, available from all good delis
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, additional 2 tablespoons for roux
  • 2 onions, finely chopped, divided into two portions
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup white rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vegeta seasoning or vegetable stock powder and a little extra*
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika and one additional teaspoon for the roux
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 sprig parsley, additional for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste

*If not using Vegeta you will need about 500ml of vegetable stock.

Method

  1. Sauté one of the portions of onion in a little oil on low heat until translucent and soft. Add the crushed garlic, stirring until fragrant. Remove and place in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Add the mince, rice and Vegeta seasoning, mix well.
  3. Slice the top off the capsicums and remove all the seeds. Fill each one with meat mixture. Pack it relatively loosely or the meat will be tough. Leave a little room at the top for the rice to expand. If you have mince left over, roll it into little balls.
  4. Meanwhile rinse the pork ribs and place into a large pot. Place the pot on medium heat and arrange the capsicums inside with the ribs and any meatballs you may have made. Cover with water. Add a little additional Vegeta seasoning and 1 teaspoon of paprika. (If using stock instead, add it now and top up with water.)
  5. Add chopped carrot, sprig of parsley and half of the remaining chopped onion.
  6. Cover and allow to simmer on medium for approximately 90 mins.
  7. When that time has passed, begin making a roux. Heat remaining olive oil in a small frying pan on medium until sizzling. Add flour and stir continuously until a golden brown colour has been achieved – this will take at least ten minutes. (Making a roux can be tricky and may take a little practise. You’re looking for a thick but liquify consistency, mot dissimilar in appearance to tahini but it will get darker. If it’s too thick, add a splash of oil.)
  8. Once the golden colour has been achieved and it has a nutty aroma, add the additional paprika, remaining onion, tomato paste and about a cup of warm water to the roux. Stir vigorously and pour straight into the still simmering pot.
  9. Allow to cook for a further 30 minutes or so. You’ll know it’s done when the meat on the ribs is soft and coming away from the bone.
  10. Serve with mashed potato.

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