Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew

We’re still savoring the comfort food chapter.  I think it’s because of the frigid temperatures that I don’t feel like doing anything but cozying up to the fireplace (if only we had a real one) with a bowl of hot, homey and hearty comfort food. 
I’ve been craving Romanian comfort food, lately; something other than stuffed cabbageor pork goulash.  And to be honest, I’ve been dreaming of Grandma Vicki’s Stuffed Peppers recipe for a while.  This recipe has been on my to make list, but I wanted to somehow avoid the two inconveniences that the recipe entails: first, I wasn’t eager to waste my time in the kitchen stuffing pepper after pepper; and second, those little gypsy peppers traditionally used in this recipe are mighty hard to find in wintertime.  So, how to make a stew without having to spend an outrageous amount of time putting it together?    
But then it happened that a couple of weekends ago, Adrian and I paid a visit to our friends’ house to watch some English soccer games.  After lots of yelling and cheering while watching the games, Gretchen served us a delicious stuffed pepper stew.  The stew had all the ingredients for a stuffed peppers recipe but everything was chopped and blended together; and she called it “a deconstructed stuffed pepper stew”.  And the little lightbulb went off in my head!  Thank you Gretchen for helping me decide how to approach my grandma’s stuffed peppers recipe!  I have to admit that, once I heard the word “deconstructed” I wanted to race home and make the stew right away. 
Before attempting the impossible, I called my grandma and explained how I wanted to transform her beloved stuffed peppers recipe.  Of course, she said that I was crazy and that it would never work.  But, guess what, it worked out beautifully!  Only the aspect of the stew is radically different from my grandma’s recipe but the flavors that I love are all there.  In fact, I would say that there are various nuances and depths of flavor in this dish.  It’s also nourishing and it incorporates everything from proteins to starch and veggies. 
Of course, being a Romanian dish, I was indebted to throw in a smidge of paprika to coat the onions and meat in a mild pungency and give them that beautiful red color.  But the meat, rice, peppers and tomatoes are all able to shine through and add texture despite being engulfed in a sea of sweet, savory and tangy tomato sauce.  And then you sprinkle a few chopped leaves of parsley on top for a lovely green color and much desired freshness.  You could even argue that this stew is similar to a chili; a Romanian chili with rice but without beans.  Ultimately, this Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew is a filling, flavorful and homemade Romanian comfort stew!
Deconstructed Stuffed Pepper Stew
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki
Makes: 6-8 servings
·         6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
·         1 large yellow onion, chopped
·         Salt and black pepper
·         1 Tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
·         1 pound ground pork
·         2 large red peppers, cut into ½ -inch chunks
·         1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
·         1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
·         2 Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ cup white rice
·         A small bunch of parsley for garnish, chopped
·         Sour cream (optional)

Heat 4 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion, season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the paprika and stir well.  Add the ground pork, season with salt and pepper, and stir well to coat with the paprika.  Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.  Add the red peppers and diced tomatoes and give it a good stir.  Cook for 5 minutes.
Combine the tomato sauce with ½ cup of water and pour it over the ingredients in the pan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the sugar and stir well.  Add ½ cup of water and stir.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes.
In the meantime, rinse the white rice in cold water.  Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over high heat in a small saucepan.  Add the rice and stir.  Add 2 cups of water and season with a good pinch of salt.  Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked.  When the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and cover the saucepan with a lid and let it sit until the stew is cooked.
When the stew is cooked, add the rice and stir well to incorporate. Check the seasonings and add more salt and sugar if necessary, for that perfect balance of savory and sweet.  Simmer for 5 more minutes.  Serve with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream on top.
Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)        

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