I’ve never liked American stuffed peppers. The flavorless pepper, tinny meatloaf filling, and powdered cheese topping always made me think of a decrepit diner’s Monday night leftover special.

But these Peruvian stuffed peppers are vastly different. This recipe is based on Tony Custer’s, from The Art of Peruvian Cuisine; but I’ve altered it quite a bit, through trial and error. I use diced meat (over ground), and macerate the raisins in pisco. The peppers are par-cooked; this not only makes them fork-tender, but also allows the filling’s flavors to permeate the pepper during the baking process. The hot pepper’s fruity heat, combined with the sweetness of the pisco and raisins, create a rich meat filling that far surpasses its American Hamburger Helper counterpart – almost reminiscent of a cream-less moussaka. The Crema de Rocoto – which I’ve also altered by using pisco instead of wine – is a perfect complement. After all, what isn’t better with pisco?

I’ve used bell peppers here, rather than the traditional rocoto – the fiery red Peruvian pepper – which are very difficult to find fresh here in the U.S. You can use canned whole rocoto, if you can find it at your local Latin market; or use poblano, if you prefer. Rocotos are a little smaller than bell peppers; rocotos rellenos are sometimes used as an appetizer.

There are several steps (prepping the peppers and filling, stuffing, and baking); but the beauty of this dish is that you can make the filling (and even the peppers) a day ahead, chill, then stuff and bake the next day. I assure you that it’s worth the effort!

Pimientos o Rocotos Rellenos / Peruvian Stuffed Peppers
Servings Prep Time
4servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
30minutes 1hour
Servings Prep Time
4servings 30minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
30minutes 1hour
Ingredients
Peppers
  • 4medium bell peppers(or 8 rocoto peppers)
  • 4quarts water (2 times)
  • ¼cup sugar (2 times)
  • ¼cup apple cider vinegar (2 times)
  • ½tsp. kosher salt (2 times)
Meat
  • ¼cup vegetable oil
  • 1tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1tsp. black pepper
  • 1tsp. ground cumin
  • 1pound beef, bottom round, visible fat trimmed, small dice
  • 1pound pork loin, visible fat trimmed, small dice
Filling
  • 1large red onion, small dice
  • 5cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2medium plum tomatoes, small dice
  • cup tomato paste
  • ¼cup ají panca paste  
  • 2Tbsp. ají rocoto paste (*see below)    
  • 10each olives, Peruvian or kalamata, small dice  
  • 3each hard-boiled eggs, small dice  
  • ¼tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
  • ¼tsp. black pepper (to taste)
  • ¼tsp. ground cumin (to taste)
  • 3oz. raisins (2 small boxes)
  • ½cup pisco (as needed)
  • 8oz. cheese, shredded or crumbled (mozzarella, queso fresco, etc.)
Instructions
Eggs and Peppers
  1. Hard-boil the eggs in advance; shock in cold water, then dice when cool.  Cut the tops off the peppers, and reserve. Scoop out the seeds and veins; discard.
  2. If using rocoto or other hot pepper: heat water, sugar (1) and vinegar (1) to boiling; add peppers, and parboil for about 3-4 minutes. Change the water, then repeat the process once more, and boil for about 2 minutes. (This process will reduce both the heat and the bitterness of the pepper, while partially cooking the peppers so that they will be more tender after baking.) Remove the peppers and immediately shock them in ice water (or under cold running water) until cool. Drain upside down on paper towels or a wire rack.
  3. If using bell peppers: boil the water with the sugar and vinegar as above; but cook for only about 5 minutes / until just slightly tender. Do not change water. Remove; cool and drain as above.
Meat
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine the meat; season with 1 tsp. each of salt, black pepper, and cumin. Mix well.
  3. Heat the oil on medium-high heat in a large sauté pan; add the meat, and sauté until browned. Remove using a slotted spoon and reserve.
Filling
  1. If the pan is very dry, add 2 Tbsp. more vegetable oil.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onion, and sauté for 6-7 minutes (until very soft and golden).
  3. (After this point, avoid adding extra oil, if the mix is too dry; the filling will become greasy. Add a splash of water when needed.)
  4. Add garlic; sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add tomato; sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add tomato and pepper pastes; cook until darkened to a brick color, and the mix has a strong tomato aroma (3-4 minutes).
  7. Drain the raisins, but do not discard the pisco.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the pisco; when the alcohol scent evaporates (2-3 minutes), add the raisins, and mix well.
  9. Add the meat and mix well. Remove from heat, and allow to cool completely.
Stuffing Peppers / Baking
  1. When both peppers and filling are cool, place peppers in a Pyrex dish. Stuff the peppers; pack firmly, but take care not to rip the peppers. Leave a small space on top for the cheese.
  2. Place a layer of cheese on top of the filling; press firmly, so the cheese is level with the top of the pepper.
  3. Place the reserved pepper top on the cheese as a lid. Cover with foil; “tent” the top, so the foil does not touch the peppers.
  4. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes / until the internal temperature reaches 160° F.
  5. (Optional) Remove the foil; broil for 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese (watch closely).
  6. Remove from oven; serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Pepper Tips

* When working with rocoto (or any hot pepper), be sure to wear disposable gloves. Use a separate cutting board and knife, and wash them separately from your other dishes. Pepper oils remain on the skin, even after washing; and if you touch your eyes or sensitive mucous membranes – well, let’s just say you won’t forget to wear gloves the second time around. Especially if you wear contacts. (Think pepper spray.) Trust me on this one.

* If using rocoto peppers, do not add rocoto paste to the mix (unless you are a suicide wing alumnus, or have a breakup revenge meal planned).

Variations

If you wish to omit the alcohol, use half white grape juice and half water (with a touch of apple cider vinegar) to macerate the raisins.

You can substitute ground beef; but it will render out more fat. If so, ladle out all but about ¼ cup before sautéing the onions.

You can use mozzarella; Peruvian quesillo; or Mexican quest fresco - whichever you prefer.

For a vegetarian meal: omit the egg; and use your favorite ground meat substitute. Follow the recipe the same way, except brown the meat substitute only lightly; and add ¼ cup vegetable oil before sautéing the onions. (The baking time may also be shortened; check the temperature frequently.) Either omit the cheese topping, or add your own favorite cheese substitute. This looks like a good vegan queso fresco recipe! (I'd add it after baking, though.)