Unstuffed Bell Peppers with Seitan

Nearly every year, my husband and I take a trip to Bokeelia, Florida. Bokeelia is a tiny town at the top of Pine Island. Most people haven't heard of Pine Island before, but it is just north of Sanibel Island, and north west of Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida (map). My husband's grandfather bought the property years ago, so all of Martin's family has memories of growing up here. Pine Island itself is very rural, less than 10,000 people live on the entire island (and most of them are retired). 

I love living in the heart of a city, but I also love visiting Pine Island. I love going for a run just after the sun has risen while the air is still brisk. I say hello to all the morning walkers. 

I love visiting the sandbar in Charlotte Harbor during low tide. The water is so shallow it barely comes up to your ankles. The oysters peek up above the water, and the dogs have never had so much fun. 

Oysters on the sandbar

Exploring the sandbar during low tide

I love taking the little sailboat out and spending the entire afternoon lounging on the boat. We try to sail to Cayo Costa, a nearby island with a state park and wonderful beach, but often the wind is not in our favor and that is OK with me. 

The sliver of land on the left is Cayo Costa

I love taking the motor boat with the entire gang of relatives to other nearby beaches. It takes us forever to pack up, and I often feel like we've brought the kitchen sink with us, but we have a great time snorkeling, fishing, swimming, playing in the sand, reading, sun bathing, and spending time with family. 

My nephews and brother-in-law play in the waters at the north side of Gasparilla Island

The south side of Gasparilla Island is busy but still beautiful

I love exploring new places. This year, Martin and I joined his sister and her family on a day trip to Palm Beach. They recently fell in love with surfing and were hoping to catch some waves on the Atlantic coast. Along the way, we stopped to catch a glimpse at Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states (second only to Lake Michigan). It was less than impressive where we stopped. Perhaps there is more water on the other side of the marsh.

Lake Okeechobee

The waves were a little too rough for the novice surfers, but that didn't stop us from playing in the water the entire afternoon at Riviera Beach. 

The nephews check out the big waves at the Atlantic Ocean

Another day, Martin and I drove down to the south side of Pine Island to explore St. James City. It's more of a small town than a city. We didn't find much to do during the day there, although there are a lot of places with live music at night. We did, however, find a little trail and decided to go on a short hike through the native plants of Pine Island.

Hiking on Pine Island

Eating out in this area as a vegetarian is not easy. With a group as large as ours, we typically cook meals at home. I had a craving for some seitan, which inspired this recipe. This is a soul warming dish, the kind you eat on a rainy day in Florida or a snowy day in Minnesota. It tastes like it takes all day to make, even though it doesn't. To make this vegan, simply leave off the optional cheese garnish. It makes a lot, so feel free to half it if you need.  However, it makes fantastic leftovers!

I've been in Bokeelia, Florida for almost two weeks now, and my regular life is tapping me on the shoulder. Appointments to be made, friends to see, new recipes to try. I love visiting Bokeelia, but city life is calling to me. The weather has rejuvenated me from the tough Minnesota winter. I don't want to wear my winter jacket again, but such is life. I will find comforts in other places, like in Unstuffed Bell Peppers with Seitan. And wine. 

Unstuffed Bell Peppers with Seitan
15 servings | 60 minutes | Print

3 cups brown rice
5 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 ounces seitan (either store bought or try my favorite seitan recipe!)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
4 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes (about 60 oz total)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper (to taste)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/2 cup prepared pesto
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
tabasco sauce

  1. Cook the rice: rinse the rice well. Place in a large pot with a tight fitting lid along with the water. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low simmer. Let cook for about 35-40 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit until ready to use (ideally let sit for at least 20 minutes).
  2. Chop the seitan into 1/4 inch pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the seitan and cumin. Cook, stirring frequently, until brown on most sides. Remove from the skillet. 
  3. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers and zucchini. Cook until soft and slightly browned. Set aside with the seitan.
  4. While the seitan and vegetables are cooking, pour the diced tomatoes into a large soup pot. Using an immersion blender, puree until silky smooth. (Or, puree using a blender or food processor and then put in the pot.) Turn on the heat to medium. Add the vinegar and sugar. Taste and add more vinegar if you want your sauce to be more tangy and add more sugar if you want it sweet. It should be well balanced. Add the salt, black pepper, red pepper, and pesto. 
  5. Stir the seitan, vegetable mixture, and the cooked brown rice into the tomato sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Let simmer on low for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors meld. 
  6. To serve, sprinkle each serving with shredded cheese and a few drops (or more) of tabasco sauce. 

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