Do you remember Tex-Mex 7-layer dip, the outrageously popular appetizer and party buffet table mainstay of the 1990s? I’ve certainly dunked more than my fair share of tortilla chips into that wonderful dip while attending other people’s parties. However, I’ve never actually served it at my own. This appetizer always struck me as too filling, too addictive, and thus too likely to ruin my guests’ appetites for whatever dinner I was serving that night. In fact, 7-layer dip seemed to me better placed as an ingredient for a main course, rather than a starter.
This recipe, which includes a vegetarian option, is an effort to follow through on that last thought above, and the result pleases me no end. Here a lighter variation on the ingredients list of 7-layer dip is used as a filling for baked bell peppers: seasoned black beans, reduced-fat sour cream (or yogurt) flavored with chipotles and cilantro, avocados, cheese, fresh tomatoes, green onions, and black olives. Please note that this is intended as a flexible recipe and can comfortably accommodate an eighth layer of chopped chicken, beef, or pork. As a test case, I added leftover smoked pulled pork to one of the peppers made for this recipe and thought the flavors melded together beautifully.
2 slices bacon, chopped (or substitute 2 teaspoons olive oil for a vegetarian version of this dish)
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1 1/2 cups home cooked or canned black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
A small pinch of dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large or 6 medium-sized bell peppers
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
2-4 finely minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce)
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (coriander greens, dhania, etc.)
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup coarsely grated cheese (Monterey jack, cheddar, or queso blanco)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons pitted and sliced black olives
- In a frying pan, saute the chopped bacon until lightly browned. Stir in the minced garlic and saute until golden. Stir in the drained black beans, cumin, oregano, and red pepper. Cook for one minute, taste, and season with salt and pepper, if the latter are needed. Set aside. (For the vegetarian version of this dish, substitute 2 teaspoons olive oil for the bacon and proceed as described above.)
- In a small bowl, combine the sour cream (or yogurt) with the chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and cilantro. Set aside.
- Prepare each bell pepper for stuffing by cutting off its stem end to create a “lid”, as shown in the photos above. Scoop out each pepper’s core, seeds, and any excess white pith. Place the bell peppers, cut side up, in a shallow glass or ceramic baking dish just large enough to accommodate them and poke a tiny hole (with a toothpick, for example) in the base of each pepper.
- Stuff each bell pepper, in order, with layers of the black bean mixture, sour cream (or yogurt) sauce, avocados, cheese, tomatoes, green onions, and olives.
- Add 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the baking dish and bake the stuffed bell peppers covered at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes until the peppers are cooked through and lightly browned on top. Serves 4-6.