Rapper RZA Champions These Vegan Stuffed Peppers for Tailgate Season
(Bloomberg) -- Editor’s Note: As we leave our home kitchens to dine out more, the weekly Lunch Break column has evolved to highlight dishes from a variety of sources: a new or reopened restaurant; a newsmaking person, place, or recipe; or, of course, a great cookbook.
Amidst all the noise around the $7 billion vegan food industry, there’s one segment that doesn’t get much attention: Black-owned restaurants. Its an issue Robert Diggs takes to heart. In mid-September, the legendary Wu Tang Clan rapper and producer better known as RZA teamed up with vegan cheesemaker Violife to launch Plant Grants, a multiyear program that will award $20,000 each to five Black-owned places across the country.
“My question was, how do we help Black-owned restaurants that were struck so hard during the pandemic,” says RZA, via Zoom. “Whether they were vegan or not, we were not discriminating. You could be a rib shack. You just had to have some plant-based items to your menu.”
RZA, a vocal supporter of the vegan movement for two decades, emphasized the multitiered benefits of the award. “It helps the community economically—a restaurant can keep their doors open,” he says. “It also introduces a healthier way to eat.” There’s also a mentorship program, linking together other successful vegan businesses.
Over 200 businesses applied to the program. Among the grantees, which include Seasoned Vegan in New York’s Harlem and Plant Power Café & Juice Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn., is Meek’s Vegan Pizza in Houston. Founder Demetrius Walker opened the spot in early June after perfecting plant-based pizza as a way to entice his son, Hunter, now 9, to give up meat: “I decided that if I can make a vegan pizza that’s delicious enough for him to enjoy, maybe he’ll give veganism a shot.”
“We get lots of college students, who are increasingly becoming vegan and don’t have a lot of options in this town,” says Walker of his decision to open in the Third Ward area, an historic Black community close to the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.
One of the bestsellers at Meeks is stuffed peppers, reflecting customer demand for something besides pies. “I looked at what was on hand: We had pizza toppings, Impossible burgers, Beyond sausage, mushrooms. My first employee, Kayla Lubecki, said, ‘You should make stuffed peppers.’”
She was right. They’re a savory snack that people will crave and happily grab, whether or no their diet includes meat. The very simple combination of plant-based burgers and sausage, mixed with the mushrooms, gives the sweet peppers a hearty, juicy heft with a savory melted-“cheese” umbrella on top. At the restaurant, Walker gives the stuffed peppers an additional, pungent kick with a secret spicy garlic seasoning, which you can approximate at home with store-bought Cajun seasoning and garlic powder.
The stuffed peppers are a great snack for a crowd—tailgate season is back, after all—especially if you don’t know every guest’s dietary status and especially now, with bell peppers at their seasonal peak.
Walker says Meek’s has been much more successful than he anticipated, especially in a meat-focused city like Houston. “It’s not known as bastion of veganism here in the U.S. I didn’t know if I would sell a couple dozen pizzas,” he says. “I’m selling hundreds a week. I’m doing Year 3 projections already, and it’s only the fourth month [in business].”
Still, the $20,000 Plant Grants award is timely. “I’m a big fish in a small pond; it’s tough for me to meet demand. I can upgrade my small pizza oven, get orders out faster.” He’s also looking an expanding to Portland, Ore., which has been called the best pizza city in the country. “There’s room for Meek’s there,” says Walker.
The following recipe is adapted from Meek’s Vegan Pizza.
Testers Note: For the peppers, it’s helpful to use round ones that will form cups when you cut them into wedges. The recipe calls for an air fryer, although a convection toaster oven works, too. You can even hack the recipe with a conventional oven, though you’ll want to sear the plant-based meat first.
Meek’s Stuffed Bell Peppers
Serves 2 to 4
2 medium red, yellow, and/or orange bell peppers
10 oz plant-based burger meat
1 spicy plant-based Italian sausage link, sliced or torn into 10 pieces
¼ lb baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
¼ lb vegan mozzarella, shredded
2 tsp Cajun seasoning, mixed with 1 tsp garlic powder and ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp vegetable oil (see Note)
Vegan hot sauce, optional
Remove the seeds and ribs from the peppers and cut each into five wedges. Mix the burger and sausage meat with the mushrooms. Mound the filling in the pepper wedges. Top with the cheese and sprinkle with the seasoning.
In an air fryer or convection toaster oven, cook the stuffed bell peppers for 10 minutes at 450F, or until the filling is heated through and the peppers are just tender. Let cool a minute, and then serve with hot sauce, if desired.
Note: If you’re using a conventional oven, preheat to 450F, preferably on a convection setting. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and cook the burger meat until it’s browned. Then proceed as directed with stuffing. Bake the assembled peppers in a perforated pan, if you have one, with a baking sheet set on the bottom of the oven to catch drips, for about 10 minutes.
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