Springtime is here, and it’s time to make way for fresh, wholesome foods.

If Local Flavor has learned anything over the years, it’s that you never have to sacrifice taste for something nutrient-dense and healthy. Just ask Roberta Brentano. The resident of the East Mountain section of Scranton relies on fresh ingredients (some from her own garden) and healthy substitutes to give classic comfort foods an upgrade.

Her recipe for Stuffed Poblano Peppers – which earned her a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore – is her own creation and a twist on a recipe her mother used to make.

Looking to follow her gluten-free lifestyle, Brentano wanted to swap in an ingredient that was high in protein, which would substitute for the ground beef and rice her mom used for filling in her recipe. A former registered dietitian, Brentano realized if she used quinoa instead, plus added in some walnuts for extra protein and healthy fats, it would yield the nutritional result she wanted. Plus, it would taste good, she said.

“I just kind of made it up one day, and (the quinoa and walnuts) give it a great flavor. Let’s be honest, they have to taste good or nobody’s going to eat them,” she said, laughing.
It paid off, because everyone in her family enjoys them, Brentano said.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers are gluten-free and vegetarian but can be made vegan by using vegan cheese on top and omitting the egg, she added.
Brentano typically makes the dish in the late summer with poblanos from the farmer’s market or from her sister’s organic garden. If she can find the poblanos earlier in the season, she jumps at the chance.

Poblanos have mild to medium-heat, hotter than banana peppers and not as spicy as jalapeno peppers. Brentano sometimes substitutes them with regular green bell peppers, which also can be a suitable alternative for those worried about the poblanos’ spiciness.

The beauty of the recipe is its versatility, Brentano said.

“It can be what you make it,” she said. “There’s all kinds of ways to change up a recipe by adding ingredients or swapping them in to tailor it to your diet and preference.”

Brentano is known by friends and family – including her husband, Patrick, their two children and two grandchildren – for her plant-based and health-conscious recipes. She makes different kinds of smoothies and juices, which help target specific health concerns, as well as kombucha and sauerkraut, which both are great for gut and bone health. She even creates healthy snacks such as kale chips, which she bakes in the oven with all kinds of flavors and spices. Brentano also belongs to several hiking groups and forages in the woods, bringing back different varieties of herbs as well as mushrooms and more to add to the health benefits of her cooking.

Brentano has seen major improvements in her health since she tweaked her diet years ago, from the way she feels each day to the results she’s gotten back from doctors.
“It’s amazing what food can do for us. It’s absolutely amazing the effect changing our diet even a little bit can have on our bodies,” she said. “Healthy eating doesn’t have to mean boring, either.”

Roberta Brentano’s Stuffed Poblano Peppers

6 poblano peppers, washed, cut lengthwise, deseeded and steamed until tender
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
1 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon (or more) dried cilantro
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Cayenne, to taste (optional)
Black pepper, to taste (optional)
Habanero, to taste (optional)
Chipotle, to taste (optional)
Salt, to taste (optional)
1 egg (preferably certified humane), beaten
6 slices jalapeno jack cheese, cut into halves (or vegan, organic or goat cheddar)
Heat olive oil in a small pot. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Stir in quinoa, water, walnuts and seasonings. Cover and cook over low heat until the water is absorbed.
Place steamed peppers in a single layer in a 9-inch-by-12-inch or similar baking pan.
Mix the egg into the quinoa until well blended. Divide mixture evenly and spoon into peppers.
Cover each with a half-slice of cheese. Bake at 350 F until cheese is melted. Serve with a green salad and dried fruit.