Food from the Ones We Love
An interview about stuffed peppers and stuffed schedules by Shua Alatriste
Standing upright in the narrow pale kitchen on the third floor of a West Village apartment building, is a hard working woman. A pot boils in front of her while the smell of delicious food intertwines itself into all the rooms of the house — the spices, vegetables, and broth illuminate the crowded space with an exciting scent. A black plastic ladle swirls around a giant pot of tasty stew, while the chef quickly moves back and forth, chopping, cutting, washing her hands, and returning back to her station with the pot. Her chic glasses sit atop her hair, ruffling her golden blonde bangs in the slightest way. Her flip-flops clack against the floor as she exits in and out of the kitchen, doing one thing then another; she’s always busy.
Lubie Alatriste, mom of two and professor at City College of Technology in Brooklyn, is always putting herself first, sacrificing so much of her time to make sure her family is well fed and happy, even if she has a lot going on. Currently — amidst a slew of college deadlines for her twins and emails between school counselors, she’s still finding time to prepare delicious food for her kids. One of her most well known dishes (in the Alatriste household) is her lovely stuffed peppers, a magnificent concoction of cooked red bell peppers filled with rice and meat, marinated in a broth of tomato paste and various spices. One steaming bowl of this will make your heart melt, and it was time to ask her some questions about this splendid meal.
Q: When did you first start making stuffed Peppers?
A: I started making stuffed peppers many years ago, I’m not quite sure when. When I was a child, I remember my mother making them, and I would be outside with friends doing whatever we were doing, and I would smell the food coming from the kitchen and ugh, it made me so happy I’ll never forget it. My mother made the best food.
Q: How do you make stuffed peppers?
A: It’s a long process.
Q: I’d love to hear.
A: First, you start off by cutting the tops off the peppers, then working on the beef mixture. I cook it with some spices, and some rice. Once it’s done I fill the gutted peppers with it and place them in a large pot with chicken broth and water, and some tomato paste, and let them cook on low for about an hour until the peppers soften.
Q: Is your stuffed pepper recipe the traditional way of making it, or is it a traditionally Serbian dish?
A: Well, as a native Serb, it’s something I grew up eating, but when I moved to London, that’s where I had been eating it at fancy restaurants, and began making it on my own. However, the American way of doing it is to bake the peppers and put cheese, but I don’t do that.
Q: I see. How often do you make this, I mean I love whenever you do?
A: Well… I make it whenever you guys say you want it! Or just when I want to, because I know you’ll be happy.
Lubie adjusts herself and sits upright, intrigued about this conversation. “The preparation for the peppers is fairly simple,” she said. “It costs maybe ten or fifteen dollars to acquire the peppers and rice and other ingredients, and with that I can make a whole meal and feed four people.”
Because eating out is so expensive, Lubie has always resorted to making inexpensive, home-made meals.
“Has anyone else ever tried your stuffed peppers besides us?” I asked. She paused for a minute and smiled. “Well, aside from my family, no one, you’re the only people I cook for, who else do I cook for?” she laughed.
“I would love for people to try my food, but I’m so insanely busy and I’m managing everyone and I have many things everyday on my lists to do, and I just don’t have time. I wish other people could try my food, but not now,” she said.
Lubie teaches at City Tech as an English Language professor. She has taught thousands of students, and is busy nearly every day. Whether it’s grading papers, teaching her classes on Zoom, managing her kids, or cooking food, she always has a lot on her plate.
“As busy as I am, one thing I will never fail to do is be a mother. No matter how hard it is, I will always be there, cooking for my children,” she smiles faintly.
Being an immigrant and traveler for most of her younger life, Lubie traveled the world and experienced many different types of foods and cultures that shaped who she was as a cook.
“Aside from that, I’ve made my own special touches over the years and as an experienced cook, created parts of my own recipe,” she adds.