Why should meat lovers get to have all the fun?! These healthy Italian Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers are packed with all of the flavors of this classic dish. And they're a breeze to make!
Vegetarian stuffed peppers seemed like a necessary addition to our meal rotation, since my Greek Stuffed Peppers have been a long-time favorite of all of my boys. And since I seem to be on a vegetarian-vegan streak in the last two weeks (Vegan Spring Rolls and 15 Vegan Dinner Recipes are Exhibits A and B), I thought I'd continue the trend.
This meatless and gluten free recipe can be easily varied depending on your tastes and pantry staples. More suggestions below!
Tips for making stuffed bell peppers (vegetarian)
- Making these meatless stuffed peppers is similar to making versions with ground turkey or ground beef (see more details in the next section), with a couple of small changes.
- In place of meat, use some sort of cooked legumes, such as lentils or beans. I opted for chickpeas in this Italian-inspired recipe, but I've also made them with cannellini (great northern) beans, which works equally well.
- Feel free to switch up the grain to suit whatever you have on hand. I chose to use quinoa because it cooks quickly and I often have packages of cooked quinoa in the freezer. Other options are brown or white rice (classic ingredient), farro and barley.
- While some people swear by cooking the grain (rice, etc.) in the pepper, this has never worked for me. Instead, cook the grain separately and stir it into the skillet with the beans/meat, tomato sauce and vegetables.
- Taste your filling! Before transferring the filling to the peppers, taste it and adjust the seasonings. The filling is where most of the flavor comes from in this dish, so you want it to be just right.
- If you prefer to give this recipe a southwestern feel instead, use black beans or pinto beans instead of chickpeas. For the seasoning, swap in cumin, paprika and chili powder. Serve with some chopped avocado and cilantro.
WHAT YOU NEED FOR THIS VEGETARIAN STUFFED PEPPERS RECIPE
- PEPPERS: The recipe calls for red bell peppers, but yellow or orange bell peppers work equally well. Could you use green peppers? Yes, but the flavor will be a little different.
- AROMATICS: Chopped onions, carrot and a few cloves of garlic.
- TOMATOES: Use good-quality canned crushed tomatoes.
- CHICKPEAS: I like to use chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) in this recipe. Be sure to drain and rinse them well. Cannellini or great Northern beans can be substituted.
- QUINOA: Keep cooked and frozen quinoa on hand to make meal prep even easier. Try making quinoa in an Instant Pot. Easy substitutes are cooked brown rice or cauliflower rice. All are good gluten-free options.
- HERBS & SPICES: Dried Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes can be found in the spice aisle of any well-stocked grocery store. Add minced flat-leaf parsley to the sauce.
- CHEESE: A mixture of part-skim mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses (animal rennet-free Parmesan for vegetarian) melt well on top. For vegan stuffed peppers, either leave off the cheese or substitute with a store-bought vegan cheese option or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
See recipe card below for full ingredients list & recipe directions.
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How to make vegetarian stuffed peppers
CHOOSING THE PEPPERS: First step? The peppers, of course! The classic stuffed peppers, at least when I was a kid, were made with green bell peppers. However, many people (my family included), aren't on board with green peppers. Sweet bell peppers of any color work really well!
PREP THE PEPPERS: Cut out the core and stem of each pepper, cut in half lengthwise and remove any seeds or membranes. A 9- by 13-inch baking dish has enough room to fit the six pepper halves in a single layer.
COOK THE BASE: Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, plus a little salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender. That should take about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook for one additional minute.
ADD AND SIMMER: Stir in the chickpeas, canned crushed tomatoes and a little salt. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the cooked quinoa and parsley.
TASTE & SEASON: This is the time to adjust the seasonings. Taste the filling and add additional salt, pepper and/or red pepper flakes to suit your palate.
FILL THE PEPPERS: Arrange the pepper, cut side up, in the baking dish. Divide the chickpea mixture evenly between the peppers.
BAKE: Pour a little water into the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.
TOP WITH CHEESE: Don't forget the cheese! Uncover the peppers, and top each with some mozzarella and Parmesan cheese (if using). Bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
What to serve with vegetarian stuffed peppers
VEGGIE SIDES: Try a simple vegetable side dish. Choose something that will cook in the time that the stuffed peppers are in the oven.
SALADS: A simple green salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette is always a great option. Or try one of these other salads.
Make-Ahead and Storage
- Prepare the Filling: You can prepare the filling for your stuffed peppers in advance. After cooking and seasoning the filling, let it cool to room temperature. Then, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Assemble and Refrigerate: If you want to go one step further, you can assemble the stuffed peppers up to one day in advance. Fill the peppers with the prepared filling, place them in a baking dish, and cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil. Refrigerate until you're ready to bake.
- Refrigerating Leftovers: If you have leftover stuffed peppers, allow them to cool to room temperature. Transfer them to an airtight container and refrigerate within two hours of cooking. Leftover stuffed peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Freezing Stuffed Peppers: Stuffed peppers can be frozen for longer-term storage. Here's how to do it:
- Allow the cooked stuffed peppers to cool completely.
- Individually wrap each stuffed pepper in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.
- Place the wrapped peppers in an airtight container or freezer-safe resealable bags.
- Label the container or bags with the date and contents.
- Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: To reheat stuffed peppers from the refrigerator, you can use the microwave for a quick meal. Cover with a microwave-safe plate or microwave-safe lid to retain moisture and prevent splattering. Heat on medium power for even reheating, checking periodically until the desired temperature is reached. Alternatively, you can reheat them in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for about 20-30 minutes or until heated through.
- Reheating from the Freezer: To reheat frozen stuffed peppers, it's best to thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, you can reheat them using the microwave or oven as mentioned above. Thawing in the refrigerator ensures even reheating and helps maintain the texture and flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! You can make vegan stuffed peppers by omitting the cheese or using dairy-free alternatives. Nutritional yeast can be a great vegan substitute for a cheesy flavor.
Leftover can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, then reheated in the microwave. Cool the stuffed peppers, then transfer to an airtight container and transfer to the refrigerator.
The recipe is already gluten-free if you use quinoa or cauliflower rice as suggested. Ensure that other ingredients, such as canned crushed tomatoes and seasonings, are gluten-free as well.
To reheat stuffed peppers, you can place them in the oven at 350°F (175°C) until heated through, typically for about 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, you can microwave them for a few minutes, ensuring they're covered to prevent drying out.
Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers Recipe (Italian-Style)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion chopped
- 1 large carrot cut into ¼-inch dice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 14 ounce can of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
- 1 ¼ cups cooked quinoa
- ¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley divided
- 3 red bell pepper cut in half lengthwise, seeds & membranes removed
- ⅓ cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (animal rennet-free for vegetarian)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, chickpeas and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked quinoa and 3 tablespoons parsley.
- Place the pepper, cut side up, in a large baking dish. Divide the chickpea mixture evenly between the peppers. Pour ½ cup water in the bottom of the baking dish.
- Cover tightly with foil and cook until the peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese over each pepper. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes.
- Garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley. Serve.
This post was first published in April 2019 and updated on September 14, 2023.
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