Endlessly Customizable Stuffed Peppers

roasted and stuffed peppers

If you grew up in the United States, a bell pepper, stuffed with ground beef, rice, tomatoes, and cheese is likely a familiar dish. It’s a basic recipe that goes way back, with two types of “stuffed peppers” even featured in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Of course, the idea of stuffing a bell pepper (or other pepper varieties) undoubtedly precedes this 19th-century culinary text. Recipes for stuffed peppers can be found in cuisines all over the world—from Denmark’s “fyldte peberfrugter” (stuffed with bulgur, kale, and mushrooms) to India’s “bharwa shimla mich” (stuffed with a mixture of spiced vegetables).

Indeed, using a bell pepper as a vessel can yield an endless number of delicious and creative filling combinations. Plus, exploring beyond the basic beef and rice combo is a perfect way to try some strategies to reduce red meat and elevate your plate. Stuffed peppers are also perfect for meal prep, portable for lunchboxes, and generally freeze well too if you want to make a larger batch ahead of time.

The “basic” stuffed bell pepper

If you aren’t familiar with this recipe, one serving typically packs about a quarter-pound of ground beef (sautéed with onion and mixed with white rice, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese) into a large bell pepper. Not really an optimal recipe for our health. Beyond the refined rice, this quantity of red meat combined with cheese serves up quite a bit of saturated fat—around 18 grams worth.

Ready to get cooking? Here are a few recipe ideas to get you started:

  • The Upgraded Basic features minor tweaks to the basic beef, rice, and tomato version, creating a healthier recipe with no change in flavor.
  • The New Classic sticks to the classic flavor profile, but incorporates a hearty and savory mixture of lentils and portabella mushrooms.
    • Variations: This recipe also serves as a solid base for incorporating some favorite animal-based foods in small amounts, such as a bit of flavorful cheese or an egg baked on top of the filling.
  • The Southwestern ventures into new flavor territory with a stuffing of spicy chicken, black beans, and a mixture of veggies.

The Upgraded Basic   

green stuffed peppers

Although a diet high in red meat is not optimal for our own health (or the planet’s health), just a few minor tweaks can upgrade this recipe without changing the flavor if you’re looking to enjoy it on occasion.

Compared to the typical “basic” stuffed bell pepper recipe, using lean ground beef at half the amount (and just a little less cheese) cuts the saturated fat per serving down to about 9 grams. You’re still getting plenty of protein—nearly 22 grams per serving. We also added a bit more rice, but switched to brown rice for a nutritious boost, and swapped out tomato sauce for diced tomatoes to add texture and reduce the sodium.

This recipe showcases just one of the many ways to try eating a little less red meat. You can also try swapping for a healthier meat like poultry or seafood, and explore new flavors in the process (for example, this pepper stuffed with spicy chicken and black beans). Or, you can stick with the familiar flavor profile but try some savory and hearty plant-based proteins instead.

roasted and stuffed peppersThe New Classic 

True to its name, this recipe sticks to the classic taste of the “basic” stuffed pepper recipe—but with a new approach to those favorite flavors. Hearty lentils, savory portabella mushrooms, umami-packed tomatoes, and sautéed onions combine with brown rice to deliver a surprisingly “meaty” filling—but without the red meat.

At 12 grams of fiber and virtually no saturated fat per serving, this new classic is a major health upgrade. (Lentils are also known for helping replace nitrogen in the soil—an upgrade for the planet’s health as well!)

Even better is that this recipe provides a solid base for further modification. For example:

  • If you want to increase the plant-based protein content from 14 grams to 21 grams per serving, mix a half-cup of hemp seeds or hemp hearts into the filling—boosting heart healthy unsaturated fats in the process.
  • If you want to incorporate a bit of your favorite animal-based protein, you can sprinkle over some flavorful cheese; or, try cracking an egg on top of the filling before baking.

“The New Classic” stuffed pepper is just one example of how to create hearty and delicious plant-based preparations. These are both filling and flavorful on their own, but also can serve as a solid base to incorporate smaller amounts of animal-based foods—a smart strategy to consume less meat and enjoy more variety.

Stuffed pepper with cheese black beans corn chickenThe Southwestern   

In looking to swap out red meat for healthier meats, you could certainly keep the basic flavor profile and use ground beef or turkey, but why not take advantage of the protein switch and try something new?

This version takes a flavor trip to incorporate “Southwestern” flavors of spicy chicken, black beans, corn, and green chilis. With 29 grams of protein (mostly from the black beans and the chicken), 16 grams of fiber, and only 3 grams of saturated fat, it’s another health upgrade from the “basic” stuffed bell pepper recipe.

Once again, this recipe lends itself well to plenty of modifications. For example, you could easily swap out the chicken for a white fish, like tilapia. Or, a meatless version could increase the amount of black beans and add some roasted sweet potatoes for an additional flavor and texture. You could also try a completely different flavor profile that pulls from other cuisines. There are so many options beyond the basic beef recipe—maybe you’ll find a new favorite in the process!


Elevate your plate

Reducing red meat in our diets can be a win for our own health and the health of the planet. If you’re not quite sure where to start, these strategies can help you cut back the red meat while keeping your meals filling and flavorful.

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