Stuffed peppers are the dish of our dreams – easy to make, extremely flexible and very fulfilling. A standard stuffed peppers recipe is made with bell peppers (yellow, green, orange, or red) filled with a stuffing composed of ground beef, tomatoes, cooked rice, cheese, herbs, and spices (most commonly parsley and paprika).
However, this dish has countless varieties depending on the way the peppers are cut, the way the dish is cooked, and, most importantly the ingredients. From national variations to vegetarian options, peppers can be stuffed with any combination of meat, beans, starches, and sauces, which makes them perfect for using up any leftovers sitting in the fridge – think cooked, canned, or frozen foods, leftover roast turkey from Thanksgiving or surplus roast chicken from your yesterday’s dinner.
This post provides a detailed step-by-step guide to help you produce perfect stuffed peppers every time, no matter which ingredients you decide to use.
Prep the Peppers
You will need 8 medium bell peppers (any color).
The key ingredient in every stuffed pepper recipe is, of course, the peppers. The simplified prepping procedure involves removal of the seeds and pre-cooking the peppers. However, more meticulous cooks can choose between two manners of cutting the peppers, as well as two methods of pre-cooking them. Why not try each one of them and see what works best for you?
Cut the Peppers
- Traditionally, bell peppers are kept whole, with only the top cut off and the seeds removed. Use a normal knife to cut off the stem part and a paring knife to remove the seeds from the inside. Turn the pepper over and shake to remove any excess seeds.
- Modern, hip cooks opt for halved peppers. Not only do they provide a cool presentation, but they are much faster and easier to fill because they do not have a giant cavity that needs to be filled. Another upside is that the filling will cook much faster. Cut the pepper in half vertically through the middle, from the stem to the bottom. You can keep the stems and use them as lids for the peppers, or dice and include them into the filling. The third option is to just throw them away.
Pre-cook the Peppers
Why is pre-cooking important? It will shorten the baking time, which is very important for busy people, but also ensure that the filling does not overcook after they are stuffed. There are two ways to pre-cook your peppers, previously cut using one of the abovementioned techniques:
- Steam the peppers in a preheated oven
- Microwave them for a few minutes until slightly softened
Note: While your peppers are pre-cooking, throw together the filling.
Get the Stuffing Straight
The most usual way to make stuffed pepper recipes is to mix and cook the filling before placing it into the peppers. However, if you are short of time, you can opt for raw ingredients. Besides being less time-consuming, raw fillings also leave fewer dirty dishes behind. In case you decide to go with this method, there are a few things to take into consideration:
- Choose halved instead of whole peppers because, as we mentioned before, the filling will cook much faster. Twenty minutes faster, to be precise, meaning that the total expected cooking time of 45 minutes will be reduced to about 25 minutes!
- Make sure not to stuff the filling to tightly, especially if there is meat, in order to allow it to cook quickly and evenly.
- To check the doneness, use an instant thermometer. When it shows 160 degrees F, the dish is done.
- The tricky part here is carb-based foods. If you use uncooked rice, there is a chance that it will end up undercooked because there is not enough liquid. On the other hand, if you add extra liquid, the peppers will get too soggy. For this reason, pre-cooking the rice/carbs is the best solution. Alternatively, leftover rice is the next best thing. The last resort is store-bough pre-cooked rice. Even though it is not very tasty, it will be mixed with the rest of the stuffing ingredients, so you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Common and Less Common Stuffing Ingredients
Meat – one pound lean ground beef
As mentioned before, ground beef is the most common meat variety in stuffed pepper recipes, but roast turkey and chicken are usual substitutes. Note: Cook the meat in a big skillet to speed up the process.
Rice – 1 1/2 cups, cooked
Substitute rice with leftover quinoa, couscous, barley, or whole kernel corn. Note: Add a tablespoon of quick-cooking oats to prevent the dish from getting too soggy after baking.
Cheese – 8 ounces
When it comes to cheese, any type that comes to mind is OK, from Mexican, feta, mozzarella, Monterey Jack to parmesan. Grate it and sprinkle over the top of the stuffed peppers.
Tomatoes – 15 ounces
Tomatoes can be used in various forms – fresh, canned, as a tomato sauce, or even as a salsa, but are considered a must for every stuffed pepper recipe. It’s not just about the flavor they contribute, they also bring the moisture needed to steam the peppers.
Common additions, spices and herbs
Most common additions include onion and garlic, as well as oil (vegetable or, even better, olive oil).
Let’s not forget salt because it is one of the key ingredients. Besides the filling, salt the inside of the hollowed peppers as well. Adding salt to the peppers will transform them from a bland filling cup into a delicious, edible part of the dish.
The beauty of stuffed pepper recipes is that besides the standard filling ingredients, they allow the use of any leftovers or less usual (even weird) favorite ingredients at will. Going wrong with this dish is virtually impossible! We suggest olives, raisins, hard-boiled eggs, grated zucchini, chili, black beans, breadcrumbs, even pasta.
How to Cook Stuffed Peppers Like a Pro
Stuffed peppers can be prepared in several manners – slow-cooked, simmered on the stove top, or even grilled, but the best method by far is baking.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pour a cup of water (or, alternatively, tomato sauce) at the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, then arrange the stuffed peppers. Bake with the rack placed in the middle of the oven.
Baking time depends on the technique used to prep the peppers, as well as on whether the filling is raw or cooked. Generally speaking, the times range from 20 to 45 minutes, or until the stuffing is hot and the cheese is melted. Using an instant thermometer is very helpful – after 20 minutes have passed, stick it in the middle of the stuffing every 5-10 minutes, until it reaches 160 degrees F.
There is one important thing to take into consideration at this point. Stuffed peppers often tend to fall over/apart during baking. Luckily, there is a solution for this problem. Two solutions, to be more precise.
- Cut a small flat piece off the bottom of the pepper to make its bottom more even.
- Make a ‘cup’ with aluminum foil for each stuffed pepper.
Note: in a case of one-day-made-ahead stuffed peppers from the fridge, bake for 10 more minutes.
The Best Side Dishes for Stuffed Peppers
This amazing dish can be stored in a covered, airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days and can be served with different sides each time. Considering that most stuffed pepper recipes are quite rich and flavorful, the sides you choose need to be mild in order not to overwhelm the meal, but rather enhance the overall taste.
Heavier side dishes are reserved for lighter stuffed pepper recipes, like vegan and vegetarian variations that do not include much spices. It’s all about a balance achieved by contrasting the flavors and textures.
Bread is the perfect choice for any meal. Its mild taste and soft texture pairs well with every stuffed pepper recipe, be it light or heavy. Opt for toasted slices which will contribute some extra crunchiness as well. In case you are serving a lighter stuffed pepper variety, choose garlic-flavored bread.
A fresh and crunchy salad like coleslaw, covered in a light vinaigrette is the perfect choice for flavorful peppers stuffed with meat or rice.
Lighter recipes that do not involve starchy ingredients or meat go well with potatoes. Baked, roast, fried, or mashed, served plain or spiced, any kind of potatoes is welcomed!
Wonder which beverage is the best pair for your stuffed peppers? The bitter taste of beer is a great contrast to the sweetness from the peppers! Cheers!
The Best Stuffed Pepper Recipes
The oldest classic stuffed pepper recipe in the States dates from the 1890s, but this food goes much further back in the past. Considered to originate in the Italian, Spanish and Mexican cuisine, this dish appears in many variations and under different names all around the world. We offer just a few national varieties for inspiration.
Stuffed peppers are called ‘pimientos rellenos’ in Spain and are considered a traditional dish, especially in the Basque region. They are commonly made with piquillo peppers and fillings that include chicken as the most popular meat choice, but also cod fish, mango cheese, as well as various spices like saffron, cumin, and chili. The dish is very often cooked in a tomato sauce instead of in water.
Ardei umpluţi is made with bell peppers stuffed with ground pork, rice, and onion. Other vegetables may be included, as well as herbs like dill and parsley. The dish is cooked in a sauce made with sour cream, tomatoes or tomato paste, and spices. Sour cream is also used for serving.
Gemista or yemista refers to both stuffed peppers and tomatoes. To capture the Mediterranean flavor, pack the dish with standard Greek ingredients like olives, fresh herbs, and oregano. Serve with a thick slice of Greek feta cheese or a dollop of chilled tzatziki sauce.
Mexican cuisine has several stuffed pepper varieties. ‘Chile rellenos’ uses roasted peppers, usually green poblano or pasilla, stuffed with cheese and, sometimes, minced meat. This dish is usually covered in some kind of sauce or served in a taco, along with salsa, rice, and other additions.
Another popular variety called jalapeño poppers makes use of hollowed jalapeño peppers, stuffed with the ingredients used in chile rellenos, but deep fried in vegetable oil.
To give your favorite comfort food a Middle Eastern twist, spice the ground beef with some cinnamon and combine with brown rice plus a handful of crunchy, toasted pine nuts. Alternatively, instead of rice, you can use quinoa, bulgur, or farro. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.