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Vegetarian Italian Stuffed Peppers: A Delicious and Nutritious Meal Idea

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

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Stuffed peppers are like culinary canvases, ready to be filled with a myriad of flavorful ingredients. 

In a world increasingly embracing plant-based eating, vegetarian meals offer health benefits and delicious flavors and textures. By choosing vegetarian options, we nourish our bodies and support environmental sustainability and ethical food practices.

Let’s explore a delectable recipe that’s sure to become a staple in your kitchen, with the vibrant flavors of Italy and plenty of fiber and protein to boot!

Nutritional Benefits of Stuffed Peppers

Bell peppers alone offer a ton of nutrition, including fiber, phytochemicals, and many vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C.  

Mushrooms offer loads of B vitamins and vitamin D, depending on which ones you buy.

With the lentils, you add a bunch of fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, and more phytochemicals.  This will provide you with longer, steadier energy levels.

The cheese will add fat to an otherwise very low-fat dish, improving both the flavor and the satisfaction you get from the meal. You’ll get a bit of protein as well.

Overall, this is a good, wholesome, and well-balanced meal on its own. If you want more, you could pair it with another vegetable, such as steamed broccoli or a side salad. Or have a 3rd half!

Ingredients for vegetarian italian stuffed peppers all cleaned and prepped. The diced onions, sliced mushrooms, and minced garlic are on a green cutting board, the halved bell peppers are in a glass baking dish, and the remaining ingredients are in clear glass bowls.

Ingredients

As usual, I try to keep my recipes as simple as possible, so I use as few ingredients as possible and still have a yummy dish.

  • Bell peppers – I chose various colors because I thought it would look pretty.
    • I wouldn’t use green, even though it would bring even more color because the taste and texture of green peppers are a bit different than the yellow, orange, and red colors.
  • Onion and garlic – I used a sweet onion, but use whatever you have on hand.
  • Mushrooms – any variety you prefer.
    • Make it easy on yourself and buy them sliced.
  • Protein base – I used canned lentils in this recipe.
    • You could also use chickpeas or white beans or make them from dried rather than canned. This will add more cooking time, though.  
    • If you want to up the protein a bit, you could use one of the mock meat ground beef substitutes instead.
  • Seasonings – I used an Italian blend
  • Marinara sauce – or your favorite red sauce
  • Vegetable broth – you could use water or wine instead, though I didn’t find the wine to add much to this recipe the first time I made it.
  • Mozzarella – pre-shredded is fine
  • Optional garnish – try shredded parmesan, green onions, chives, or parsley.

*Whole grain – most Italian stuffed pepper recipes use rice as a carbohydrate source. However, since I’ve used lentils in this recipe, I chose to omit an additional carbohydrate source. If you use soy crumbles, you may choose to add some rice or quinoa to the filling mixture.

Cooking

To start, preheat your oven to 425°F, and wash and prep all of your produce. You should be able to halve and clean your peppers, dice your onions, mince the garlic, slice your mushrooms, and rinse your canned lentils while the oven heats up.

Cut the peppers halfway through the stem, and remove the core and seeds. Place the peppers, cut side down, on a greased baking dish. Once the oven is to temp, roast the peppers for 10-15 minutes or until the skins start to blister but have not charred.

When the peppers are done, remove the baking dish and set aside.

Reduce oven heat to 350°F. While the peppers are roasting, start on your filling.

Make the Filling

Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat to medium heat.  Add diced onions and saute, stirring frequently, for 7-10 minutes, until the onions are starting to soften.

Add sliced mushrooms (I use my hands to halve the larger slices), and saute until the water the mushrooms release is resorbed. Add minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds.

Add canned lentils, broth, and seasonings to skillet and mix well. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. The mixture should be moist, not soupy.  Remove from heat, mix in 1/2 cup of the shredded mozzarella, and set aside.

Assemble the vegetarian Italian Stuffed Peppers

Remove the peppers from the baking dish. I just put them on top of the filling; no need to dirty another dish.

Pour the marinara into the baking dish and return the roasted bell peppers, this time cut side up. 

Divide the filling evenly between the peppers. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese and return the stuffed peppers to the oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is bubbly.

Optionally: switch the oven to broil during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking to brown the cheese. Watch carefully so the cheese doesn’t burn!

Serve hot, garnished with sliced green onions, basil, and parmesan cheese.

vegetarian italian stuffed peppers on red sauce on a round white plate with a sliver rim

Vegetarian Italian Stuffed Peppers

Get ready to stuff your face (and these peppers) with our delicious vegetarian Italian stuffed peppers recipe!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: dinner
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean, Vegetarian
Diet: Vegetarian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Jenn

Ingredients

  • 4 Bell peppers red, yellow, or orange
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Sweet Onion Diced
  • 8 oz Sliced White Mushrooms
  • 2 cloves Garlic minced
  • 14 oz Canned Lentils
  • 2 Tbsp Italian Seasoning Blend
  • ¾ cup Vegetable Broth
  • ½ jar Marinara Sauce your favorite brand
  • 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese divided

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 425°F.
  • Slice bell peppers in half, through the stem. Remove the seeds and core.
    4 Bell peppers
  • Spray baking dish with olive oil and place peppers, cut side down. Spray top with oil and bake for 10-15 minutes, until slightly softened and skin just starts to blister.
  • Remove from oven and set aside when done. Reduce heat to 350°F
  • Heat olive in a large skillet.
    1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Add diced onions and saute until soft, 6-7 minutes
    1 Sweet Onion
  • Add sliced mushroom and sautee until any water given off my mushrroms evaporates.
    8 oz Sliced White Mushrooms
  • Add garlic, mix well, and cook ~30 seconds.
    2 cloves Garlic
  • Add canned lentils, broth, and seasonings.
    14 oz Canned Lentils, 2 Tbsp Italian Seasoning Blend, 3/4 cup Vegetable Broth
  • Mix well and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Mixture should be moist, not soupy.
  • Mix in 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
  • Remove your bell peppers and add your marinara sauce to the bottom of the dish
    1/2 jar Marinara Sauce
  • Place your bell peppers back in the baking dish cut-side up. Evenly divide your filling between the peppers.
  • Top each pepper with shredded mozzarella and bake for 15-20 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.
    1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • Serve hot, garnished with shredded parmesan or fresh basil, if desired

Nutrition

Calories: 355kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 9mg | Sodium: 1077mg | Potassium: 1550mg | Fiber: 16g | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 4996IU | Vitamin C: 172mg | Calcium: 251mg | Iron: 8mg

*Nutrition Facts are an estimate only. Differences are expected when making substitutions for any ingredient or when different brands are used.

*We may earn commissions from qualifying purchases made through links on our site. These commissions help support our work in providing valuable content to our readers. Thank you for your support!

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Tips for Customization and Variations

The nice thing about a dish like this is that it’s very easy to adapt to your preferences. Here are some suggestions.

Different protein Options

I mentioned above using different legumes in place of the lentils. I would do chickpeas or white beans, but any bean would work. You can pick the bean based on your flavor profile (if different from the one I made).

Other options include soy crumbles (such as those from Gardein or Morning Star), tempeh (crumbled, not sliced), scrambled tofu, or seitan chopped small.  

Different Flavor Profiles

You could really do a lot here just by choosing a different spice blend and leaving the rest of the recipe alone.

Use Mediterranean, Asian, Cajun, Mexican, or any other spice blend instead of Italian seasoning for a different taste.

But you could change it even more if you’re ambitious. 

  • For a Japanese-inspired flare, omit the vegetable stock and use a mix of soy sauce, white rice vinegar, and ground ginger instead. Omit cheese.
  • If you’re craving Indian flavors, season with garam masala and use a jarred sauce, such as tikka masala, butter sauce, or even a saag or palak curry instead of the marinara sauce. Omit cheese.  OR, dice paneer pretty small and mix in with the filling. Love paneer!
  • For a Southwestern (US) dish – switch from lentils to black beans and add fire-roasted diced tomatoes and 1/2 cup frozen corn to the filling (you may need to omit the mushrooms for the filling to fit in the 4 peppers). Season with cumin and chili powder. Swap mozzarella for shredded pepper jack or Monterey jack.
  • “African-style” – (inspired by my copy of The Ethnic Vegetarian) – to the lentils, add 1 can diced tomatoes and 2 Tbsp pine nuts.  Season with ground ginger and cayenne pepper. Omit cheese.  Once done baking, top with 1-2 Tbsp of plain yogurt, preferably Greek.

Alterations for Allergens and Dietary Needs

Gluten-free – this recipe is already gluten-free, as written. Use caution in your ingredient choice if you’re modifying the recipe.

Vegan or dairy-free/dairy allergy – Omit the cheese.  Or alternatively, you could use a vegan substitute instead.

Soy Allergy – This recipe is soy-free, as written.  Use caution when making substitutes, such as crumbled tempeh or soy grounds, instead of lentils.

Alternate Cooking Methods

The filling will likely be best made as described, above in a skillet.  However, how you cook the bell peppers can vary a bit.

Air Fryer – Using an air fryer would resemble making it in the oven. Just make sure to shorten the cooking time. There would be a few key differences, though.

This option would make it difficult to make many servings but would be perfect for making a meal for yourself.  In this scenario, follow the recipe until the filling is finished, but cook only one pepper. 

Stuff the pepper, top with cheese, and place in the air fryer to finish cooking. I’ve found that air fryers vary widely in cooking time. Watch your pepper closely to avoid burning.

While the pepper is cooking, heat up a few tablespoons of your marinara sauce.  Place your pepper halves on your plate, spoon your sauce over the top, and then garnish.

Freeze the leftover filling in individual portions (enough to fill one pepper).  Then, when you’re ready to make your single-serving stuffed peppers, you can thaw what you need.

Slow Cooker – This would probably be my last choice, but you could definitely do it.  Don’t pre-cook your peppers.  Also, Instead of cutting in half through the stem, cut off the top and remove the seeds and membranes. Make the filling as described above.

Pour your sauce into the slow cooker.  Stuff your bell pepper “cups” and place them in the sauce.  Put the top of the peppers back on. Cook on low for 4-6 hours, depending on your cooker and available time.

Serving Suggestions

When I’ve served this dish, I eat two halves myself, sometimes a third if I am really hungry. 

The rest of my family has paired 1-2 bell pepper halves with a small steak (3-4 oz) cooked by my husband.  

This makes a really simple meal.  But you could dress it up more if you choose.  

Consider serving citrusy side salad to brighten up the meal and increase your iron absorption from this meal.

Make-Ahead Instructions

To make this the day before, follow the instructions in the recipe card up until the stuffing is made.  Stuff the peppers and place them in an air-tight container in the fridge. 

When ready to finish the recipe, preheat your oven and add your sauce to the baking dish.  Place your prepped vegetarian Italian stuffed peppers in the sauce and bake for about 10-15 minutes longer than the stated cooking time. 

This is because you’re starting with cold peppers instead of already warmed.  

You could do the same process up to 3 months ahead by freezing the stuffed peppers instead of refrigerating them. All the peppers to thaw overnight in the fridge before cooking. 

Storage and reheating

Store any leftover vegetarian Italian stuffed peppers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Incorporating vegetarian Italian stuffed peppers into your meal rotation adds variety and excitement to your plate and provides a wealth of nutritional benefits.

From the vibrant colors of bell peppers to the protein-packed fillings and aromatic Italian spices, each bite is a celebration of flavor and wholesomeness.

I encourage you to embrace the versatility of this dish. Whether you’re following a vegetarian lifestyle or simply looking to incorporate more plants into your diet, these stuffed peppers offer a delicious and satisfying option.

Remember, the beauty of cooking lies in experimentation and customization. Feel free to play with different ingredients, spices, and flavor profiles to suit your taste preferences and dietary needs.

And above all, approach your culinary journey with a weight-neutral mindset, focusing on nourishment, pleasure, and intuitive eating.

Thank you for joining me on this gastronomic adventure. I hope you enjoy creating and savoring these vegetarian Italian stuffed peppers as much as I have.

Here’s to good food, good health, and the joy of nourishing our bodies with love and intention. Buon appetito!

Jenn in a grey and white half sleeved shirt in front of a beige wall and a abstract city painting

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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