Stuffed peppers, that classic casserole style dinner many of us associate with our moms, have a much more colorful and international history. Cultures from around the globe have been stuffing vegetables, for centuries with all sorts of savory fillings. From Bharvan Mirch in India to Dolmas in the Mediterranean to TexMex Chile Rellenos in the Southwest, peppers in particular have been a favorite vegetable to stuff. It makes perfect sense, as these sturdy nightshades are the perfect vessels for meats, grains, cheeses and spices.
For this recipe I’ve chosen the familiar style stuffed bell pepper that has its origins in Central Europe. In place of meat I’m using cooked lentils mixed with rice, dairy free feta cheese and fresh chopped mint. A bit of fire roasted salsa gives it a modern twist and a kick of heat.
This recipe couldn’t be any easier as I have used ready-made lentils, frozen precooked rice and vegan feta from Trader Joe’s. Don’t we just love Trader Joe’s for their fabulous convenience foods? The fire-roasted salsa is from Pavilions though any favorite salsa that has a pureed consistency will work. You could even use an arrabiata sauce. A bit of fresh chopped mint and you’re good to go! I didn’t even add salt. Just a few spoons of the vegan feta brine, which is salty, for added seasoning. Everything is cooked in the microwave and regular oven.
While this combination is delicious, please note that you can change things up with different grains, any fresh chopped herbs and vegan cheese of choice. That’s the great thing about stuffed peppers. Pretty much anything goes. I do recommend using red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, as they are sweeter than the green variety.
I served the peppers with a side salad. That’s all you’ll need as they are filling.
I do hope you’ll try this easy plant based version of a favorite one-pan meal.
Stuffed Peppers with Lentils, Grains, Feta and Mint
Makes 6 large or 8 medium bell peppers
6 Large or 8 medium sweet bell peppers
1 package Trader Joe’s precooked steamed lentils
1 and 1/2 packages (15 oz.) Trader Joe’s precooked frozen rice medley
2/3 cup Fire Roasted salsa (the thick pureed variety) or arrabiata sauce
1 container Trader Joe’s Vegan Feta, drained (save the brine), crumbled and divided equally
2-3 T fresh chopped mint, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Cut the tops off of the peppers, as little as possible. Cut the stem out of the pepper tops and chop up the tops in a small dice. Set aside.
Cut the core out of the peppers and any white fibers and seeds so that they are smooth inside.
In a microwave safe bowl put the peppers cut side down. Add a few spoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 6-8 minutes. Remove from microwave and carefully remove plastic. Set aside.
In the meantime, empty the contents of the lentil package, the rice, diced pepper tops and the salsa into a large microwave safe bowl. When the peppers are done, cover and heat this mixture in the microwave until warm. You’re not cooking this mixture, just getting the chill off. Remove from the microwave and stir in half of the cheese, 2 T of feta brine and 1 T of the chopped mint. Make sure that everything is evenly distributed. Taste for seasoning. Adjust to your taste.
Put the peppers cut side up in an oven safe casserole dish that will just fit the peppers but leave a little space around them. I used a 9 x 13 dish.
Stuff the peppers evenly with the filling. Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes until filling is heated through. Remove the foil and top each pepper with the remaining feta cheese. Increase oven temp to 400 degrees. Bake uncovered for about another 15-20 minutes until cheese is melty and the interior is hot. All ovens are different so you will need to adjust according to yours.
Remove from the oven and top each pepper with fresh chopped mint. Serve immediately
Refrigerate any leftovers. Should keep 4-5 days in the fridge. Can be frozen. Reheat in the microwave or oven at 350 degrees.