Happy Monday! You know what that means. Welcome to my third addition of #MeatlessMonday. Today I bring you one of my favorite things in the world, Italian Stuffed Peppers, veganized! Vegan Italian Stuffed Peppers are an accessible, delicious dish that can be on your table in about an hour, and that includes making your own sauce!
I have to admit: it’s pretty difficult to veganize Italian stuffed peppers. The two main components, beef/sausage and cheese, are what you really think of first when you think of these. I used to make them like this all the time, because that’s how my family made them. Then I started using ground turkey instead of beef. And now, for the past 2-3 years, I’ve been successfully making some delicious vegetarian stuffed peppers.
But I really wanted to try a vegan version for this Meatless Monday. The first thing I thought of: no cheese. No cheese was going to be hard. Real hard. I love the super cheesy tops that get just a little browned in the oven. And a sprinkling of Parmesan is a must.
Okay, stop! Don’t lose all hope. You can do this. So, this is what I did…and I think it’s really delicious, bright, and healthy. I made a sauce from scratch, but worry not. It’s one of the easiest sauces you can make. It’s full of flavor from using high-quality canned fire-roasted tomatoes (and, bonus: convenient), and adding your typical Italian staples: garlic, oregano, a bay leaf. The sauce is crazy good. It thickens and reduces and gets all saucy while you prepare everything you need for your peppers. So start the sauce first. Then, puree 3/4 of it until it gets super thick and creamy, but leave the other quarter of it just a little chunky.
Then, the peppers. They get a little sauna in the oven first with a healthy brush of olive oil before even being stuffed to soften them and bring out their sweetness. Then, they get stuffed with brown rice and TONS. of. veggies! Kale, broccolini, zucchini, shallot, celery, oh my!
And tons of veggies definitely ain’t a bad thing, especially when they’re super fresh, cooked with olive oil and garlic, and enhanced with tons of bright herbs.
Brown rice goes in the mix too, of course. And some toasted walnuts for lovely texture and meatiness, and olives for a nice salty bite.
If you want to make these vegetarian and not vegan, sprinkle on that cheese! You could certainly add in a vegan meat substitute, too, or top it with vegan cheese. But this dish keeps things simple and really lets the fresh produce shine.
These vegan Italian Stuffed Peppers are proof that enjoying Meatless Monday can be delicious, accessible, and fairly easy, too.
- 2 28-oz cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- heavy pinch black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 6 peppers, cut in half from top to bottom, and seeded (to make 12 halves)
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large shallot, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 3 medium zucchini, diced
- 1½ cups finely chopped broccolini
- half a bunch kale, stems removed and finely chopped
- ½ cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped black olives
- 1 generous handful each chopped parsley and basil, plus more for garnish
- Start the sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sauce pot. Once hot, add the garlic and saute until softened and fragrant. Add the canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili flake, bay leaf, and oregano. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 40-45 minutes, until thickened.
- You can make your stuffing and prepare your peppers during this time.
- Once done, discard bay laf and puree about ¾ of the sauce in a blender until creamy. Return to pot and mix with remaining chunky sauce.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cook brown rice and set aside 2 cups (from about ¾-1 cup dry).*
- Prepare peppers. Cut peppers in half from top to bottom. Seed peppers and brush with olive oil and salt and pepper. Lay peppers cut side down on a foiled or greased baking sheet and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep saute pan. Once hot, add the shallot, celery, and garlic, season with sea salt and pepper and cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Next, add the broccolini and cook until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add in zucchini and kale and cook 5 minutes more, until the zucchini is tender and the kale is wilted.
- Lastly, add in the walnuts and olives and heat through. Adjust mixture for seasoning by adding more salt if necessary and set aside.
- Once the sauce is done, spread an even layer on the bottom of a large baking dish.
- Place the peppers cut side up.
- In a large bowl, mix the vegetable mixture with the brown rice, ½ of the sauce, and a large handful each of chopped parsley and basil.
- Stuff the peppers well with the mixture.
- Cover the peppers in additional sauce, reserving some sauce for serving.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake the peppers for 20-25 minutes, until bubbly and tender.
- Serve with additional sauce and a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs and a touch of sea salt.