Hearty Greek Stuffed Peppers (Vegetarian and Gluten-Free!)
With a family consisting of two dedicated carnivores, one vegetarian, and one gluten-sensitive eater, you can probably imagine that coming up with a single entree everyone can enjoy is kind of tricky. Sure, I’ve mastered the art of making meals in components—meat on the side, a bread or pasta I can skip—but a single creation everyone loves is always the Holy Grail.
After some experimentation and a few different tweaks, the recipe below—based on this recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen—has proven itself to be a crowd-pleaser. Traditional stuffed peppers include ground beef, which my daughter won’t eat, and any of the packaged “veggie crumbles” products we could use as a stand-in contain gluten. Cutting tempeh into small pieces and marinating/frying it amps up the Greek flavoring as well as serving as a decent meat analog (not to mention upping the overall protein of the dish).
Ingredients for Greek Stuffed Peppers Recipe
6-8 large bell peppers (any color you like)
1 small onion
10-12 oz. baby bella mushrooms
9-10 oz. bag fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic
1 cup (dry) brown rice
1 15 oz. can vegetable stock
1 large (19 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 8 oz. package tempeh
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
2 TBL oregano
1/4 c. + 1 TBL olive oil
2 TBL soy sauce (make sure to use a gluten-free variety or tamari if gluten is a concern; I used La Choy Lite, which is wheat-free)
optional: wine or balsamic vinegar
Directions for Greek Stuffed Peppers Recipe
To Do Ahead:
Let’s start by talking about tempeh, because this is not an ingredient a lot of non-vegetarians use much, and if you don’t prepare it correctly it doesn’t taste good. Straight from the package, tempeh has kind of an acrid aftertaste. This is easily mitigated with strong marination, and as with anything else, the longer you marinate, the better the taste. I like to put the tempeh into a marinade the night before, but if you can’t, I recommend marinating for at least a couple of hours.
To marinate the tempeh: Cut it into half-inch or smaller squares, then put the pieces into a quart-sized zip-top bag. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 TBL of soy sauce, 2 crushed garlic cloves, a tablespoon of oregano, and the juice of one lemon. Squish it all around, make sure your bag is tightly sealed with as much air squeezed out as possible, and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.
You can also cook the rice a day or two ahead, if that makes your life easier. I use a rice cooker—which means I can use a little less liquid than the traditional stove-top method—and one dry cup of rice plus one can of vegetable broth yields a perfect, flavorful batch of rice for me. If making your rice in a regular pot, one cup of dry rice requires a full two cups of liquid, so you may wish to top off with a bit of water. When the rice is done, I usually put it into the mixing bowl I’ll be using the next day and store it in the fridge.
When You’re Ready To Cook Dinner:
Preheat oven to 375F. Cut the tops off of your stuffing peppers, core out the membranes/seeds inside, and trim the bottoms flat so that they won’t be wobbly in your pan. Save all usable trimmings and dice up for use in the filling. Also dice up your onion and cut up the mushrooms (larger than a dice, though, because they’ll shrink quite a bit).
Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until it begins to brown. Next, add the mushrooms and stir frequently until they give up their liquid. If you like a lot of flavor (I do), you can hit the mushrooms with a glug of wine or some balsamic vinegar, too. Finally, add your peppers and cook for another minute or two, until they begin to soften. Remove this mixture to the large bowl your cooked rice is in, and return the frying pan to the stove.
Now it’s time to fry the tempeh. (Make sure you remove the garlic cloves! That would not be a good surprise for someone.) Do a quick tossing of the pieces over medium-high heat until everything is caramelized and crispy. Remove the tempeh to your bowl and return the frying pan to the stove again.
At this point, you want to dump your spinach in the pan and wilt it down, then—say it with me—remove it to your large bowl, and then I also like to give the chickpeas a quick ride in the pan with a little wine or balsamic vinegar, too, before adding them to the bowl.
Your mixing bowl is now overflowing with delicious ingredients. Add a tablespoon of oregano, a few grinds of pepper, and salt (if needed; between the vegetable broth and soy sauce in the marinade, it may not be necessary), and mix it all up until well incorporated. Once these ingredients are evenly distributed, mix in most of the feta cheese (save a little for topping) and the juice of another lemon if you’re a lemon fan (I am). Mix one more time, and now you’re ready to stuff the peppers.
Kalyn suggests holding the peppers over the stuffing mixture one at a time rather than trying to spoon into the peppers in the baking dish, and she’s right, that’s a lot less messy. Pack the peppers as tightly as possible—you want to fill them completely, and the mixture doesn’t expand—and set them into the baking dish. More filling than peppers? Extra can be cooked in a ramekin or a muffin tin and eaten as is. Cover the baking dish with foil and cook for 30 minutes, covered, before removing the foil and pressing the remaining feta into the peppers as topping. Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes more before serving.
These peppers are delicious and surprisingly filling, plus they’re so nutritious you can have dessert and still feel virtuous. (I speak from experience.)