13 Ingredients That Will Give Your Stuffed Peppers A Delicious Upgrade

three stuffed bell peppers
three stuffed bell peppers - Esin Deniz/Shutterstock

Historically, bell peppers were originally cultivated in Central and South America and then imported across the border where they were swiftly incorporated into many household favorite dishes. The colorful veggie variety now does grow in the U.S., mostly in the Northeast, but nowhere near in the same volume as further south. That said, the product is extremely popular on grocery lists across the country, as are recipes that use them as the main ingredient.

Stuffed peppers are a staple on many home menus due to their simple but flavor-packed makeup. While versions can vary in ingredients and spices used, the majority of classic stuffed pepper recipes use ground beef (or turkey as a leaner option), cheese, and maybe rice or vegetables for variety. This is a great mix of nutrients and tastes, but sometimes the tried-and-true recipe can become a bit stale to our tastebuds. Luckily, we've rounded up 13 great additions and alternatives that will elevate your next batch of stuffed peppers. There's quite a bit of diversity in our list too, ensuring you'll have plenty of options for months of menus to come!

Read more: French Cooking Tricks You Need In Your Life

Chicken Parm

chicken parm dish
chicken parm dish - RFondren Photography/Shutterstock

The U.S. has always had a penchant for taking cuisines that have immigrated here and adapting them to American palates, which is why favorites such as Chinese food taste different in America. Some of the most popular dishes in the country are actually a lot more American than people often realize, such as Orange Chicken (Chinese-American) and Chicken Parmesan (Italian-American). The latter is very much an American invention, which is why it makes for an ideal filling for another nationwide favorite, stuffed peppers.

Most common recipes often use ground meat, but adding a slice of chicken parm to peppers is a sneaky way to pair a veggie with a dinnertime favorite and spice up your stuffed peppers. And it's quite easy to do. Just dice up some grilled or breaded chicken, add to blended Parmesan, mozzarella, marina sauce, and your choice of herbs and presto! A tasty new favorite to enjoy. Chicken is a great alternative to beef (the traditional choice of pepper filling) as it's a leaner protein. Thus, you'll get all the benefits of protein, without excess fat or cholesterol. And if you're still looking to get some additional vegetables, olives, tomatoes, and zucchini are all also great additions to this recipe.

Use Eggs Instead Of Meat For Protein

egg in bell pepper
egg in bell pepper - Anna Shepulova/Shutterstock

So, we know that meat, usually of the ground variety is the typical choice to fill stuffed peppers. However, what if we told you it's quite easy to make a vegetarian version? Well, it is, just sub-in eggs for the meat. The great thing about this is you don't sacrifice protein intake as eggs pack a lot in with each one having 12.6 grams of protein on average, per the USDA.

This is a great veggie-friendly option that can still have the perfect mix of protein and legumes. So, whether you're cooking for your vegetarian sister-in-law or just trying to reduce how much meat you eat, here are some ideas. One option is to crack an egg directly into each pepper and bake them in the oven, along with other additions such as cheese, tomatoes, beans, or whatever you like with your eggs. Alternatively, you can cook a separate scramble (again with all your favorite fillings) and pre-bake the peppers a bit before filling them and warming everything together before serving. It's the perfect dinner dish that can then be re-heated for a tasty breakfast, and pairs great with either a salad or a side of rice in the evening, or a cup of coffee and fruit in the morning.

Mix In Mediterranean-Inspired Ingredients

red cherry peppers filled with soft cheese
red cherry peppers filled with soft cheese - from my point of view/Shutterstock

Mediterranean cuisine has been a favorite amongst Americans looking to shake up how they eat for decades. If you need a refresher, check out this guide to the Mediterranean diet. In general, it means prioritizing fresh plant-based foods, as well as proteins that are rich in healthy fats or omega-3 oils. Traditionally, in countries along the Mediterranean, like Greece and Italy, this has meant home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, seafood, and cheese. That's why all of those are prominent in the two countries' cuisines and why a "Mediterranean" or "Greek" salad is typically comprised of all of the above.

Luckily for stuffed pepper enthusiasts, all of that makes a great recipe to put in one of America's favorite veggies. This is a very plant-heavy recipe, with cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, zucchini, feta, and/or mozzarella making up the filling. If you want a bit more protein (although you will get some from the cheese), feel free to add canned tuna or salmon. You can also serve these veggie-only peppers alongside a meat main course. Either way, you'll quickly be transported to another continent through your taste buds. These are sure winners on a hot summer day when maybe you don't feel like firing up the barbecue.

Add Rice And Beans

three stuffed peppers with tops
three stuffed peppers with tops - AlexeiLogvinovich/Shutterstock

Another veggie-friendly version of stuffed peppers, rice and beans is sure to become a new classic on any home menu. You can make a filling solely from rice and beans and add your favorite mix-ins such as cheese. This will be more than enough to satisfy as a meal, no matter how hungry you are, as beans are a great source of protein. We recommend black, pinto, white kidney, or borlotti beans. These varieties are all extra-high in protein while still mixing well in a stuffed pepper recipe without confusing your tastebuds. Lentils and split peas are also known for their high protein content, but they could taste a bit bizarre in a stuffed pepper.

Once you've chosen your variety of bean and rice (white or brown), you can decide if that's sufficient or if you'd like to add these to another recipe. Both mix well with the classic options of ground meat as well as with the egg ideas included in this article. Additionally, the Tex-Mex and buffalo cheese recipes also combine well with rice and beans. Whatever you choose, it'll surely become a meal to look forward to each week!

Add Quinoa

stuffed peppers with quinoa and veggies
stuffed peppers with quinoa and veggies - Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock

Quinoa might have had its moment a few years ago, but it's still a nutrient-packed favorite that's a great addition to any meal. Per Harvard's School of Public Health, quinoa is a complete protein which means it has the nine amino acids we need. A cup of the grain holds about 8 grams of protein and as a whole grain, it's a great fiber source as well. Quinoa also contains Manganese (essential to the reproductive and immune systems), Magnesium (important for bone, nerve, and heart functions), Folate (important for red blood cells and the immune system), and Vitamin B1 (important in nutrient breakdown).

As a stuffed pepper ingredient, it adds body to pretty much any recipe in this article, or that you come up with yourself. It also adds a nice texture, particularly to the falafel and pumpkin spice ideas listed below. If you make too much and have leftover quinoa after filling all your peppers, don't worry. Cooked quinoa makes a perfect side dish, either on its own, in a salad, or mixed in with other vegetables and beans, served warm.

Throw In Your Favorite Pizza Ingredients

stuffed peppers with cheese and pepperoni
stuffed peppers with cheese and pepperoni - smspsy/Shutterstock

Italians and pizza purists might shudder at this suggestion, but we think it's a fun take on both pizza and stuffed peppers. The typical pizza toppings of cheese and meat are already present in most stuffed pepper varieties, and peppers are common enough on pizzas that your mouth shouldn't be too shocked by the combination. Whether you love classics such as pepperoni or Hawaiian, or something more off-beat such as artichoke and chicken or breakfast pizza, any combo of toppings can easily be transferred into a pepper.

This is a great option for gluten-free people (what are bell peppers if not naturally gluten-free alternatives to pizza crust) or those looking for a lower-carb option. Since this is a "recipe" that is entirely concerned with toppings, we recommend whipping up some rice or quinoa as the main filling and then adding in the cheese, veggies, and meats of your choice. Pizza peppers are great as a main dish, an appetizer at a party or summer barbeque, or as a snack for hungry kids. No matter the occasion, these little pizza-filled peppers are sure to be a hit!

Substitute Falafel

falafel and hummus
falafel and hummus - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Falafel isn't nearly as popular enough as it should be, especially when you look at how the star of chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) has risen throughout the years. A top superfood choice among consumers, chickpeas can be enjoyed in many forms and are a staple in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. The legume likely originates from the area that is now Turkey and Syria, and a favorite way to consume them is ground up and formed into falafel patties.

Typically served on a platter or in a kebab, we think falafel is the perfect vegetarian-friendly alternative to meat fillings in stuffed peppers. Rich in protein, folate, iron, and "good" fatty acids (important for the heart and cholesterol levels), it's no wonder chickpea products are popular among the health-conscious. We recommend grinding up falafel patties, or dicing them, and then mixing them with some veggies. After baking, top your peppers with tzatziki sauce and/or hummus, and pickled radish or cabbage. Serve with a side salad or pita bread and let the flavor transport you somewhere sunny and idyllic, near the ocean.

Tex-Mex Favorites

red peppers beans, corn, meat, cheese
red peppers beans, corn, meat, cheese - joanna wnuk/Shutterstock

Tex-Mex plates sometimes have a heavy focus on fried ingredients, thick queso cheese, and salt additions, so Tex-Mex peppers are a great way to enjoy your favorite flavors with something lighter than enchiladas or huevos rancheros. You can make your own mix with black or pinto beans, rice, corn, tomatoes, and cheese, or add any combination of the above to a classic recipe like ground beef or turkey. When your peppers have finished baking, top with salsa, guacamole, or sour cream for a bit of freshness to balance out the flavors.

Tex-Mex peppers are a nice way to switch up taco or burrito night, and they still pair great with margaritas, chips, salsa, or a side of rice and beans. This is also the perfect year-round recipe, working well at a late summer outdoor party as an appetizer or as a mid-winter dinner to warm up your belly. Who knows, maybe our favorite fast-food taco chains will start serving up their own version sometime soon.

Add A French Twist

goat cheese and honey
goat cheese and honey - R.H. Guas/Shutterstock

Okay, just like the Italians might blanche at our pizza pepper recipe, the French might cringe at this fun take on an old favorite. "Chèvre" is the French word for "goat," but is often used as shorthand to refer to goat cheese. If you ever see "chèvre" listed on a menu in France, it most likely means the dish includes goat cheese, not goat meat.

A favorite combination of toppings on crêpes and baguettes in France is goat cheese and honey. The honey provides sweetness without being overpowering, which blends perfectly with the creamy flavors of chèvre. You'll see this as a popular appetizer at drinks hour or as an afternoon snack (known as l'heure de goûter or "snack time") for kids once the last school bell rings, and we think it would be an ideal "dessert" pepper option. The goat cheese melts into a great flavor with the pepper and honey adds an unexpected sugary surprise. Like the pizza peppers, since this is mainly a "topping" recipe, we recommend using a neutral filling for volume, such as quinoa.

Pumpkin Spice Delights

chopped roasted pumpkin
chopped roasted pumpkin - Supermimicry/Getty Images

We know that pumpkin spice is seemingly everywhere these days and sometimes in questionable form — pumpkin spice chips and salmon, seriously guys?! However, in the case of pumpkin spice peppers, we think it's an absolute hit. Start by dicing some pumpkin or squash of your choice (or likely whatever is available and in season) and pre-bake a bit before you start the filling. Then, once your veg is roasted to perfection — be as creative as you like with olive oil, salt, cinnamon, or whatever else speaks "fall" to your tastebuds — you can add it to the peppers.

Mix in a cheese of choice (we think goat or Parmesan pair best), and additional autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove, and bake. Once finished, add an optional drizzle of salted caramel or pumpkin glaze for even more indulgence. This is the perfect fall meal after a day of sipping PSLs, ideally homemade ones from pumpkin purée and coffee, and admiring the leaves. It's also nice at other times of the year when you're wishing the best season would just hurry up and arrive already! These peppers are great on their own, but can also be nicely served with an autumn veggie soup or meat main.

Buffalo Sauce

orange sauce in bowl
orange sauce in bowl - Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock

We all love Buffalo Wild Wings and the spicy sauce the chain has popularized (the origins of which aren't entirely clear), but spicy wings and beer aren't something most doctors will recommend for regular consumption. Enter a healthy alternative — buffalo bell peppers, the heart-friendly spicy stuffed pepper recipe! You have two options for your protein portion of the filling, with either chicken or chickpeas. If you choose chicken, you can either purchase a rotisserie chicken and pull the meat off the bone at home, or buy pre-shredded pieces from the store. If you opt for chickpeas, don't worry, as previously noted, you're not forgoing any nutrients as they're an excellent source of protein.

Start by sauteing a bit of onion and garlic in a pan before adding either the chicken or chickpeas. Then mix in the Buffalo sauce, and additional hot sauce (optional) to taste. Fill your peppers and top with cheese. We think Parmesan, mozzarella, or blue cheese are the perfect cheesy additions, depending on what flavor and texture profile you're going for. Bake until the cheese melts and peppers are cooked to your preference, then serve alone or with sides for a full meal.

Add Some Green Pesto

three red stuffed peppers
three red stuffed peppers - Liliya Kandrashevich/Shutterstock

The one thing that can go wrong with any stuffed pepper recipe is the ingredients becoming too dry. That's why all recipes recommend adding cheese, vegetables, sauce, or another component to moisten up the inside of the pepper. Another great way to do this? Add some green pesto! This basil and cheese sauce from Genoa, Italy (although there are other non-basil/non-green versions) is a great way to slightly dampen meat and veggie fillings.

Pesto is most often used in pasta and bread-based dishes but it's also a fantastic addition to most stuffed pepper recipes. Throw some in with the classic ground meat variety or perhaps make a pesto-pizza pepper or maybe you fancy some pesto falafel. Whatever your choice, your mouth will water once those peppers come out of the oven! Alternatively, you can make a new pesto pepper with mozzarella or caprese and tomatoes. Top with a bit of balsamic vinegar and you'll be transported straight to Italy.

Get Creative With Leftovers

three stuffed peppers with meat
three stuffed peppers with meat - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

There's nothing like getting home from a long day at work and knowing you have an amazing meal awaiting you that requires minimal effort. And no, we're not referring to takeout here, but rather a much more affordable dinner option. Leftovers are everyone's favorite lazy meal, as it doesn't require more than reheating the delicious meal you've already cooked. However, it can get old consuming the same thing for multiple days in a row, no matter how good it tastes.

Our solution? Leftover peppers! It's simple, just add whatever is sitting in the fridge to a bell pepper and bake. Voila, a totally new meal! The best leftovers are the simplest; roasted veggies you didn't finish the night before, a side of beans or grains that didn't quite get eaten up, or meat like cooked chicken or taco meat leftovers. These are great because it's easy to add a bit to them, but you don't need to do too much to create a fun meal. Other leftovers like pasta or soup can also work. You just might want to reheat them separately to an appropriate temp before baking them in the pepper.

Read the original article on Daily Meal