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Throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, nearly every meal begins with an assortment of appetizers. Stuffed vegetables are often on the appetizer tray with an emphasis on eggplants, peppers and tomatoes seasoned with fresh herbs and spices. Many of the most popular stuffed vegetables served as a main course in these regions are stuffed grape leaves, artichokes filled with savory breadcrumbs and sausage and hearty cabbage leaves rolled around a meat and rice stuffing.

An easy way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet is by making them your meal’s main event. Stuffed vegetable recipes—including stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes and stuffed squash—use usually hollowed out and filled with lean meats, flavorful cheeses or even more vegetables. Any sturdy vegetable can be used for stuffing. Leftovers can often be used for the filling, such as risotto to stuff tomatoes.

Getting vegetables ready for stuffing is quite simple, but the technique varies from vegetable to vegetable. It’s important to always use the freshest, ripest vegetables available, avoiding those that are oversized and or soft. Cut ripe tomatoes in half, then scoop out most of the pulp with a spoon to create a shell. For peppers and squash, remove the seeds and stringy bits of flesh and you’ll be left with a natural cavity to fill.

Many stuffings are interchangeable and work well with other vegetables. You can add diced ham or sausage for a meatier taste, nuts for a crunchy texture or experiment with your favorite herbs and spices.

Pack the stuffing into the vegetables, place them in a shallow roasting pan or casserole dish. Bake until the vegetables soften and the filling is cooked through and golden brown.

Liquids like tomato sauce, wine, broth or water are often poured around the vegetables to keep them moist and provide even more flavor.

Stuffed vegetables taste good hot or at room temperature. Serve them as an hors d’oeuvre, a first course, a main course or a side dish.

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Tuna-Stuffed Tomatoes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 8 small tomatoes
  • 6 oz olive oil-packed tuna, drained and oil reserved
  • 10 pitted Kalamata olives, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon reserved tuna olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • Black pepper to taste

Directions

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Gently scoop out tomato seeds and pulp, leaving the shell intact.

Set shells cut side down to drain on the paper towels.

Mix tuna, olives, parsley, capers, tuna olive oil, thyme and pepper, breaking up any large chunks of tuna.

Spoon tuna mixture into tomatoes and chill until serving time.

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Orzo-Stuffed Peppers

You can prepare these up to 12 hours before serving. Just cover the baking dish with foil, refrigerate until time to bake the peppers.

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 3 cups baby arugula or baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 small bell peppers, halved and seeded

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the orzo according to package directions in boiling, salted water in a saucepan; drain.

Heat oil in the pot and add the onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is tender. Add arugula, feta, oregano and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper; stir.

Add drained orzo and mix thoroughly.

Season the inside of peppers with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Fill peppers and transfer to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Cover with foil; bake until the peppers are tender ( about 35-40 minutes).

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Stuffed Portobellos

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 (4-inch) portobello caps
  • 1 1/3 cups lean ground beef or ground turkey, lightly packed
  • 3/4 cup canned diced Italian tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup minced green onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons lower fat cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms. Remove the brown gills from undersides of the mushrooms, using a spoon; discard the gills.

Combine beef with the remaining  ingredients in a medium bowl.

Spoon 1/3 cup of the mixture into each mushroom cap.

Place caps on a baking sheet coated with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and the tops are lightly browned.

Sprinkle each cap with Parmesan cheese before serving.

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Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 zucchini, small to medium size
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces scallions, chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 8 ounces shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 ounce fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 ounces pine nuts, toasted

Directions

Cut zucchini in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving about ¼ inch attached to the shell. Lightly salt the zucchini shells.

Chop the zucchini pulp.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté the sausage till browned. Add the zucchini pulp and garlic and saute for a minute or two.

In a bowl, combine the scallions, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, red pepper and pine nuts.

Add the sausage mixture. Mix thoroughly.

Spoon mixture into scooped out zucchini shells and sprinkle tops with Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 to 30 minutes.or until the zucchini shells are tender and the tops are lightly brown.

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Stuffed Onions

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium yellow onions (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups diced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dash each pepper and ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup beef broth, plus extra if needed
  • Additional parsley for garnish

Directions

In a Dutch oven, bring a small amount of water (about 1 inch) to a boil.

Peel onions and using a slotted spoon, place the onions in the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes; remove to a plate and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Cut a 1/4-inch slice off the top of each onion. Remove the center, leaving a 1/2-inch shell.

Chop the centers and tops of the onions; set aside.

In a skillet, cook the bacon until crisp; remove to a paper towel to drain.

In the drippings, saute the chopped onion until tender.

Add the butter and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are tender.

Stir in the breadcrumbs and parsley.

 

Add the bacon, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Stuff the onion shells with the mushroom mixture; place in an ungreased shallow 1 quart baking dish. Pour broth around the onions.

Bake, uncovered, at 375°F for 45 minutes or until tender, basting frequently during the first 15 minutes with the broth, adding more if needed. Sprinkle with additional parsley before serving.

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