When I Want to Make Dinner Easier, I Think "Unstuffed"

From stuffed cabbage to stuffed grape leaves, to stuffed eggplant and especially stuffed peppers, many cuisines have unique stuffed vegetable dishes, and Middle Eastern cuisine is no exception. But here’s how to get all that comforting flavor without the work of all that stuffing — and my Seven-Spice Unstuffed Peppers are a great place to start.

February 04, 2022

Growing up in a Lebanese home, it was a guarantee that a few times a month we would have a meal that involved stuffed something or another. The base of the stuffing we use in our traditional cooking is usually ground beef, onions, spices and occasionally rice. This mixture is delicious when placed inside of so many things like cabbage, grape leaves, eggplant and peppers, and slow-cooked on the stove or in the oven. The long simmering time allows the ingredients and spices to develop into a rich, flavorful meal comforted by the steam that releases as you cut the vegetable open.

Now that I’m cooking for my own family, I love the traditional Middle Eastern meals my mom taught me, and I often crave her comforting, rich stuffed dishes. But there’s a downside — it can take a lot of time to make these recipes. For example, Stuffed grape leaves are a staple dish in our home, but it's a labor of love that requires meticulously rolling about 100 small leaves. Furthermore, stuffing a squash often requires a special tool for coring and removing the interior flesh. Even stuffing peppers, which may be one of the simplest in the repertoire of Middle Eastern stuffed dishes, requires some cutting, seeding and scooping.

While I love to occasionally make these meals, I also love shortcuts for easy weeknight meals. The clever solution? Something I call “unstuffed.” I recently started making unstuffed cabbage, unstuffed eggplant and unstuffed peppers, which are packed with so much texture, flavor and nutrition but take a fraction of the time to prepare. It’s a great way to enjoy the Middle Eastern flavors that I grew up eating while also accommodating my busy lifestyle and schedule.

Unstuffed Versus Stuffed

Like me, I think you’ll love some of the benefits of these unstuffed peppers.

First off, there are fewer steps in the cooking process, so you’re saving a ton of time. With traditional stuffed peppers, you will need to cut the peppers first, scoop out all the seeds, and then usually steam, bake or microwave them to soften. Then, you'll cook the stuffing in a separate pot and finally bring them together in a baking dish or another pot. Occasionally there’s also a sauce that you may need to cook separately. This is a hefty list of instructions versus throwing all of your ingredients in one pot. You can easily shave off 30 minutes of cooking with the unstuffed version!

Also, the clean up is easier with unstuffed peppers— you don’t need any special tools and only use one pot. Plus you can double it to alleviate next day clean-up as well!

Most importantly, from my experience making unstuffed peppers, they truly have the same amazing flavor as stuffed peppers so you’re not making any sacrifices!

Recipe Variations

Meals eaten bowl-style is such a hot trend right now, and it’s how I personally love to eat. I love making a bowl of oatmeal and piling on toppings, putting together a grain bowl from leftover ingredients from other meals, and lately I’ve been loving these unstuffed pepper bowls that are hearty and rich and have many fun topping options.

This unstuffed peppers recipe plays off Middle Eastern flavors with toasted pine nuts, seven-spice seasoning, dried mint and fresh garlic, but you can easily bring your favorite flavor profile to life. You could use Italian seasonings such as oregano, basil and garlic, or go for Cajun flavors, a Tex Mex vibe, or even an Asian-inspired unstuffed pepper. There are so many ways to have fun with the flavor profiles, and also with the proteins and vegetables. You could try this dish with ground chicken, ground turkey or even tofu. You could also add other vegetables like mushrooms, zucchini or carrots for more texture and differentiation.

When it comes to bowl recipes, the fun part for me is adding the toppings. I love the crunch and sweetness of warm toasted pine nuts with the added freshness of chopped parsley. My family also loves serving plain yogurt with savory recipes and stuffed recipes. So adding a dollop of plain full-fat yogurt as the “sauce” for these unstuffed peppers just finishes off the dish so well and complements its Middle Eastern flavors.

Whatever stuffed recipe you may have grown up with, try an unstuffed version that takes less steps, less time, less clean up and delivers just as much satisfaction. This Middle Eastern-inspired unstuffed pepper is one of my favorites.

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