The most popular stuffed food is probably the sandwich, including the burger, but rather than putting food between slices of bread, it’s also fun to stuff other types of food with even more food. Stuffed foods let you combine textures and flavors in every bite. They also offer a unique presentation with one food acting as the dish or vessel for the other ingredients. Stuffed mushrooms and stuffed peppers may be the most commonly known stuffed dishes, but why stop there? Any sturdy food that can be hollowed out can be used as the container for other delicious ingredients. All you have to do is choose a vegetable or other food that will act as the vessel and hollow it out, scooping out the flesh and removing any seeds or strings. Then fill it back up with the stuffing of your choice. Any food that can be wrapped around other foods such as large, green leaves, pasta or pizza dough can also make for amazing stuffed delicacies. Let me share with you some of my favorite stuffed foods that you can really feel good about stuffing yourself with.
1. Stuffed Tomatoes
Usually when we make stuffed dishes, we put tomatoes into the vegetable we are stuffing but how about stuffing the tomatoes themselves? All you have to do is hollow out the tomatoes and replace the pulp with your favorite fillings.
Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes, and then stuff them with your favorite spread or vegan cheese. Broil them until the cheese melts and the tomatoes soften, about 2 minutes. Garnish with fresh herbs and impress your guests with this beautiful appetizer.
Larger tomatoes can be stuffed to make a healthy and delicious entrée or side dish. I make Quinoa, Mushroom and Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes. Cut the tops off large beefsteak tomatoes and remove the pulp and seeds, setting the pulp aside. Saute finely chopped onion, minced garlic and finely chopped mushrooms. Season them with parsley, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Wilt spinach into the veggies and then add the tomato pulp. Mix in some nutritional yeast or vegan grated parmesan and 2 cups of cooked quinoa. Cook for 5 minutes or until everything is heated through and then transfer the mixture to a bowl and let it cool. Stuff the mushroom-quinoa mixture into the hollowed-out tomatoes. Pack the stuffing in well. Place the stuffed tomatoes into a lightly oiled baking dish. Top each tomato with bread crumbs mixed with olive oil and fresh, chopped parsley. Baked covered for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are softened and the stuffing is hot. Remove the cover and bake another 10 minutes so the bread crumbs get browned. Serve hot or cold.
2. Stuffed Mushrooms
The shape of mushrooms makes them perfect for stuffed dishes. Scrape out the gills of Portobello mushrooms to create a bowl large enough for a delectable entrée like this Awesome Flat Mushroom Stuffed with Spring Dal. Use small white button or cremini mushrooms for amazing appetizers and snacks. These Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms are baked with onions, peppers and toasted pine nuts while tofu is part of the filling in these Stuffed Mushrooms with Pecans. Use up whatever veggies you have in the fridge to create these Ultimate Vegan Stuffed Mushrooms or go green with these Baked Pesto Mushies with Crunchy Cashew Cheese.
3. Stuffed Squash
Autumn brings us lots of beautiful things – falling leaves in gorgeous jewel tones, breezy weather that makes us snuggle into warm sweaters and a bounty of pretty, delicious harvest vegetables.
Winter squash is the perfect vessel for my Kale, Apple and Parsnip Stuffed Squash. Cut the tips off the bottoms of the squash so they can sit level. Cut the squash cross-wise in halves, giving you two bowl-shaped pieces. Scoop out the middles with the seeds and set aside. In a skillet, saute 3 chopped scallions, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a seeded and finely chopped red chile pepper. Add a chopped bell pepper, a chopped parsnip and 2 small, chopped apples. Cook until the veggies are softened, about 7 minutes. Add 1 tsp. dried sage, 1 tsp. Herbes de Provence and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Wilt a bunch of chopped kale into the pan. Turn off the heat and add 1 cup cooked millet to the pan. Mix everything well. Place the squash halves into an oiled baking dish. Generously fill each squash with stuffing, cover the baking dish and bake for 1 hour until the squash is tender.
For more stuffed winter squash dishes, try Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf, Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Quinoa and Chickpeas, and Stuffed Acorn Squash with Wheat Berries, Pine Nuts, and Sage.
4. Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed peppers is a classic dish. Bell peppers are the perfect shape to make deep bowls that can be filled with delicious stuffing like these Fat-Free Vegan Greek Rice Stuffed Peppers. But don’t forget about all the other types of peppers that can also be stuffed such as poblano and jalapeno peppers.
Fried jalapeno poppers were one of my favorite appetizer foods and as soon as I became vegan, I made a vegan version of this decadent treat. Then I made a healthier version by skipping the breading and baking them. I ended up liking the baked version even better! Cut the stems off 12 jalapeno peppers and slice them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and ribs to make little boats. In a bowl, combine 6 oz. vegan cream cheese, 1 cup shredded vegan pepper jack cheese, and 4 finely chopped scallions. Mix in 2 tsp. Mexican chile powder and 2 tsp. garlic powder. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add about 1 Tbs. of the cheese filling to each pepper half. Lay the filled peppers on the baking sheet, spray the tops with cooking oil spray and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. When the cheese is melted and the peppers are crisp-tender, they are ready to eat.
5. Stuffed Zucchini
The shape of a zucchini is ideal for making edible boats. Just slice off the center piece of one side of the zucchini and carefully scoop out the flesh to make a boat. Then stuff the boat with whatever veggies and grains you love. A stuffed zucchini boat makes a beautiful presentation and it’s super-fun to get to eat the container your dinner comes in.
A fun way to stuff zucchini is to make enchiladas without the tortillas. One of my favorite fillings for this combines butternut squash and black beans. Prepare the zucchini boats as described above. Peel and cube a butternut squash and boil the cubes until they are fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute diced red onion with a minced Serrano chile and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Add a diced zucchini plus the zucchini pulp you removed to make the boats. Cook until everything is tender, about 4 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups black beans to the pan and season with 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. chile powder, 1 tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp. black pepper. Add up to 1 cup of water to the pan and mix to create a loose sauce. Let cook on low heat until everything is tender, adding more water if necessary. When the butternut squash is tender, mash it in the pot. Fold most of the black bean mixture into the squash, reserving some for sauce. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with cooking oil and spoon some of the reserved sauce into the dish. Fill the zucchini boats with the black bean-butternut squash mixture and lay them in the casserole dish. Spoon the remaining sauce over the zucchini boats and sprinkle with vegan cheese shreds. Bake for 25 minutes or until the zucchini boats are tender and the cheese has melted.
For an appetizer version, cut the zucchini into thick rounds and scoop out the center with a melon-baller. Stuff with the filling and bake.
6. Stuffed Cabbage and Other Leaves
The size and texture of many leaves make them a great choice for wraps. My mother used to make the best stuffed cabbage, though I have to admit that as a kid, I would eat the filling and leave the cabbage. She would boil cabbage leaves until soft, make a filling of rice and ground beef with tomato sauce and then wrap the leaves around the filling.
For my vegan version of my mother’s stuffed cabbage, I saute mashed brown lentils with onions, bell peppers, and garlic until browned. Then I add tomato paste, vegan Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, fennel, oregano, paprika, and red pepper flakes. When the lentil filling is browned, I add some cooked brown rice and mix it all together. Then I place about 1/3 cup of the filling onto lightly boiled cabbage leaves and fold each one into a tight, little envelope, similar to a burrito. In a large pot, I spread a few ladles of My Mom’s Marinara Sauce on the bottom and place each cabbage roll, seam-side down, in the pot in a single layer. Cover the rolls with more sauce, cover and cook on low-medium heat until the cabbage is tender, about one hour. Serve with extra sauce.
7. Stuffed Potatoes
Another favorite appetizer of mine was stuffed potato skins – hollowed out potatoes stuffed with lots of decadent toppings. You can make healthier versions of that appetizer by using vegan sour cream, coconut bacon and ooey-gooey vegan cheese. These Healthy Potato Skins take an Indian twist by being stuffed with a delicious stir-fry with vegetables and a lentil paste cooked with smoky chipotle chili in adobo sauce, garlic and green onions.
For a green take on stuffed potatoes, try my Double-Stuffed Pesto Baked Potatoes. Simply clean and bake 6 large russet potatoes at 400 degrees for an hour until they are tender. Let them cool so you can handle them without tearing the skins. Carefully scoop out the flesh of the potatoes and put it in a bowl. Leave some potato flesh intact to keep the skins stable. To the bowl of potatoes, add 2 Tbs. vegan butter, ¼ cup non-dairy milk and salt and pepper to taste. Then add 1 cup of your favorite pesto and mix everything until combined. Stuff the pesto-potato mixture into 4 of the potato skins. Serve while hot. These are a perfect party food for St. Patrick’s Day.
8. Stuffed Artichokes
This is my most favorite way to enjoy artichokes. Since artichokes have a somewhat neutral flavor, they can be stuffed with anything your taste buds desire. The most common stuffing is similar to the one my mother made. I prep the artichokes and while they are steaming, I make the stuffing. I saute some garlic in olive oil until it is golden-brown and starting to crisp. Then I remove the garlic and add bread crumbs, toasting them for about 4 minutes until they are browned and then turn off the heat. Lastly, I stir in vegan grated parmesan (you can use nutritional yeast), salt, pepper and fresh chopped parsley. Let the mixture cool before you stuff the artichokes.
Here is a trick to make stuffing easier: take each artichoke and place it top-side down on a cutting board or work surface. Press down gently on the base with your palm. This will make the leaves open so you can fill them more easily. With a small spoon, fill the leaves with the bread crumb mixture. Be generous and let it overflow. When you have filled all the leaves, place the stuffed artichokes in a baking dish. Drizzle a bit more oil on top and bake for about 15 minutes until they are browned and crispy.
9. Stuffed Eggplant
One of my favorite Italian dishes is Eggplant Rollatini which uses fried, baked or grilled eggplant slices as wraps for a cheesy filling. I make a Spinach Tofu Ricotta and roll it up inside baked thin slices of eggplant. Simply cut the ends off the eggplant, cut the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices and bake them for 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven until each side is lightly browned and tender. Place a tablespoon of the tofu ricotta on the narrow end of the eggplant slice and roll it up tightly. Put the little rolled-up treasures into a casserole dish, seam-side down. Cover with marinara sauce and vegan mozzarella and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until the cheese melts. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.
Sometimes I use sauteed spinach and artichoke hearts rather than tofu ricotta to make a rollatini that is a play on spinach artichoke dip. Other times I cover the eggplant wrap with another wrap of Swiss chard for a beautiful, green rollatini.
10. Stuffed Dough
One of the easiest food items to stuff is dough. I know, I know – dough is not a vegetable, but you can stuff dough with all sorts of veggies for a delicious meal. These Puttanesca Panzarottis are indulgent and amazing. They are mini-calzones of crispy, golden, fried pizza dough filled with salty olives and capers, ooey-gooey melty cheese, zingy tomato sauce and a bit of spinach because you should always eat something green. Each panzarotti is like a little present you get to open with your mouth. You could use the same pizza dough and fill your mini-calzones with whatever fillings you like.
When you stuff your favorite foods with more of your favorite ingredients, you get to eat the entrée and the side dish all at once plus you get to eat the bowl. What could be more fun than that? Use your imagination and find other foods you can stuff. Let us know what you come up with in the comments.
Lead image source: Fat-Free Vegan Greek Stuffed Peppers