17 Ways To Upgrade Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers are an easy and delicious option for lunch, a light meal, or as a side dish to a more substantial dinner. Rich in both flavor and nutrition, they are easy to customize depending on your mood and the season, from hearty meat fillings to light summery versions that are perfect for a picnic or barbecue. 

It can be easy to opt for the same filling of rice and cheese every time, but this family favorite can offer so much more. Switching up a few ingredients each time you make stuffed peppers will allow you to sample different cuisines, and bring new flavors to a familiar dish.

Join us as we explore ways to upgrade your usual stuffed peppers, from using banana peppers to serving up a delicious breakfast version. Your family will love the different flavors this dish can offer as you inject some new and vibrant ingredients into your midweek meal plan.

Switch up the cheese

Cheese is one of the main players in stuffed peppers, melting beautifully to bind the other ingredients. However, there is no need to always use the same cheese, or even to limit yourself to only one variety. By exploring different cheeses, you can transform the flavor of your stuffed peppers and give your taste buds a treat.

Traditional cheese choices for stuffed peppers include mozzarella and cheddar, which both have mild flavors, but choosing a stronger cheese will give them a great umami hit. Mature Gouda will provide a delicious tang, whereas Alpine-style Emmentaler cheese can impart a nutty flavor to the peppers. If you're looking for something bold, a salty blue cheese is a delicious option, or a creamy goat cheese for an earthy taste.

Whatever cheese you decide on, put chunks throughout the pepper rather than just on top. This means the whole pepper will have a wonderfully gooey texture, and bags of flavor from your favorite cheeses.

Top stuffed peppers with nuts

To add a delightful crunch and hearty flavor to your stuffed peppers, add some chopped nuts to the top of them. Although you can toast the nuts first if you wish, you can easily skip that step since they will bake as the peppers cook, giving them a deep, savory flavor. Any nuts will work well, but walnuts or pine nuts go particularly well with other savory ingredients.

As well as creating textural contrast, the nuts will add a boost of nutrition to an already healthy dish. The unsaturated fats in all nuts are incredibly good for your health, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

To enhance the flavor even further, you can toss nuts in paprika before adding them to the peppers. This will add a subtle spicy note to complement the sweetness of the peppers, creating a balanced and tasty dish.

Add pulled pork

Adding pulled pork to your stuffed peppers can take them from a filling snack to a light meal. The pork's extra protein and fat, combined with the carbohydrates from the rice and the vitamins and minerals from the peppers, will create a balanced meal that can keep you full for hours. If you've gone to the effort of slow-cooking the meat in a beautiful blend of spices and have some left over, you should absolutely add it to stuffed peppers the following day.

A tangy barbecue sauce that goes with your pulled pork can also be mixed in with the rice. Vegetables such as beans and sweet corn will add extra fiber and flavor. If you're adding cheese to your peppers, a smoked variety such as Gouda will complement the meat. It melts well to create a great texture, and will add a depth of flavor to the dish.

Add a sweet note with dried fruit

If you're looking to get creative with your stuffed pepper and add a touch of sweetness, dried fruit can create the perfect contrast with the savory ingredients. Raisins and apricots are both great options that will provide occasional bursts of sweetness and a satisfying chewy texture. Be sure to chop the fruit into small pieces and place them throughout the pepper, rather than just on the top. That will give every bite the potential to include a juicy hit of sweetness.

To create the ultimate sweet-savory combination, add some foods that are rich in umami to your peppers. This could be a strong cheese such as Parmesan to provide a salty flavor, or porcini mushrooms for an earthier note. You could also add meat in the form of ground beef or shredded chicken.

Whether you add meat to your peppers or keep them vegetarian, the dried fruit will add another dimension to the dish. Either way, you will have a delicious sweet and savory dish that makes a great midweek meal.

Switch the rice for lentils ‌

Lentils make a great meat substitute in a variety of dishes, and they can also bring a lot to the table with stuffed peppers. Rich in iron and high in protein, lentils can turn stuffed peppers into a filling meal — and a delicious one at that.

Lentils will absorb the flavors around them, so it is important to add plenty of seasoning beyond the usual salt and pepper. Spices such as ground coriander and cumin will add warmth without being overly spicy, or if you want to turn up the heat, add some cayenne pepper. Dried herbs also work well, including thyme and sage, so don't be shy with the flavorings.

Although the lentils will be pretty filling on their own, you could add quinoa or couscous to the peppers, too. Lentils contain high levels of folate to help produce serotonin — the happy hormone — in your brain, so adding some lentil-filled peppers to your weekly meal plan could benefit more than just your taste buds. 

Serve stuffed peppers for breakfast

Who said that stuffed peppers could only be eaten after noon? Well, the answer is, nobody did — and if you make a breakfast version of stuffed peppers, you can eat them as early as you like. How far you wish to go with incorporating breakfast foods into peppers is up to you, but eggs, sausage, and bacon can all work wonderfully.

For this dish, you may want to roast the peppers first before adding the stuffing, since the filling ingredients cook fairly quickly. Then add your cut-up cooked sausage and bacon into the peppers along with your choice of vegetables — mushrooms and tomatoes will continue the breakfast vibe.

You can then scramble the egg and add it in with the rest of the filling or, for visual effect, crack the egg into the top of the pepper and leave it intact before cooking. This will create a stunning breakfast dish that is significantly healthier than the usual fried breakfast.

Cool them down with guacamole

It's time to take the flavor of your stuffed peppers up a notch by filling them with a feisty guacamole. The creamy but vibrant avocado mixture will pair perfectly with the bell peppers, especially if you leave them slightly al dente for a satisfying crunchy texture.

A guacamole recipe typically involves mashing ripe avocado with chopped onions, chilies, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. You can vary the heat to your liking, removing the chile seeds for a milder heat, or adding cayenne pepper to give it more of a kick.

You want to keep the guacamole as fresh as possible, so let the roasted peppers cool before adding in the creamy avocado mixture. This combination makes a perfect plant-based lunch or light meal, and is a delicious way to add a variety of vegetables to your diet. Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, meaning this dish will keep you full between meals.

Add a Mediterranean twist with feta and olives

Bring some Mediterranean vibes to your stuffed peppers by adding feta, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. The tangy cheese and briny olives provide a lovely contrast to the sweet peppers, while the sun-dried tomatoes lend a delightful chewy texture.

While the usual option of rice will work with this version, you may want to choose a grain with a more Mediterranean feel, such as couscous or quinoa. In the case of a feta and orzo stuffed peppers recipe, cooked pasta can also be used for an unusual twist.

The Mediterranean diet is known for being one of the healthiest on the planet, and this stuffed pepper dish is a brilliant way to get more antioxidants and beneficial microbes into your weekly diet. Between the healthy fats in the olives, the protein from the cheese, and the carbohydrates from the pasta, you have everything you need for a filling main meal that tastes fantastic, too. 

Use different grains in place of rice

Rice is the most common grain used in stuffed peppers, and for good reason. It is economical, easy to prepare, and filling, and has a neutral flavor that will go with any other ingredients. However, replacing the rice with another grain is a great way to upgrade your stuffed peppers.

Quinoa is an excellent option that far surpasses rice in terms of nutrition. It is one of the few plant-based complete proteins, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids needed in our diet. It is also gluten-free and has a mild, nutty flavor that makes it perfect for using as a base for your stuffed pepper.

Bulgur wheat and couscous are also good options for stuffed peppers, though they both contain gluten. These grains cook more quickly than rice, and offer a less stodgy option if you are looking for a light meal. Incorporating different grains into your stuffed peppers means you can vary the nutritional content as well as the flavor, and create a unique meal every time you make it. 

Add seafood to stuffed peppers

Incorporating seafood into your stuffed peppers is a great way to upgrade them into a substantial meal. This may take a little longer to prepare, but the delicious final dish will be worth the effort.

You have a wide range of options when choosing your seafood, from shellfish (like prawns or crab) to oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. If you're opting for shellfish, pair it with a light grain like couscous and fresh flavorings such as dill, parsley, or lemon. For stronger-tasting seafood like mackerel, more robust flavors can stand up to the oily fish. Caramelized onions and some goat cheese mixed with rice will make a delicious combo with the mackerel flaked throughout.

To make a filling meal, serve your seafood-stuffed peppers with sweet potato wedges, a mixed salad, or a chunk of crusty bread. Whether for a special dinner or a midweek supper, the delightful flavors and textures will keep everyone happy.

Give them cannelloni vibes with ricotta and spinach

Ricotta and spinach are a classic combination, appearing in classic pasta dishes such as tortellini and cannelloni. Why not feature them amid a lighter dish by stuffing your peppers with them to create a delicious, creamy meal?

When making the mix for the filling, you will need to wilt the spinach before adding it to the cheese. At this point, you can add whatever other vegetables you wish, including onions or mushrooms. Mix the cooked veggies with the creamy ricotta, adding an egg and some Parmesan cheese to make a thick mixture.

On their own, these stuffed peppers make a tasty vegetarian lunch or light meal. They can also be served alongside grilled chicken or poached salmon, the creamy filling replacing the need for a sauce. Add a sprinkling of fresh herbs over the top to serve — the vibrant green will contrast with the pepper and the filling to create a dish that looks just as good as it tastes.

Make vegan stuffed peppers

If you're following a plant-based diet or looking to increase the amount of vegetables you consume, vegan stuffed peppers can be a great way to package up lots of delicious veggies and grains in one dish. They are endlessly customizable, meaning you can add whatever is in your fridge or pantry.

In an Italian-style vegetarian stuffed peppers recipe that is easily adjusted for vegans, a basil pesto is added to give some extra zing to the dish. While store-bought plant-based pestos are available, making your own takes minutes and means it will be as fresh as possible. Simply add basil, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts to a food processor and blend to a paste. You can then add a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor, as well as some nutritional yeast if you want to replicate the taste of cheese.

Gather whatever veggies and cooked grains you want to stuff your pepper with — rice, bulgur wheat, or couscous will all soak up the pesto nicely. Then top it with your homemade pesto and roast until soft. Serve the peppers with a fresh green salad and enjoy.

Try some gemista, a Greek specialty ‌

A Greek classic, gemista stuffed peppers may not have the fame of moussaka or souvlaki, but this is a delicious dish that you should definitely try. Traditionally featuring bell peppers or tomatoes stuffed with rice, vegetables, and meat, it can also be adapted for those following a plant-based diet.

Even the meat-filled version of gemista is very vegetable-forward, containing onions, eggplant, and zucchini in addition to the peppers and tomatoes. You can add any other vegetables you wish to boost the nutrition even further. Cinnamon and oregano are both classic Greek flavors, so adding them to your filling will give the dish authenticity.

Gemista peppers or tomatoes are often served as a meal in Greece, alongside a fresh salad. Feel free to add some feta cheese and olives on the side, and of course, drizzle some high-quality Greek olive oil over the top to complete the experience.

Change the type of pepper

When planning to make stuffed peppers, we often automatically opt for bell peppers, but they are not the only option. Switching up the type of pepper can be an easy way to enhance your stuffed peppers without changing your usual filling.

Upgrade stuffed peppers with a spicy twist by using banana peppers, an unusual option that offer a tang without being overly spicy. They are yellow in color — hence the name — and are more similar in shape to a chile than a bell pepper. You can easily fill them with your stuffing mix, but they will not hold as much as bell peppers, so you'll need more peppers than usual.

If you want to go the other way and have an even sweeter pepper, try the Romano pepper. These long red peppers have a lovely mild flavor, ideal for children or those who prefer a more subtle taste. You can cut them in half and stuff each side, or simply remove the top and push all of the filling into the middle. Either way, stuffed Romano peppers will bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your dinner table.

Get controversial with ham and pineapple ‌

If you're a fan of the controversial Hawaiian pizza, then you are going to love the idea of making Hawaiian stuffed peppers. If anything, the sweet and salty combination actually works better in a pepper than on a pizza, meaning you can enjoy the flavors of your favorite pizza without all the carbs!

You can also add some extra meat to your peppers to enhance the savory flavor. Shredded chicken or pork will boost the flavor of the ham, and make the dish more filling. Mozzarella will replicate the pizza feel even further, creating a gooey texture that will make your mouth water.

Adding cauliflower rice to your stuffed peppers will add a rice-type element while still keeping the dish fairly light. The cauliflower will absorb the delicious flavors from the ham and pineapple and blend with the cheese to give a satisfying texture to this tropical delight.

Add some jalapeños, or replace the peppers with them

To give your stuffed peppers a feisty kick, add some chopped jalapeño peppers to the filling. Jalapeños are a fairly mild form of chile, scoring as low as 2,000 on the Scoville scale, compared to cayenne pepper with a minimum score of 30,000. This makes jalapeños the ideal chile to add a pleasant spicy note to your dish without overdoing it.

Dice the jalapeños finely and mix through the rest of the filling. They work really well with any kind of cheese, so be sure to use plenty. Leaving the seeds in will increase the heat; don't forget to remove them if you want to keep things mild.

Another option is to stuff the jalapeños themselves instead of bell peppers — similar to jalapeño poppers, but adding a filling of rice, vegetables, and cheese to the chilies before baking them. This fun twist means you can enjoy a stronger flavor of jalapeño, making a delicious appetizer or snack.

Add some chorizo to stuffed peppers

For a meaty stuffed pepper with a deep and spicy flavor, add some diced chorizo to your dish. Chorizo is a pork sausage flavored with garlic and paprika, and it will impart a smoky flavor to the peppers.

For a delicious entree, mix the cooked chorizo with beans and rice, then add whatever vegetables you wish, such as sweet corn or chopped sweet potato. Squeeze some lime over the top and some fresh cilantro, keeping the flavors bright and zingy. These will create a colorful dish that will keep you satisfied for hours afterward.

You'll want some cheese to top your pepper and create a gooey texture to match the rich filling. Choosing authentic Manchego Spanish cheese is a great option, but a strong cheddar or Monterey jack will work, too. Serve your chorizo-stuffed peppers with a light salad, and enjoy the rich flavors of your meal.