Highly Adaptable Recipes: Stuffed Vegetables

As the summer bounty continues, it seems high time for another post about improvising with CSA vegetables. With plentiful tomatoes and enormous summer squash in our shares, turning a couple items into a satisfying and filling dinner can be as simple as filling them up with a tasty stuffing and tucking them into the oven for a bit.

Weeknight dinner

To improvise a stuffing, think about texture and flavor balance. A soft, mushy stuffing isn't nearly as appealing as one filled with varying textures (think: soft tomatoes, tender chewy barley, and creamy cheese) nor is a bland filling lacking any brightness or salt. Adding a little olive oil or melted butter can keep a drier filling moist during baking, but might not be necessary if you top the stuffing with cheese. 

I generally find that it takes far less stuffing than I'd expect to fill a vegetable, which makes stuffed vegetables an excellent recipe for using up leftovers.

Sauteing ingredients together can help force off some of the extra water that leads to a soggy meal and can also help develop a more complex marriage of flavors. If you've got the time, it's worth considering. Pre-baking vegetables like large squash or eggplants can also help prevent sogginess; to do so, halve the vegetable, give it a light brushing of olive oil, and bake them at around 300 degrees until mostly cooked before stuffing.

Grains 

 Acorn squash stuffed with barley, wild rice, scallions, dried cherries, za'atar spices and drizzled with tahini

Acorn squash stuffed with barley, wild rice, scallions, dried cherries, za'atar spices and drizzled with tahini

Grains make an excellent base for a vegetable stuffing. While fine breadcrumbs will soak up any liquids in your vegetable and other stuffing ingredients and soften, chunkier toasted bread crumbs will hold their shape a little more. Hearty grains hold their shape well, too, adding a chewy texture to the stuffing.

  • Good breadcrumbs, toasted
  • Cubed bread, toasted in a skillet or in the oven
  • Rice (white, brown, wild...any kind, really)
  • Barley
  • Wheat berries
  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Any other grain you like

A few ideas

  • Summer squash stuffed with brown and wild rice, dried cranberries, almonds, green onions, and a drizzle of olive oil
  • Tomatoes stuffed with cooked millet, wilted and chopped collards or mustard greens, lentils, and harissa (a chili paste made with hot peppers, olive oil, garlic, coriander, and caraway)
  • Peppers stuffed with cooked ground beef, rice, tomatoes, and onions

Vegetables

If the vegetables taste good together, chances are adding one to a stuffing for the other will work out well.

  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Wilted greens
  • Hot peppers
  • The insides of the vegetable you're stuffing; if they're watery, try cooking them down a little
  • Marinated artichokes
  • Sun-dried tomatoes

A few ideas

  • Mushrooms stuffed with bread cubes, artichokes, salted drained tomatoes, and feta cheese
  • Summer squash stuffed with wilted chopped kale, millet, and garlic, drizzled with harissa (a chili paste made with hot peppers, olive oil, garlic, coriander, and caraway)
  • Tomatoes stuffed with corn, rice, and queso fresco, sprinkled with chopped cilantro

Beans and lentils

As pantry staples and vegetarian protein sources, beans and lentils are excellent in vegetable stuffings. Cooked well, lentils add a depth of savory flavor that will convince the most stalwart of carnivores that some vegetarian dishes are really quite tasty. 

A few ideas

  • Peppers stuffed with cooked rice, black beans, pico de gallo, and topped with cheddar
  • Summer squash stuffed with cooked lentils, garlic, thyme, and Parmesan cheese
  • Tomatoes stuffed with cooked white beans, garlic, sage, and crushed red pepper

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds add healthy fats and pleasant texture to stuffings. As pantry staples, they are an excellent addition to improvised vegetarian and vegan vegetable dishes. 

  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Sesame seeds (black sesame seeds add fun color contrast)

A couple ideas

  • Tomatoes stuffed with toasted bread cubes or crumbs, pine nuts, basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese 
  • Zucchini stuffed with zucchini, chopped hazelnuts, basil, and Parmesan

Dried fruit

Dried fruits like raisins, cherries, or cranberries can add a sweet-tart element to a filling. Fruits are delicious in fillings with meat and in vegan or vegetarian fillings.

A couple ideas

  • Summer squash stuffed with ground beef or lamb, walnuts, golden raisins, garlic, and thyme
  • Eggplant stuffed with cooked millet, dried cranberries, walnuts and olive oil, drizzled with Greek yogurt

Something brined or pickled

A great vegan way of adding salty, savory flavor to a stuffing is to mix in some chopped olives, rinsed capers, marinated artichoke hearts, or pickled peppers. They're all great pantry staples that really elevate a dish.

A few ideas

  • Zucchini stuffed with Israeli (or regular) cous cous, cured olives, parsley, and olive oil, drizzled with fresh lemon juice after baking
  • Raw tomatoes stuffed with a salad of tuna packed in oil, lemon juice, capers, crushed red pepper, and thyme
  • Summer squash stuffed with bread cubes, artichoke hearts, wilted chard, and garlic

Cheese

A wide variety of cheeses work really well in stuffing. My personal favorites are feta and Parmesan cheeses, but any favorites that withstand heating well would be delicious. Think about the texture you're looking for in the stuffing. Do you want a cheese that remains distinct from the other ingredients? Think feta or another non-melting cheese. Do you want a cheese that will melt into the other ingredients? Try mozzarella, gouda, or gruyere. Do you want a cheese that will create a crisp layer on top? Go with a drier cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.

A few ideas

  • Raw tomatoes stuffed with feta cheese, diced cucumber, olive oil, and mint
  • Summer squash stuffed with bread cubes, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil
  • Peppers roasted and stuffed with feta and fresh basil
  Farm intern Rachel Vorlander's stuffed Lebanese squash, filled with ground mean, onions, garlic, corn, chopped zucchini, tomatoes, herbs de Provence, and topped with cheese 

Farm intern Rachel Vorlander's stuffed Lebanese squash, filled with ground mean, onions, garlic, corn, chopped zucchini, tomatoes, herbs de Provence, and topped with cheese 

Meat

For the omnivores in the crowd, adding cooked meat to a stuffing can add another level of savory flavor and filling protein. The amount and type of meat can vary widely with your taste. A little crumbled bacon or pancetta goes a long way to season a lighter filling or a filling based on ground beef, pork, lamb, or sausage forms a hearty, traditional meal (think stuffed peppers or zucchini boats). A small amount of diced shrimp (think frozen or pre-cooked cocktail shrimp) is an inexpensive way of flavoring a more indulgent meal. For ground meats, if you can afford a little extra fat in your diet, choose slightly fattier cuts for a tastier filling with better texture. 

A few ideas

  • Peppers stuffed with cooked ground beef, cooked rice, tomatoes (slightly salted and drained, if possible), onion, garlic, cheese
  • Squash stuffed with cooked pancetta, toasted cubed bread, garlic, thyme, crushed red pepper Parmesan cheese
  • Squash stuffed with cooked beef or lamb, cooked rice, golden raisins, walnuts, thyme

...don't don't forget toppings

Topping your stuffed vegetables with a little cheese and tucking it under the broiler for a bit can really elevate that dish by adding an additional texture and caramelized flavor. A cool drizzle of Greek yogurt or sour cream can add a welcomed contrast to the warm vegetable and stuffing. Tahini or marinara are great vegan alternatives that add nutritive value as well.

A few ideas

  • Eggplant stuffed with cubed bread and cheese, topped with warm marinara
  • Any squash stuffed with barley, thyme, dried cherries or cranberries and drizzled with tahini
  • Tomatoes stuffed with cooked cous cous, basil, and garlic, topped with mozzarella cheese