By Linda Gabris

 I grew up on stuffed vegetables and I still love them today as much as I did when I was a kid. Mom would stuff everything that came out of the backyard garden — from acorn squash to zucchini! At Mom’s table (and at mine too), big, bold colorful stuffed vegetables often appear on the plate as the main feature of the meal rather than as diced, sliced, or mashed side dishes that, as far as finicky kids are concerned, need a whole lot of coaxing to make them disappear.

Stuffed vegetables are attractive and easy on the budget since meat can be stretched much further when it’s mixed with rice, barley, wheat berries, or other grains and used as a stuffing. This is a great way to save money and eat healthy at the same time because, according to ongoing medical studies, many North American diets are considered to be somewhat “meat-heavy” and “grain-short.”

You can also make many different kinds of meatless stuffings that are quick to prepare, delicious, nutritious, and always a big hit in my house. The kids who love super “cheesy” creations love Mom’s old recipe for stuffed zucchini — fondly known by my gang as “Zucchini-cheese canoes.”

Below are some of my family’s favorite stuffed vegetable dishes. Since vegetables come in various sizes, you can adjust the ingredients as well as the number of vegetables needed to go around. For drop-in company, I often increase the rice or grain measures to make the meat in the stuffing go around to all.

Zucchini-cheese canoes

These mouth-watering, cheesy canoes are a delicious way of keeping up with the bounty of the tender zucchini the vegetable garden produces throughout its growing season. When home-grown zucchini aren’t available, those bought at the farmers’ market or the produce department of the grocery store are the next best thing and, compared to other choices of available winter or off-season produce, zucchini are always reasonably priced. I find one zucchini about 8 or 9 inches long makes two servings. I like to serve this dish with tossed green salad and garlic toast on the side. The big bonus in this recipe is the healthy dose of barley hidden inside the filling.


Zucchini-cheese canoes

 

  • 2 zucchini

  • [[½]] cup cooked barley (If you like using barley for this stuffing, you can cook a larger amount of grain than called for and cool and freeze it in small freezer bags to have handy. Wheat berries are also a good choice for this recipe and can be cooked in advance and frozen, as well.)

  • [[½]] cup seasoned bread crumbs

  • 1 small minced onion

  • 2 Tbsp. minced sweet red and/or yellow peppers

  • [[¼]] cup crumbled feta or goat cheese

  • 1 egg

  • 1 clove minced garlic

  • couple sprigs fresh minced rosemary or other herb of choice (or pinch of dried herbs)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

  • [[½]] cup grated cheddar, Mozzarella, or other cheese or mixture of cheeses.

 

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the insides of the zucchini halves, leaving about ½-inch thick shells, reserving the pulp. Place the shells, cut-side up, in a baking dish that has been greased with olive oil. Put the remaining ingredients, except Parmesan and grated cheese, into a bowl along with the reserved pulp and mix well. Pack the stuffing into the zucchini shells. Sprinkle Parmesan and grated cheese over top of the filled zucchini. Bake in preheated 400° F oven for 15 minutes, or until shell is fork tender and top is bubbly.

Hungarian stuffed cabbage head

This recipe was passed down to me from my Hungarian mother-in-law who always made it out of ground pork. Over the years, I have discovered ground venison and venison or pork sausage meat tastes equally good, making it an excellent recipe for hunters who have a nice stash of game meat in their freezer. It makes a very lovely presentation on the table. A head of green cabbage can be cut into six hefty wedges. Be sure to pass around a basket full of crusty bread or rolls to help finish up the spicy tomato sauce that accompanies the cabbage.


Hungarian stuffed cabbage head

 

  • 1 head of green cabbage

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 minced onion

  • 4 cloves minced garlic

  • [[¼]] cup each of diced sweet red and green pepper

  • 1 pound ground meat (pork, beef, venison, or sausage)

  • [[½]] cup barley (or long grain rice), uncooked

  • pinch of dried chile flakes (optional)

  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Using a sharp knife, slice the top off the cabbage as shown in photo, set the lid aside. Cut out the heart of the cabbage by circling it with a knife. Hollow out the cabbage using a knife to loosen the flesh and a spoon to scoop it out, leaving about a 1-inch shell. Do not discard the scooped out cabbage; it can be saved for use in soups, stir-fries, and salads.

Heat the oil in a skillet, sauté onion, garlic, and peppers until soft. Put meat into a bowl, add rice, sautéed vegetables, and seasonings. Mix well.

Fill the cabbage shell with meat mixture and set the lid back on top of the cabbage. Grease a large sheet of aluminum foil with olive oil. Sit the stuffed cabbage head onto the foil and wrap it up tightly, using more foil as needed to make a secure tight package. Set the wrapped cabbage into a large stock pot and cover with boiling water. Weigh the head down. I use a foil baking pan with a marble pestle inside to keep the cabbage submerged. Put on the lid and simmer for 2 hours, adding more boiling water as needed to keep the cabbage under water throughout the cooking time.

Remove from the water, unwrap the foil, and place cabbage on a platter. Using a sharp knife, cut into serving-sized wedges. Serve with spicy, hot tomato sauce drizzled over top. Leftover wedges can be placed in a greased dish, crowned with tomato sauce, and reheated in the oven for another day’s meal.

Spicy hot tomato sauce

 

  • 2 cups tomato sauce

  • garlic granules

  • dehydrated onion

  • dried chile pepper flakes

  • seasoned salt

  • black pepper

 Put the tomato sauce in a small saucepan and spice it up with the seasonings to suit your taste. Bring to a simmer. Let stand, covered, five minutes before serving in order for the flavors to mingle and the dried onion to plump back to life.

Stuffed peppers

These are as pretty as they are good. You can use red, orange, yellow, or green peppers, or a mix of colored peppers for festive occasions. I find that one half of a large pepper makes a generous serving. Serves 4.


Stuffed peppers

 

  • 2 medium to large sweet peppers

  • [[¾]] pound meat (pork, lamb, beef, venison, or bear)

  • [[¼]] to [[½]] cup long grain rice (depending on size of peppers)

  • 1 egg

  • 1 minced onion

  • 4 cloves minced garlic

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, sliced into rings (optional)

  • 1 quart homemade or store-bought tomato sauce

  • 1 cup water

 Cut peppers in half lengthwise; remove stems, pith, and seeds. Mix remaining ingredients, except jalapeño pepper, tomato sauce, and water. Fill the pepper halves with the stuffing. Place jalapeño pepper rings on top of the filled peppers, set upright in a baking dish, and pour tomato sauce and water over top. Put on lid, bake in preheated 350° F oven for 40 to 60 minutes or until pepper is tender and meat is cooked, adding a little more water as needed to keep sauce from getting too thick.

Stuffed mushroom caps

These are perfect for a special Sunday morning breakfast dish, a light brunch, a fast and easy supper, or a delightfully good appetizer. Allow 1 or 2 mushrooms per serving as an appetizer, or 3 or 4 with garlic toast and salad as a meal.


Stuffed mushroom caps

 

  • 6 to 8 large mushroom caps

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 small minced onion (or minced green onions for lighter taste)

  • 1 clove minced garlic

  • 1 small minced sweet pepper

  • [[¼]] cup seasoned fine bread crumbs

  • [[½]] cup softened cream cheese

  • pinch of dried basil

  • pepper to taste

  • grated Parmesan cheese

 

Remove stems from mushrooms by giving them a sharp twist then pulling outward, reserve the stems for another use — great in soups and gravies. Place mushroom caps in greased baking dish. Heat oil in small skillet and sauté onions, garlic, and pepper until soft, transfer to a bowl and add remaining ingredients, except Parmesan cheese. Mix well with your hands. Fill mushroom caps with the stuffing, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 15 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender and tops are bubbly.

Stuffed tomatoes with mac

This is a big favorite in our house, especially with the kids. It is often on the summer supper menu when the garden is loaded with tons of big, fat, juicy tomatoes ripe on the vines. Of course, you can make these whenever a craving strikes simply by choosing large ripe tomatoes — one per serving — from the produce department. The recipe below makes a meal for two, but can be multiplied as needed.


Stuffed tomatoes with mac

 

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes

  • [[½]] cup uncooked elbow macaroni

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 1 Tbsp. heavy cream

  • [[¼]] cup grated Mozzarella cheese (You can use processed cheese or cheese spread from a jar in a pinch.)

  • [[½]] tsp. garlic powder

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • pinch dried Italian herb mix

  • Parmesan-seasoned bread crumbs

 Slice tops off tomatoes and reserve the lids. Cut out the core and hollow the tomato with a spoon, reserving the pulp. Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until tender, drain, and add butter, cream, Mozzarella, minced tomato pulp, and seasonings. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Add bread crumbs, using enough to absorb all the moisture. Fill the tomatoes with the stuffing and sprinkle the tops with additional bread crumbs. Cut the stem off the tomato tops and set the “lids” back on. Plant a sprig of herb on top. Place in greased baking dish and bake at 350 °F for 15 minutes or until top is golden. Note: Some cooks plunge the tomatoes into boiling water and skin them before using but I don’t bother with this step. You can if you wish.

Mom’s sausage and apple-stuffed acorn squash

This makes a marvelous meal. Like my mom, I use homemade pork sausages in my stuffing when I have them on hand but breakfast-style, store-bought pork sausages work equally well. The bonus deal here is to be sure and save the seeds for roasting as a special “after supper” treat. Simply spread the seeds in an oiled baking pan and roast in hot oven for 8 minutes or until crispy and golden. Sprinkle with salt and ground cumin, if desired. Note: You can use any kind of winter squash you have and for variety, try replacing the bread cubes with 1 cup of cooked long grain or wild rice.


Mom’s sausage and apple-stuffed acorn squash

 

  • 1 acorn squash

  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter seasoned with 1 tsp. dried herbs and 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 4 or 5 chopped up pork sausages (or sausage meat to make the measure)

  • 1 cup stale bread cubes

  • 2 apples, cored and diced (I never peel apples for these types of cooking recipes but you can if you wish.)

  • 1 minced onion

  • 3 cloves minced garlic

  • [[¼]] stalk diced celery

  • 1 egg

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • pinch of sage

  • grated cheddar cheese and/or Parmesan for topping

 Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Brush squash halves with seasoned butter. Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 30 minutes, brushing occasionally with leftover seasoned butter. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet; fry sausage pieces until golden brown. Drain and put in a bowl along with the bread cubes. Heat another tablespoon of oil in the skillet and sauté apple, onion, garlic, and celery until soft. Add to the meat and bread mixture along with the egg and seasonings. Mix well. Stuff the squash halves with the filling. Sprinkle cheese over top and bake in 350° F oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until squash is fork tender. Cut each squash piece in half and serve. Serves 4.

Salmon-stuffed onions

Here’s a fish supper that’s fast and easy to make. Count on one onion per person — a half-pint jar or small can of salmon makes enough filling for two onions; a pint of fish or a large can will stuff four onions. I use home-canned salmon in my stuffing but store-bought canned salmon will do. If the members of your family are not devoted onion lovers, you can use green pepper shells instead, pre-roasting them in the same manner as for the onions in this recipe.


Salmon-stuffed onions

 

  • 4 medium to large peeled onions

  • 1 pint or 1 large can of salmon

  • 1 minced onion

  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped sweet pepper

  • [[½]] cup soda cracker crumbs

  • 1 tsp. fresh minced dill (or dried dill to taste)

  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • Parmesan cheese

 Slice the tops off onions. Using a sharp knife, cut the core out of the onion then scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving a thin shell. Place hollowed out onions in a greased baking dish. Put a ball of crumpled foil in each one to help the onion maintain its shape for the first part of the cooking stage. Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly tender. If using peppers, do the same with each pepper half. Remove from oven and cool. Mix remaining ingredients and fill the onion (or pepper halves) with the stuffing. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes or until onion (or pepper) is fork tender.

Bacon-stuffed potatoes

These are sometimes known as “twice-baked” potatoes and are often served as a side dish but I put enough bacon in my stuffed potatoes to carry them through as the main meal event. If my gang is extra hungry after a big day of outdoor activity, I’ll fry some eggs to accompany the potatoes on the plate. They pair up perfectly. Recipe below serves 4.

 

  • 4 large, scrubbed baking potatoes

  • 8 strips thick-sliced smoked side bacon (or about [[½]] pound regular sliced breakfast bacon)

  • 1 minced onion

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream

  • 4 Tbsp. crumbled blue cheese (or feta or goat cheese for milder flavor)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • grated cheddar or other cheese for topping

 Put potatoes in baking dish and bake in 350° F oven until merely fork tender. If you’re in a hurry, you can microwave the potatoes. Fry the bacon until crispy and golden, drain on absorbent paper and then crumble, set aside. In the bacon drippings, sauté the onion until soft. When potato is slightly cooled, slice in half lengthwise and spoon out the pulp. Mash the pulp with butter, sour cream, blue cheese, and seasonings. Fold in the bacon. Stuff the potatoes with the filling, sprinkle with cheese, and bake in 350° F oven 15 minutes. Or microwave until heated through and tops are bubbly.

Spicy stuffed eggplant

This makes a hearty supper dish. One medium or large-sized eggplant done in this fashion serves a family of four. And you will find that my stuffing mixture has enough left over to stuff a big fat juicy green pepper to bake alongside the eggplant, which not only adds a whole lot of extra flavor to the eggplant, but also dishes up some variety as well as second servings. Or if you have two smaller eggplants, you will have enough stuffing for both!


Spicy stuffed eggplant

 

  • 1 medium to large eggplant

  • 1 pound ground beef (pork or venison)

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 diced tomato

  • 1 diced onion

  • [[½]] diced green sweet pepper

  • 2 or 3 diced mushrooms

  • small diced jalapeño (optional)

  • 3 cloves minced garlic

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • fresh minced thyme, basil, and rosemary to taste (or pinch of dried Italian herb mixture)

  • [[½]] cup cooked rice (or barley or other grain of choice)

  • grated Parmesan cheese

  • [[½]] cup grated cheese (any variety)

 Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Circle the flesh by cutting with a knife, leaving about [[¼]]-inch shell. Using a spoon, remove the pulp. If you cut it first with a knife it will lift out easily. When both halves are hollowed, sit them back together to keep flesh from turning dark while preparing the stuffing. Dice the pulp into chunks, sprinkle lightly with salt, and weigh down with a plate. This will draw out excess moisture. In the meantime, heat olive oil in Dutch oven or skillet and brown the meat. Drain the eggplant pieces and add to the meat along with tomato, onion, pepper, mushrooms, garlic, and seasonings. Sauté until vegetables are soft and liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Add rice. Put eggplant halves into a baking dish. Stuff with the meat mixture, packing it in nice and firmly. If you have leftover stuffing, halve a green pepper and use remainder to fill it. Or you can save the excess filling for stuffing a couple taco shells or filling a pita pocket for the next day’s lunch. Sprinkle Parmesan and grated cheese over top. Bake in a 350° F oven for 30 minutes. Cut the eggplant pieces in half to serve. I like to set a bowl of hot, spicy tomato sauce on the table for drizzling over the top.

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