Mediterranean stuffed vegetables

There’s a very traditional Croatian recipe for stuffed peppers called punjena paprika, literally translated to stuffed or filled capsicums, which are filled with a mix of mince meat and rice, some kind of smoked pork like speck or pancetta, lots of seasoning and is usually served with mashed potato. It’s cooked in a tomato based broth and often some smoked ribs are added to the pot because, you know, there wouldn’t be enough flavour otherwise.


Now if you think that all sounds VERY hearty and filling you’d be right. So much so that I can never eat it without enjoying a nice raging dose of heartburn later on, not to mention the food baby and subsequent food coma. I have a feeling it may have originated in the north of Croatia, where the winters are brutally cold, and even in Dalmatia where the Mediterranean climate is much milder, this dish is saved for only the coldest of winter days or special occasions.

All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, to this version.

It’s so different that it doesn’t really compare to the Croatian version at all: it’s quick and easy to make, and so much lighter and healthier for you too. {And shock horror! It’s vegetarian!}. I also use a mix of capsicums and tomatoes for stuffing but it would be great with zucchini and eggplant too, and I think mushrooms would work a treat as well. Of course it’s not something you might necessarily feel like eating to warm you up but there are soups and stews for that. It makes a really impressive side dish if you’re feeding a crowd but it more than stands on it’s own as a main with a crunchy green salad alongside.

The filling is made up of pantry or fridge staples and is very Mediterranean in flavour. Bonus points for being vegetarian, and you can leave out the Parmesan for a vegan version. If animal protein is your thing then you should definitely add some anchovies to the onions and gently melt them for a flavour punch. You could also add some diced bacon or chorizo, or some chopped haloumi or feta.

Vegetarian | Vegan {skip the cheese} | Low fat | Low sugar

What you need

  • a selection of vegetables for stuffing: capsicums, large tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant all work well. Allow 2 per person.
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • One large brown onion, finely diced
  • Two cloves of garlic, very finely chopped or minced
  • Approximately two cups of breadcrumbs (depending on how many vegetables you’re filling)
  • One tbsp salted capers, rinsed
  • About a handful of pitted olives, roughly chopped
  • Fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Optional: anchovy fillets, Parmesan cheese

What to do

  • Heat the oven to 180 C. Prepare the vegetables, for capsicums you can either cut them in half for a boat-like shape or leave them whole like a cup. Either way make sure to remove all the seeds and pith. For tomatoes cut the top off and scoop out the seeds and flesh (keep it to use in the filling). If using zucchini or eggplant prepare in the same way. Place all the prepared vegetables on a lined baking tray.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. {If you’re using anchovies melt a few in the pan before adding the onion, until they have dissolved.} Saute the onion until softened and translucent, then any of the scooped out tomato {or zucchini or eggplant} flesh. After a few minutes add the garlic and breadcrumbs. Stir through and gently toast the breadcrumbs for a couple of minutes, and add the olives, capers, and parsley and stir to combine well.

  • Spoon the filling into the vegetables and bake for about 40 minutes. Grate some Parmesan over the top when they are done.

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