Preparing Stuffed Vegetables

You’ve sautéed, stir-fried, and steamed them. But have you ever tried stuffing your veggies? Diced lean meat, seafood, reduced-fat cheeses, fresh herbs, hummus, and more vegetables all make great fillings, as do whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat couscous once you’re on Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet.

Some stuffed vegetables, like our Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Low-Fat Cottage Cheese, make a delicious snack. Others, such as our Tomato Stuffed with Tuna Salad, make a filling and delicious lunch or dinner.

For the most delicious stuffed veggies:

Choose the right vegetables. Just about any vegetable that can be hollowed out makes a good candidate for stuffing, so think eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms, large zucchini, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and tomatoes. The softer vegetables such as tomatoes and mushrooms don’t need any cooking before getting stuffed, while vegetables with hard shells often, but not always, will need to be baked (in the oven or microwave) or steamed before being stuffed.

Make a healthy filling. For soft vegetables that won’t be cooked before stuffing, choose a chilled filling like tuna or egg salad made a little with low-fat or light mayonnaise, or even seasoned cottage cheese. For harder vegetables that will be stuffed and then baked, consider incorporating the removed flesh of that vegetable with hearty whole grains, other veggies, and/or herbs or other seasonings. In our Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms, the stems of the mushrooms are removed from the caps, chopped, and sautéed in olive oil. This mixture is then combined with cooked spinach before being stuffed back into the mushroom caps, which are also sautéed.

In our Stuffed Eggplant, the eggplant is halved and the flesh removed and chopped. It is then combined with whole-wheat bread crumbs, fresh garlic, finely chopped onion and mushrooms, diced red bell pepper, tomato sauce, and seasonings before being spooned back into the halved eggplant.

Get prepped. If you’re cooking a hard-shelled vegetable like a winter squash, the easiest way to prep it is to halve it, scoop out the seeds, and microwave the halves until softened. Once the squash is stuffed, bake it until the stuffing is heated through. In our Stuffed Spaghetti Squash, for example, the halved squash cooks in the microwave for 10 minutes before being filled with a mixture of spaghetti squash strands, peas, whole-wheat couscous, reduced-fat feta cheese, chopped red bell pepper, and chopped scallions. The stuffed squash then bakes for about 20 minutes in a regular oven.

If you are prepping uncooked vegetables to stuff, such as cherry tomatoes, use a melon baller to evenly remove the pulp. Then fill with the desired filling, using a very small spoon. Or try making cucumber “cups.” Cut the cucumbers into 2-inch thick rounds and then use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds and flesh without cutting through entirely. Stuff the cucumber “cups” with hummus or salsa.

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