Sausage & Barley-Stuffed Peppers

There are tons of stuffed pepper recipes in the world, but you don’t need a recipe to make a hearty make-ahead dinner with all the ingredients your family likes best.

There are four primary components of a basic stuffed pepper: the pepper, the substance, the flavor, and the sauce.

The Pepper

Most American-style stuffed peppers are bell peppers as the vehicle for the stuffing, though you can stuff any mild (or spicy, if you love it!) pepper. Look for any color pepper that is as symmetrical and “squared” as possible for easiest stuffing.

You can stuff the peppers whole or halved. Either way, you may choose to pre-cook your pepper for quicker cooker and a tender pepper. You can blanch the peppers in simmering water or roast them for about 15 minutes in a 350°F oven until they’re just tender. This is an optional step—you can cook your peppers from raw with great results.

To prepare your peppers to stuff whole: cut across the pepper at the stem-end, trimming away any seeds and veins to create a cup. For halved peppers, slice the peppers in half through the stem-end. Season the inside of the peppers with salt before pre-cooking or stuffing.

The Substance

These are the ingredients that make up the bulk of your pepper filling. Pre-cooked rice, grains, or small pastas can be mixed with cooked ground turkey, pork, or other meat, leftover shredded chicken or pulled pork, cooked beans, or even chili or other prepared stews. For 5 servings, you’ll want about 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice or other grain, and 2 to 3 cups of bite-sized meat or other protein.

The Flavor

Decide what sort of flavors you’re in the mood for, and add complementary cooked veggies, pickled ingredients, spices, herbs, nuts, dried fruit, or cheese. Add a few dashes of hot sauce, mustard, prepared pesto, or chile-garlic sauce. For a Tex-Mex style pepper, you might add corn, pickled jalapeños, chili spices, and cilantro to ground pork and rice. For a Mediterranean style, you could use ground lamb or lentils, orzo, mint, raisins, olives, lemon juice, and cumin.

Pre-cook any aromatic ingredients, like onion and garlic, and any veggies that are slow-to-cook, like Brussels sprouts or hard-skinned squash. Ingredients like corn, zucchini, and shredded greens can be stirred into the filling raw. For 5 servings, you’ll want to add at least 2 cups of additional ingredients.

The Sauce

You can cook a sauce with your peppers or make a separate sauce to add later. Cooked sauces for stuffed peppers are often tomato-based and can be layered at the bottom of the pan before adding the peppers.

A separate sauce could be as simple as a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, but we also like something creamy, like sour cream mixed with hot sauce, tzatziki, or just a drizzle of tahini. You could use a chimichurri or pesto, or even just a vinaigrette for some acidity.

Once you have your components chosen, stuffed peppers couldn’t be easier to assemble.

Pre-cook any ingredients and combine them all in a bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Place the peppers in a roasting pan or heavy saucepan, depending on their shape and size. Fill the peppers to the top with your stuffing mixture, adding cheese to the top, if you like. Because the ingredients are pre-cooked, your goal is just to cook the peppers and heat the filling through, so bake at about 400°F and remove the peppers when they are cooked to your preference—about 30 minutes for tender-crisp peppers or longer for softer roasted peppers.

Once they are stuffed, the peppers can be refrigerated for a day or two before cooking, or frozen to cook later. You can also freeze the peppers after they’ve been cooked. Just be sure to cool them before freezing.