Quinoa-stuffed peppers with vegan pesto. (Amy Kim)

With their vibrant color and unusual shape, stuffed peppers can provide a stunning presentation for your main course. This recipe is completely gluten-free and vegan, with protein-rich quinoa and a vegan pesto sauce drizzled on top for a flavor boost. Regular pesto is delicious but is high in calories and contains cholesterol. This sauce contains heart-healthy fats from walnuts and has zero cholesterol and much lower saturated fat than a classic pesto recipe. Extra pesto can be frozen for later use with whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or fresh fish.

All about bell peppers

● Bell peppers range in color and flavor based on how ripe they are. A red bell pepper is riper and therefore sweeter and milder than a green bell pepper.

● Red peppers contain 11 times more beta carotene and four times more vitamin C than green bell peppers. Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keep teeth and gums healthy, and beta carotene benefits your immune system, vision, skin health and bone health.

● Red bell peppers also contain an important phytochemical, lycopene, which could benefit prostate and heart health, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

● Select bell peppers that are brightly colored and firm with tight skin. You can store bell peppers for up to five days in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.

All about quinoa

● Quinoa is considered an ancient whole grain, but it’s actually a seed.

● Quinoa is a good source of fiber with 5 grams of fiber per serving. Fiber keeps you fuller longer and aids in digestion and overall heart health.

● According to the American Dietetic Association, quinoa is a complete protein with all eight essential amino acids — great for vegetarians and vegans.

● In addition to containing more protein than many grains, this powerful seed also contains more nutrients, including important minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and iron.

● Quinoa is widely available and can be found in most grocery stores, typically near rice and other grains.

Gordon, a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site Eating by Elaine and director of health management solutions at LiveHealthier.


Quinoa-stuffed peppers

Serves 4

Most stuffed pepper recipes are heavy on cheese. This one gets its heartiness from diced vegetables and a zesty pesto sauce.

Be sure to select bell peppers that have a semi-flat bottom and can stand fairly upright on their own. Adapted from a recipe by Elaine Gordon, creator of the healthful-recipe site Eatingbyelaine.com and director of health management solutions at LiveHealthier.

For the stuffed peppers

4 bell peppers, any color or a combination of colors

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced shallot, from 2 to 3 large shallots

1/2 cup diced zucchini, from 1 small zucchini

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups vegetable broth, plus more for the baking dish

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto

2 cups basil leaves, rinsed and dried

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 to 4 medium cloves garlic

2 tablespoons walnuts

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish large enough to hold the 4 peppers with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Slice off the stem and a thin portion of the top of each bell pepper. Scoop out and discard the ribs and seeds. Discard the stems, and cut the remaining pepper tops into fine dice.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallot, diced pepper tops and zucchini; stir to combine. Add the quinoa and stir for about 2 minutes or until the quinoa is lightly toasted. Add the broth, bring it to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low or medium low and cook, adjusting the heat so that the liquid is barely bubbling around the edges and stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the pepper and stir to combine.

Spoon the filling into the peppers. Transfer the stuffed peppers to the prepared baking dish and pour a thin layer of broth into the bottom of the dish. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the peppers are baking, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic (to taste) and the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube and puree into a smooth sauce.

To serve, drizzle a little of the pesto over each pepper. Pass the remaining pesto at the table.

NUTRITION | Per serving (using 1 / 4 of the pesto): 310 calories, 8 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Recipe tested by Amy Kim; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com

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