Stuffed Peppers is a typical traditional Albanian summer dish (speca te mbushura). Most Mediterranean countries cook a version of stuffed peppers with minced meat or ground beef and rice. Since living in Miami, I’ve made friends from around the world and I have tried so many other versions of this dish. I’ve tried the vegetarian version, I’ve tried them filled with mashed potatoes, I’ve had the filled cheese version, the ‘chille relleno’ version etc. The spices vary by country & region too so this is one of the most versatile dishes I have ever seen so far. Below I’ll share the recipe we cooked in my family, but I hope with time I’ll be able to cook several other versions of this dish.Jump to Recipe
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Stuffed Peppers & Childhood Memories
One of my childhood memories about this dish is an embarrassing one but let me start with some background information first.
While growing up, my native country was under Communist Dictatorship where lots of things were state centralized, starting from what you do for a living to where you live. Any show of personalized views and desires was discouraged and even punished. One of the very centralized things was a super-sized neighborhood wood oven with a state paid baker. If you ever needed a dish baked like a casserole or a cake, you prepared it at home then you walked over to the neighborhood bakery and gave instructions to the baker how to bake it for you. Then you had to go pick it up when ready.
This method controlled in a way how people celebrated, especially around religious holidays because religion was not allowed during Communism. So for example if a family baked a certain dish around Ramadan or Christmas you kind of have to justify it with a family member birthday or some other event, so no one would suspect your family was celebrating a religious holiday. Ok, so enough of a background for this:) , I don’t want to scare the readers of the blog away.
A Short Story
So one day when i was maybe 10 years old, my mom prepared the peppers, the stuffing and made a beautiful stuffed peppers dish. She asked me if I could take it to the neighborhood bakery. I took the dish, held the coin to pay for baking in my clenched fist and started walking. The bakery was maybe few blocks away, not too far. As I was holding the dish in front of me, I didn’t notice a hole on the sidewalk while I was approaching the bakery. I fell in and the dish slipped my hands, flipped around and fell all over my head, face and upper body. I cried so much and felt so embarrassed, few ladies walking by came to help me out.
Even at 10 years old I understood that food was scarce, meat was rationed so we couldn’t replace it. I ran home crying and my mom calmed me down promising me that it was all OK, accidents happen. She went to pick up the dish that was still on the sidewalk and then we cooked some pasta for the day. I still remember that event so vividly!!!
One Of My Favorite Albanian Meals
This week we have guests from my husband’s side of the family visiting from Bolivia and they were asking about typical Albanian dishes. I decided to treat them to stuffed peppers. My 5 year old has tried this dish before, but my toddler will try this for the firs time today so I can’t wait to see her reaction to this new food:)
Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers Recipe
Serve this dish with a summer salad like Greek Salad or a refreshing tomato salad. If you are vegetarian and want a version without meat, you can try the below recipe without meat and add a bit more tomatoes, parsley, rice for the filling. Also, I have a recipe of stuffed peppers with cauliflower puree that is vegetarian.
1. Bell Pepper Size
Serving size is difficult to calculate. The biggest factor is bell pepper size. In most Mediterranean countries, peppers are not too big so you can fill a whole tray with same stuffing recipe as below and you would need about 20 peppers. Here in United States bell peppers are huge, I mean sometimes I have to cut one in half because I can’t eat one just on my own. The pictures you see of this recipe are with bell peppers and I handpicked them as small as I could get them. That’s why the serving size will be anywhere from half a pepper to 2 peppers per person.
2. Baking Time
The size of the bell peppers will affect baking time as well. Using what I consider small size bell peppers in US (actual normal size in Mediterranean), it took me about 50 minutes of baking time. Adjust that time accordingly. Bigger peppers will need longer baking time so the stuffing can be well cooked.
Stuffed Peppers – An Albanian Recipe
- 12 small bell peppers
- 1 lb ground beef or minced beef
- 2 medium onions
- 1 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1 tbsp salt
- 0.5 tbsp black pepper
- 1 cup rice uncooked
- 2 medium baking potatoes optional
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 can crushed tomatoes 14-16 oz
- 3 cups water
- Wash, pat dry and clean the peppers from the seeds. I usually leave the top part of the peppers untouched so it can stay on top of the stuffing as decoration.
- Chop the onions, saute them in medium to high heat in olive oil, then add the ground beef. You can also use minced meat if you prefer to pick the meat cut and then cut it in small pieces yourself. Once meat is browned, then add parsley and crushed tomatoes. This time i used a can of crushed tomatoes, but sometimes i like to use fresh tomatoes. I usually buy them few days before, let them get soft and chop them for this dish. Add 1 cup of water and mix well.
- As soon as the mixture is boiling, you can add the rice, salt & pepper. Turn the heat down to medium. Mix well and let it cook for 10 minutes. You want the stuffing not to be too thick so if a bit more water is needed, add an extra half a cup.
- Turn the heat off and let the stuffing cool, you don’t want to burn yourself while stuffing the peppers. Which I will tell you right now, I’ve done more than once so I definitely know it burns:). Once the stuffing is still warm, start stuffing the peppers and placing them back on the baking dish. I usually use a spoon to do the stuffing. Once all the peppers are stuffed, i cut the potatoes and placed them around the peppers. They add a nice flavor to the final dish but also help in absorbing the water we will add in a bit. I haven’t seen anyone else add potatoes around the peppers in this dish, so this must be my mom’s idea because she always did this. There will usually be some stuffing left over once all the peppers are stuffed, however it’s not for sure given that you can’t control the size of the peppers so sometimes you might come up a bit short and that’s ok, just fill them all up as much as you can. The rice will make the stuffing’s volume grow anyway. If you have leftover stuffing, add it around the peppers and on top of the potato wedges. Sprinkle some salt on the potatoes too. Add 2 cups of water around the peppers and potatoes.
- I baked this dish at 375, bottom rack for about 35 minutes. Then once i noticed the top of the peppers were getting browned but the potatoes were not fully baked yet, i covered the dish with aluminum foil and let bake for another 15 minutes. Let the dish cool and serve about 2 peppers per person. Usually I like to serve a summer salad as a side dish.
Let me know if you have any questions about the recipe:). If you would like to save the recipe for later, please save it in Pinterest.
Other Traditional Albanian Recipes:
Please see below links for more traditional Albanian recipes:
- Tave Kosi (Yogurt & Lamb Bake)
- Stuffed Zucchini
- Shapkat (Corn Pie with Spinach & Feta Cheese)
- Stuffed Eggplants