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updated 12/11/2003 6:18:43 PM ET 2003-12-11T23:18:43

You want to know one of the best ways to get lots of flavor and texture into one simple dish? Well, stuff it. Most stuffed foods can be made ahead and freeze well, so they are good choices for entertaining or quick mid-week meals. These foods can contain a variety of the vegetables, grains and protein necessary for a well-balanced, nutritious meal.

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Favorite vegetables to stuff are tomatoes, zucchini, onions and peppers. To stuff tomatoes, simply scoop them out and pack in the filling.

For zucchini, cut the squash lengthwise and use a teaspoon with a pointed tip to scrape out the soft, seedy center into a wide, deep channel. Add enough filling to cover the entire surface of the squash.

Stuffed onions take a little more time and effort. Boil a whole, peeled, medium-sized onion for 2 minutes. Use a melon baller to scoop out the inside, leaving a shell two layers thick. Stuff the onions with your choice of filling and bake. As they cook, the natural sugar in the onions caramelizes, making them soft and sweet.

Sweet red bell peppers — an excellent source of vitamin C — have a mild, sweet flavor and crisp, juicy flesh. With their tops cut off and seeds removed, they make perfect containers for the stuffing of your choice.

Turkey and rice stuffed peppers 

4 medium red bell peppers, tops, ribs and seeds removed

1/2 lb. ground turkey breast

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 peeled garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup corn fresh, canned or defrosted

1/4 cup finely minced flat-leaf parsley

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. bread crumbs, preferably whole-grain

Preheat the oven to 400.

Taking care not to make any holes, cut a very thin slice off the bottom of each bell pepper, just enough to help them stand straight and firmly. Set aside.

For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the turkey, rice, onion, garlic, corn, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Add beans, mixing in lightly with a fork so beans aren’t mashed. Set aside.

Divide the filling into four portions, packing each pepper with the mixture, mounding any extra at the top. Place stuffed peppers in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Pour in 1 cup of water. Cover the dish with foil and bake it in the center of the oven for 40 minutes. In the meantime, combine cheese with the breadcrumbs in a small bowl.

After 40 minutes of baking, uncover peppers. Sprinkle cheese mixture over top of each pepper. Continue baking the peppers, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes or until the peppers are soft when pierced with a knife but not collapsing. Cool just long enough to be able to eat, 10 to 20 minutes, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 249 calories, 5 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat), 31 g. carbohydrate, 19 g. protein, 6 g. dietary fiber, 505 mg. sodium.

Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

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