Croatian Stuffed Peppers Recipe {Punjene Paprike}

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Croatian Cooking: Stuffed Peppers Recipe {Punjene Paprike}

Get stuffed… whoops I mean get stuffing. There are  loads of stuffed vegetables that you’ll see dished up here in Croatia and around the Balkans. Today you’re being served stuffed peppers or for my Aussie readers, stuffed capsicums.

Stuffed Peppers, are called Punjene Paprike in Croatian.

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers are a hearty dish, of mince meat & rice. Typically served with mashed potato or sometimes rice.

You’ll find stuffed peppers on offer in Croatia as soon as the peppers are ripe.

In our case, the vegetable garden politely made some available for picking early July.

Every Croatian I know has their own variation on this recipe, and they, of course, all claim that their way is the best way to makes them. Also, I have come to notice of my years of being in a Croat family that, people have different ways of eating them. Here are the 3 ways that I have identified.

Scoop

Scoop out the stuffing & leave behind the pepper. This to me is such a waste as the pepper becomes so soft and sweet during the cooking process.

Slice

You can slice the Pepper into sections as I do, taking turns to add some mashed potato and sauce with each mouthful.

Mash 

The most popular way I have seen stuffed peppers eaten is to mash the entire plate, peppers, potatoes, sauce and all into a mushy mess. This way you can shovel the contents much more quickly into your mouth.

Have I missed a way to eat them? Let me know in the comments section below. 

I like mine sliced open

I first made stuffed peppers after my Mother-in-Law gave me a cookbook of Croatian Cooking for Christmas, and over the years I have added to and changed up the recipe to my taste.

If you’re going to make them, here are some tips in advance from my kitchen to yours:

  • These are even better to eat after a few hours or even the next day. I suggest you make these up on a Sunday & then you can enjoy them after a hard day at the office.
  • If you’re like me and love the flavour of smoked bones, throw some into the pot when you pour in the sauce.
  • Ask your butcher to freshly mince your meat for you – you’ll really taste the difference.
  • Use a mix of yellow, red or green capsicums. It always looks so nice to see the different colours on the plate.
  • Dig out from the back of your cupboard the largest saucepan you can find. If you don’t have one I suggest you borrow one from your neighbour. In return offer them a pepper & you’ll be friends for life. The wider the pot, the better. That way you won’t need to pile them on top of one another and they’ll be less likely to split and break.

Things to do in Croatia_Stuffed Peppers|Croatia Travel Blog

Here is my recipe:

Take 8-10 medium sized peppers, and carefully cut out the top and set aside the as you’ll use this as a lid for the pepper later. Scoop out the insides and be sure to remove all of the seeds and any stringy pieces. Wash the lids and peppers and allow them to dry upside down on paper towel while you make the stuffing.

To make the stuffing, add the following ingredients to a large bowl and use your hands to lightly mix until combined. Make sure the bowl is big enough for you to be able to use your hands to mix it well without spilling it all over the floor (trust me, it happens).

  • 1kg of minced meat. I prefer 1/2 veal and 1/2 beef
  • A generous pinch of salt and as much pepper as you like
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked ground paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of hot ground paprika (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of mixed dried herbs (optional)
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons of soda water or a pinch of bicarbonate soda
  • 2 large cloves of chopped fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup of freshly chopped parsley (I sometimes finely dice up the smaller stems too)
  • 200 grams of any finely diced speck. You can cut this back if you do not like too much of a smokey flavour.

Flip the peppers over and fill them with the stuffing until they are almost full. But do not over fill them. The rice expands during cooking and they’ll burst leaving you a hideous mess in your saucepan. Leave the lids off for the moment.

Arrange the stuffed peppers in the saucepan. It’s better if they are gently packed in so they don’t flip over & don’t squeeze them in so tight, as they’ll bust open when they expand. This may take you several minutes to do, but trust me it is well worth it at the end when your peppers are not split open.

Add in 2 bay leaves and a stick of celery. No need to chop this, as it’s just for flavour. Set aside, while you make the sauce.

In a separate saucepan on medium heat add

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • And fry 1 finely diced medium onion

Once onions are transparent, add in

  • 2 tablespoons of flour and fry until light brown.

Add into the pan

  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 2 litres of homemade stock (or water) along with a
  • Pinch of  and add salt & pepper to your taste

Stir continuously, until the sauce comes to the boil. Turn off and slowly pour over your peppers. Be sure to pour the sauce over each pepper as well as around each one. The sauce should cover the peppers. If it doesn’t, and this can happen, just add in a little more stock or water. If you are adding in smoked bones, pop them in now.

Place the top of the pepper back on, it acts like a mini lid. If you didn’t keep it, it’s okay, nothing bad will happen.

Shake the saucepan just a little, you want to be sure that the sauce is evenly spread. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer. Cook for approx 2 hours, occasionally shaking the saucepan. This is important to keep the sauce evenly spread and to stop the peppers from sticking & burning. Add in more water as they cook if you need.

Once ready, allow them to cool a little. They’ll taste better if you can resist the temptation. Serve with mashed potato or rice – and if you don’t manage to eat them all in one sitting, you can keep these in the refrigerator for a few days. I can’t say how many days, as they never last that long in my house.

Here are some other wonderful Croatian cooking recipes you may like.

If you want to come to Croatia and try this for yourself, here are a list of things to do, as well as ideas from other travel bloggers – between the two you have the makings of a great holiday. But, be warned, here are 5 reasons to NOT come to Croatia. Enjoy.

Do you make your Stuffed Peppers differently? Let me know in the comments sections below. I love hearing new ways to make a recipe better.

More Cooking Tips And Croatian Recipes

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Comments (96)

  1. Hi
    I made your recipe and it’s very delicious. Took me back to my childhood😊I read that your MIL puts hers in the oven and just wanted to ask in what temp and for how long. I had to spilt it over two pans so wanted to see if the oven would be easier thanks again for sharing your wonderful recipes.

  2. As a matter of fact, my husband and I are making stuffed capsicum today. He is both Croatian (born there) and Australian (raised there.) We’ve definitely done this with rice, but for something different, try barley in the meat mixture. Never thought to have it over mashed potatoes before, but I definitely will now!

  3. Hi there. I’m making these peppers now and when I made th sauce , it only filled the pot not even halfway so did u mean the full pepper has to be fully covered ?
    If I just add hot water will that water down the sauce ? Lose the flavour. I just used Campbell’s broth and when I made the sauce it’s still thin. I’m assuming it will thicken while cooking ?
    Please let me know. On the stove now 🙂 tnx a bunch

    1. Yes, the entire pepper has to be covered. It may water the sauce down, but the flavor is absorbed by the rice and meet – the sauce is not mandatory. Hope they turned out well.

  4. what is speck? hope my butcher has some. IM creation background so would like to try this recipe. also instead of water, can you use chicken broth Campbells from the carton? as that is what homeade stock is.
    tnx.
    sue

  5. If you prefer a shortcut you can cook 2 pounds of ground beef seasoned with dry Italian herbs and salt. Cook one cup of rice than mix wit ground beef when cooked.
    Stuff peppers with mix and replace tops. Put in pot large enough to hold five peppers standing up.
    Put five cans of tomato soup and five vans of water and salt to taste in pot.
    When sauce begins to boil turn flame down to simmer and put lid loosely on pot.
    Simmer for hour or until peppers are tender.
    Serve pepper on plate with instant mashed potatoes and sauce spooned over pepper and potato.
    Any crusty bread and white wine goes great with meal.

  6. My husband is Croatian and I was so happy to find this wonderful recipe – it’s absolutely delicious and “passed” his croatian test hehe he told me tastes just like his moms which is a big deal! Amazing and delicious thank you for this!

    1. I am Croatian and my wife is Puerto Rican. Have made many Croatian dishes and deserts. Wife cleans her plate every time I cook.

  7. Also, I cooked it in the oven in a baking tray, covered in foil – this meant that the peppers were nicely spread out and they all had an even covering of sauce.

  8. This was absolutely delicious. I made it as per the recipe (except for the bicarb, which I think is superfluous), with a generous hand to the garlic and black pepper. My ex-mother-in-law is Croatian, but I think I outdid her this time – adult children thought it was fabulous, especially the smoky flavor from the speck.

  9. Poon yene is probably the easiest way to pronounce these beauties….
    Which means stuffed or filled peppers 🙂

  10. I am SO excited to find this recipe. We just returned from Croatia and had this dish at Villa Spiza in Split. I have been craving it ever since coming home, it was so delicious! Excited to try!!!

  11. Love your recipe. I usually like to cook (simmer) mine for 20-30mins (until mince is cooked). This avoids the peppers sticking onto the bottom of the pan and give the peppers a slightly different clean, crisp texture. It’s a super fast dish to prepare and cook (great for time poor cooks like me 🙂

  12. Winter staple at my home. Considering the fact both of my parents are Croatian, it’s not surprising 🙂

  13. Every single recipe of SJ’s that I’ve made has been a winner!! My husband has long professed that he is not a fan of stuffed peppers. Then I made this recipe. Now he is a fan!

  14. I made these for our dinner tonight, and once again…you steered me right (I made your brodet recipe a little while ago – delicious!). My husband, who is ho-hum on stuffed peppers, LOVED these. I didn’t use speck, and I substituted ketchup for tomato paste (too lazy to make a special trip to the grocery)…but it still worked. THANK YOU!!!

    1. Yay!!! Super. Good to know about ketchup – and now you can say you have your OWN recipe. Brava Maryann xx

  15. My dad grew up cooking with my great grandmother and grandmother, both full blood Croatian. He used to make these all the time amongst other recipes. My dad passed away 2 and 1/2 years ago very young and I was unable to get all of the family recipes. I’ve been craving these peppers since he passed and tonight, in his honor I will make them like the old days. It will be nice to have again and fondly remember my dad, grandmother and great grandmother. Hvala!

    1. Molim!!!!!! I am so glad you found them – these are easy to adapt so after you make them the 1st time you may need to add / remove stuff to taste like his. Everyone I know makes them differently. I hope they come close to his for you!!! What other recipes you wanna know and we can share them with you.

  16. I’m curious what the bicarbonate of soda does? I am about to make this recipe for my son’s 36th birthday…he visited Croatia when he was 18 and he’s STILL asks for Croatian Stuffed Peppers as a special treat! Also, a lot of recipes use carrots and onions in the mixture…how’s that sound to you?

    1. Hi Erica,
      My auntie said that the soda water makes the meat more “fluffy” not so compact yet firm, because of the bubbles in the soda. You can try it both ways (normal and soda water) and you will see the difference in texture. Soda water also gives the meat a different taste. Not so “flat”.
      This is what I was told 🙂

  17. AMAZING… I love this recipe…. Husband does too. Since there are only two of us, I had extra filing in which I made a meatloaf with. I poured extra sauce on top and baked it until the liquid was absorbed. The peppers are the perfect dish for an elegant (no stress or fuss) dinner party, I will definitely make this again. Thank you

    1. Oh yay! I am so glad you liked it. And what a brilliant idea for the extra dish. These as so much better the next day, so you can make it way before your guests arrive. Thanks for coming back and letting me know, it really made my day.

      1. I am a little dissapointed 🙁 I am not sure what I did wrong but the rice in the middle is not cooked. What kind of rice do you use? Also they are a little bit dry. I used pork and beef.

        1. Ohh no! I’ve used several types (just whatever I have at the time) mostly regular long grain white rice, but also carnaroli rice. My family here in Croatia uses partial cooked rice – so it’s safe to say they all should work. Did you have the liquid level up over the top for the duration of the cooking? I’d put some vege stock (or water) in the pot and put them back for another 10 mins. Lemme know how you get on.

  18. I have now made these twice following this recipe. Perfect both times! Love it. Invited another Croatain family to try it and they agreed the recipe was delicious. Thank you!

  19. Love this recipe! Only I used pork mince and I fried it off briefly first. My peppers turned out perfect and everyone loved them. I moved interstate recently so it was a nice reminder of home and my Baba’s cooking. Thank you!

  20. Hi! I love this recipe, my baka made it alllll the time, but sadly she passed before I could get the recipe, so thank you so much! Just a question, what kind of stock do you use? Beef, vegetable? Thanks 🙂

    1. Ohh sorry, I missed this question! You’re so very welcome, try mine and add and change things up a little till you find how your Baka made it. I usually make a homemade vegetable stock, just cause it’s easy. But you can use any stock you like, you could even add a little extra Vegeta if you’re short on time 🙂 I’d love to know how you get on and what you end up changing 🙂

  21. Interesting! Croatian stuffed peppers are quite similar to Turkish ones (biber dolması). Minus the paprika and speck. However, now that I live in porkland, I could definitely see adding some bacony bits to the tomato sauce for flavor. 😉 We also serve our peppers with plain or garlicky yogurt to plop on top. Thanks for some more inspiration!

    1. Hmmm, yes I could see some yoghurt going with this. Pork products rock! I could never do away with them – ever. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  22. These look great. I’ve made stuffed peppers many times but not in quite this way. Definitely something I’ll be trying. Pinned! Thanks so much for linking up to #recipeoftheweek. There’s a fresh linky live now – would love you to pop over and join in with another fab recipe 🙂

    1. Cheers! Sorry I have been travelling, I’ll join tomorrow. I keep forgetting. Do you have an email reminder for your linky? Or am I being too lazy 🙂

  23. They sound great! – Just a couple of (really daft) questions regarding the ingredients: Speck – is this some kind of ham? never heard of it (!!) and vegeta -a herb? Please help?! 🙂

    1. Sue, sorry I should have explained those two things. Speck is ham that is dried and cured. It is also the fattier cuts. Ohh so tasty. You could also use ham / bacon, but my guess is that in Spain you have yummy Iberico Speck to choose from..no? Also vegeta is a Croatian cooking staple, it’s a seasoning & you can find it on Amazon, or if you want let me know your address and I will gladly post you some.

      1. Thanks for that! I’m sure the Iberico ham will suffice – as for the vegeta, I’ve had a look at the amazon link and seen the ingredients – I think I’ll have a go at concocting something a little more natural (no offence, but I avoid things like monosodium glutamate and disodium inosinate wherever I can) 🙂

        1. Ohhh but thats where all the flavour is…. 🙂 I’d love to know know what you concoct instead. You’re so very healthy, it’s inspiring. I am so lazy…

          1. OK – So I’ve been all over the interweb, researching, and (1) Good news: you can buy from the same manufacturer MSG free vegeta: . (2) There are hundreds of ‘home-made’ recipes, all of which have different ingredients. (3) I think I’ll just use a strong (reduced), home-made, vegetable stock instead, as the dehydrated vegetables in vegeta (carrot, parsley, parsnip, celery, onion, leaves (??)) are what I would normally use to make a veggie stock (well, more or less). As the recipe only asks for a ‘pinch’ of the stuff, anyway, I don’t think it’ll make much difference 🙂
            It isn’t lazy to use these products, not at all, I occasionally use them but my ‘curious’ side always likes to try and find an alternative, more natural, way of cooking. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hug a tree……

  24. I’ve been eating the punjena paprika my entire life (I’m a scooper, can’t stand the taste of boiled paprika), and this is the first instance I’ve heart of putting lids on paprika. Great blog, BTW.

    1. The paprika is the best part Marijan. Tell me next when you make them, and I will pop over and finish your plate. And thanks ever so kindly on your kind words.

  25. Hi SJ, trying them out tonight for David & then tomorrow nights dinner for the boys! Here’s a 2 photo’s, the 2 youngest helping me in the kitchen, then the finished result!! Looking forward to your stuffed cabbage recipe !!! Love to you and your boys xxx

      1. They turned out wonderfully, looks like it didn’t like me trying to up load photo’s, will have to try again another time. Niw when will I see the stuffed cabbage receipe, David is still dreaming of those from your engagement party!

  26. my svekrva makes it with cheese inside…i dont know the recipe but she stuffs it woth cheese, its amazing!!

    1. YAY! I’ll take a look at the recipe soon. So cool that you took inspiration from my recipe.

  27. Hi SJ,my friend Zdenka ,bakes hers in the oven (very un Croatian ) the result is that the peppers do not need to be watched as much ie shaking the pot etc.my mum has a fit every time I change traditional methods.!!!!

  28. These look delicious. We had them in Greece and Turkey, but I'm imagining the Croatian version is distinct and wonderful. Can't wait to try them. 🙂

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