I may have mentioned once or twice how much I’m not really fond of summer simply because of the heat here. I have made a bit of a truce, though, because that heat makes all sorts of yumminess possible.
One “problem” comes up, though, if you have a vegetable garden you may find yourself with a glut of produce and therefore a need to figure out what to do with it all. Sure, you could give some away, but I’m thinking you’d like to eat some of it, too.
One of the beauties of Greek cooking is how often meals are made in a one-stop-shopping fashion. Dishes frequently have a mix of protein, vegetable, and starch so you get yourself a meal-in-one rather than having to prepare multiple items. Much of this has to do with the fact that ovens weren’t common at all until just recently, so the locals shared communal ovens. Space is limited so you don’t get to hog it all with your multi-course meal.
Γεμιςτα, spelled yemista or gemista in English (yeh-mee-STAH), simply means “stuffed”, but usually refers to stuffed tomatoes and peppers. All sorts of things can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, rice being the most common. Ground meat is often used, but doesn’t have to be. In this version, seasoned ground beef is married with rice, onions, and the tomato “guts” from hollowing out the tomatoes. It’s a wonderfully good way to deal with that excess produce “problem”!
Yemista (Greek Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers) Recipe
This recipe makes quite a few pieces, but they are also easily frozen and reheated after they’ve been cooked if you don’t want to eat them all at once. Or, you could just make less!
- 10 – 12 tomatoes, choose round ones about 3 inches or so in diameter
- 6 – 8 bell peppers than can stand on their bottoms, any color (green has never been my favorite but can be used)
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling the pan
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 large onion (about a pound), quartered and sliced
- 6 – 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cup regular long-grain white rice
Start by cutting the stem end off of each tomato. You want to cut no more than a half-inch thick. Save this slice as it will act as a lid for your tomato “pot”. It’s best to keep each lid with the tomato it came from to make sure they match in size. Using a small knife, cut the core out of each tomato just inside the outer wall then use a spoon to scoop out all the pulp. You’ll need to do this over a bowl in order to catch all the flesh and juices which will be used. Cut the cores up into small chunks and put it with the rest of the tomato innards.
In a large pan, put the olive oil, ground beef, and onions. Brown the meat and onions on medium heat, then add the garlic. Continue to cook for a couple of minutes more, then add all the remaining ingredients, including all the tomato pulp, except for the water. Stir until all the contents are mixed together.
Add enough water to just cover the meat mixture, then stir it all in. Turn the heat down to keep a slight simmer and cover the pan. You will need to cook the mixture until the rice is almost, but not entirely cooked. It will be softened but still firm in texture. Check the mixture every five minutes, adding only enough extra water to allow the rice to cook to that texture. If by chance you add too much water, uncover the pan and stir to allow the extra moisture to cook off. It should not be watery when done. You can taste the filling to see if you would like to add any additional seasoning at this point.
Lightly oil a casserole dish and preheat the oven to 375 F. Fill each tomato cavity with the rice mixture. You want to pack it in until it is level with the top of the tomato, then cover it with the tomato “lid”. Place each filled tomato in the casserole dish so that it doesn’t roll over.
After you fill the tomatoes, you will have a lot of filling left. You can freeze it for later use, or you can stuff the peppers and bake them with the tomatoes. If you decide to use the peppers, trim the stems and cut the top off like you did the tomatoes. Clean out the seeds and fill each pepper until level with the top, then place the pepper top back on and place the pepper in the casserole dish. Lightly oil each vegetable on the outside with olive oil.
Add water to the bottom of the casserole dish to a depth of about 1/2 an inch then place the pan in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the tomatoes and peppers are softened and lightly blistered on the outside, and the rice is fully tender. If the tops of the vegetables are getting too browned before the filling is done, just lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Don’t crimp it down, just lay it across the top. Once they are done, remove them from the oven and carefully lift them from the dish with a large spoon to serve. Any liquid at the bottom of the dish can be spooned over the vegetables as they are served. Enjoy!