It is not possible to let summer pass (yes, here in Greece we still have summer) without cooking Yemista.
Yemista in Greek can be translated as “one that are filled” or else stuffed. Yemista is a traditional Greek recipe where vegetables, mainly tomatoes, are filled with rice and chopped vegetables and baked in a tomato sauce. Also, Yemista is always the answer in the question of my mother: Teti, what do you want me to cook for you? Yemista. End of discussion.
There are a lot of variations of the recipe as it concerns the vegetables filled and their filling. Some people prefer to fill eggplants and zucchinis, while other people (me) deny to keep the vegetarian version of the recipe and include in the filling ground beef.
Have in mind that if you ask every household in Greece to tell you how Yemista should be cooked you will end up with 10.000.000 different recipes. Even me I have a “modern” version of Yemista, I have put in the filling quinoa instead of rice. You can find the recipe by clicking here. So feel free to experiment with the filling, herbs and the vegetables that you will use.
Whatever the vegetables used and their filling, Yemista is a staple recipe of the summer when fresh vegetables are abundant and at their peak.
The recipe for Yemista falls under the category of Greek dishes called “Ladera”, as my previous post for Greek green beans that you can find by clicking here. Ladera goes to Greek dishes prepared with olive oil, thus try to use some good quality extra virgin olive oil, which will surely lift the flavor.
The recipe has a lot of olive oil for those who are not familiar with mediterranean standards, but don’t be afraid. The majority of the olive oil is left in the pan during baking, so you do not get extra calories from it. Unless you have bread, then, may God be with you.
In my version of Yemista I used tomatoes and Florina peppers. The Florina pepper is a pepper cultivated in Greece and specifically in the wider area of Florina; for which it is named. It has a deep red color, and is shaped like a cow’s horn. Initially the pepper has a green color, ripening into red, after the 15th of August. The red pepper is known in Greece for its rich sweet flavor, used in various Greek dishes and is exported in various canned forms abroad, usually hand-stripped, keeping the natural scents of pepper and topped with extra virgin olive oil, salt and vinegar. Most of the times I cook Yemista with Florina peppers, you see, Florina is my hometown. As it concerns the filling I used ground beef, eggplants, zucchinis and of course rice.
I suppose that you can’t find Florina peppers but as I have mentioned above do not worry, use green bell peppers or any other vegetable you want.
Let’s make some Yemista! You will need the following ingredients:
- 6 large ripe and tight tomatoes
- 4 green bell peppers
- 2 eggplants
- 2 red onions, finely chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 400 gr ground beef*
- 12 tablespoons un-cooked short grain rice
- 1 cup of warm water
- a small bunch of parsley, chopped
- 2 tsps sugar
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cup olive oil
*For those who want to keep the vegan version of the recipe, skip the ground beef and add equal amount of chopped vegetables in the filling.
Now, let’s start. Preheat oven at 200 Celsius.
STEP 1: Prepare your veggies
Before start cutting the tops of your vegetables have in mind not to thrown them away since you will need them later. The vegetables need their tops back on during baking.
For the peppers cut around the stem and empty the inside of the pepper. The tops off of the peppers should be cut about ½ – 1 mm under the stem.
For the tomatoes, slice off their top and by using a spoon remove the flesh of the tomatoes and keep it in a bowl. The flesh will be the base for the tomato sauce for the Yemista so mash the tomato flesh in the bowl with your hands or use a blender and set aside until needed. Remember to be very careful while scooping out the tomato flesh, making sure you do not rip the outer shell.
As you can see from the photo of the eggplants, mine eggplants were to small in order to fill them. So, I added on my pan extra Florina peppers and just used the flesh of the eggplant for the filling. If your eggplants have a proper size for stuffing then slice off the top of the eggplants and remove the flesh, using a spoon. Cut the flesh of the eggplants in small cubes and set aside, as you will use them later for the filling of the Yemista.
Season the empty vegetables with a pinch of salt and sugar and arrange them on a pan.
Before starting with the filling make sure you have chopped into small pieces the onions and the zucchini too. You should have 2 bowls one with flesh of tomato and one with zucchini-eggplant-onion mixture.
Are you tired? You haven’t started yet! Just kidding, we are almost done.
STEP 2: Let’s prepare the filling
Place a pan over high heat and add 1/2 cup olive oil (the rest of the olive oil will be add to the tomato flesh). Add ground beef and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes. Then add the zucchini-eggplant-onion mixture and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the rice and continue sautéing, until it becomes translucent. Pour in 3/4 of the reserved tomato flesh, 1 cup of warm water and season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir and remove from heat. The rest of the cooking will take place in the oven. Finely chop the parsley and add it to the pan. Stir.
STEP 3: Assemble the Yemista
Use a spoon to help you add the filling to the vegetables. Fill them 3/4 of the way because the rice will expand while cooking. Put the tops back on.
Add any of the leftover filling over the pan to add even more flavor.
Add the rest of the reserved tomato flesh combined with the rest of the olive oil to the pan.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10-20 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the stuffed vegetables are cooked and golden.
STEP 4: Eat the Yemista!
Traditionally, yemista is served at room temperature rather than warm, so allow it to cool down before eating (to be totally honest I never wait, I can’t). To serve, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, add some feta cheese on the side and enjoy!
Oh my God, does your kitchen smell like heaven or what?
Oh…I love Yemista. I really do.