Monthly Archives: July 2016

Γεμιστά! Say what? Why say stuffed tomatoes when you can say “yemista”?

July 31, 2016

Yemista should be called “yummy-sta”…ok, forget I said that. Still friends?
It’s summer. It’s August. It’s hot. All the veggies at the farmers market are seducing you.  It’s high season for tomatoes and peppers. And that salad you keep making, BORING! So what do you do with all of your tomatoes and peppers? Stuff ’em, I say.
Stuffed tomatoes and peppers are pretty delicious and easy to make. It’s one of those throw ’em together and forget ’em dishes. It’s the classic summer-time meal taking advantage of your excess tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Yes I know you over shopped at the farmers market.  I saw you!

When I was younger and before adulthood and responsibility set in (a-hem, and a full time job…waaah!) I spent the entire summer in Greece, relaxing on the beach, reading a book and watching the waves while sometimes contemplating if I wanted a cappuccino fredo or a frappé. Hey, coffee selection was a critical decision back then. I miss when life was that simple…but that’s another blog post.

Upon my return, the “welcome back to Chicago” meal my mom would make for me was yemista. She would make a whole pan full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant, stuffed with rice and ground beef, baked in the oven, filling the kitchen with the smells of summer.  The smell of Greece.  Yes Greece smells like a roasted, stuffed tomato.  Trust me.  Let’s ignore the fact that you are baking in the middle of summer okay? Turn on the AC. Thank me later.

Actually, this is one of the cute ironies of this dish. You have to make this dish in a hot oven in the middle of the hot summer. That’s when tomatoes and peppers are at their finest. If you try to make it in winter, fail! Sad boring unripe, un-flavorful veggies. Summer-time stuffed tomatoes = hipster irony. 

Anyway, this meal extended that summer vacation feeling just a little bit longer. A little. Kind of. Ok not really. All it did was make me instantly nostalgic for my favorite beach in Greece, the sun, the waves, the coffee, the music, the food, my tan. 
“But you were just there yesterday,” my mom would say. “How can you miss it already?” This from a woman that calls her brother in Greece to make sure he sent her shipment of olive oil for the year, and required me to bring her mizithra, mountain oregano, dried sage, chamomile, honey, and Greek Coffee. “Papagalos brand okay? The rest is not coffee.” Oh she doesn’t miss it at all. Sigh. So yes, this dish can do that for me.

And so, I bring to you this recipe to transport you to a small Greek village for a few hours. Just imagine sitting in the sunshine with some fresh ripe tomatoes stuffed with rice and ground beef, peppered with fresh mint and slathered in olive oil. Serve with a square of salty feta and a little retsina and you’re set.
So let’s be ironic and make this hot dish in the middle of the hot summer! Yaaas people! Here’s how…

Yemista: Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
Serves 4, or 2 incredibly hungry people (this recipe has been scaled down from my mother’s version which is enough to feed a small town in Greece)

4 ripe medium to large tomatoes
1-2 green peppers (or eggplant, or zucchini, choice is yours)
2 potatoes cut into wedges
1 small red onion finely diced
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup of rice
1/2 cup crushed Marzano tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons finely cut fresh mint
Salt & pepper

How to make this rockin’ dish:
1. Begin by slicing the tops off your tomatoes and peppers and scooping out and hollowing out the core and seeds with a spoon. Salt the interiors a little bit and arrange in your baking dish. Like this:

 (As an extra flavor bonus squish the tomato cores between your fingers, strain and save the resulting tomatoe juice to top your dish with before placing in oven)

2. Sauté your red onions in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add your clove of crushed garlic.  Finally adding the ground beef to brown.  Season with salt, pepper and your freshly cut mint.  Add 1/2 cup of crushed Marzano tomatoes and saute until cooked through.  Set aside.

3.  Peel and cut your potatoes into wedges, seasoning with salt and pepper and placing them around the tomatoes and peppers in the baking dish.

4. Go back to your sautéed ground beef that has been cooling and add 1/2 cup of rice and stir.  Begin filling your tomatoes and peppers about 1/2 way to 2/3 full.  Make sure the filling is placed loosely inside so that there is room for the rice to expand while baking.

5. Place the tops on your veggies, pour the tomato juice you set aside earlier over them also adding a 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish.  This will help the rice cook through. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies and potatoes to help brown.

6. Bake at 400F and forget about it…well, only for about 1.5 hours (try to check on them every 30 minutes to make sure things are moving along). it’s ready when the rice is cooked through and the veggies have browned.

Serve, eat and enjoy!