Yemista, or Gemista, is a traditional Greek recipes of hollowed out vegetables that are stuffed with a mixture of rice, herbs and vegetables baked in a rich tomato and olive oil base. This is a perfect meal that always reminds me of summers in Greece. It can be enjoyed year round however.
If you are looking for a great Greek meal to feed a crowd, then yemista (gemista) is a great option. You can prepare a huge pan of stuffed vegetables for a crowd rather easily and inexpensively. I love my yemista to be made without meat, so this classic recipe of my parents’ is one of my absolute favourites.
Do not be discouraged by the long list of ingredients in the recipe. If you are a regular cook, you may already have many of these things in your kitchen. If you don’t, no worries, they are easy to find, and inexpensive.
Vegetables – You can stuff a wide variety of vegetables when making gemista. I typically like to use tomatoes, bell peppers (different varieties and colours), eggplant and zucchini. The eggplant and zucchini are harder to hollow out than the tomatoes and peppers are, but they are worth the effort and I show you how to do it easily!
Rice – The base of the filling for this gemista recipe is rice. You can really use any white rice you like; I tend to use medium or long grain white rice.
Tomato sauce – A good quality tomato sauce (or passata) is used both in the filling and in the baking pan. If you have the time, consider making your own tomato sauce. You can follow our recipe and technique if you like for our tomato sauce recipe.
Olive oil – This recipe uses a generous amount of olive oil. A good quality olive oil has health benefits but also has a deep fruity flavour that is wonderful in these gemista.
Herbs – The fresh flavour of the yemista comes from fresh herbs like parsley and dill
Aromatics – Onions, garlic and green onions all add flavour to the gemista
Instead of using white rice in the filling you can use brown rice. This will make the filling more nutritious but will also take longer to cook. You may need to add more liquid.
You can easily play around with the fresh herbs used in this recipe (and others). If you prefer to try something different than parsley and dill, consider chives, basil and even mint.
The English translation of yemista is stuffed, and that is exactly what this recipe asks you to do. This meal involves stuffing vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants with rice-based deliciousness, baking them for hours, and then feasting until you too, are stuffed.
There is more than one way to stuff a vegetable and many variations of yemista include minced meats or cheese and different kinds of grains. Our parents typically choose to prepare a rice and vegetable based filling, making their yemista an incredibly satisfying, vegan meal.
In order to cook yemista you need a pretty hot oven and a few hours. As a result, in Greece it is not uncommon for families to deliver an unbaked pan of yemista to the local baker on their way to the beach. They pay a nominal sum to have it cooked and then, on their way home, they pick it up and it’s ready to eat. You likely won’t be able to do the same where you are (or maybe you can…in which case…we want to visit!), but you can pop your roasting pan into the oven, put your feet up for a couple of hours, and take comfort in knowing that you are going to be serving up a meal which is nutritious, delicious, and pretty darn impressive.
Yemista are delicious both hot from the oven, at room temperature (the way we prefer them) and slightly chilled. This makes them great for leftovers and perfect for a make-ahead meal when you are hosting, or contributing to a potluck.
Our favourite way to eat yemista is with a nice big hunk of feta cheese on the side. This will re-categorize this as a vegetarian meal versus a vegan one, but if you are okay with that, do it. It’s so good.
The most challenging part of this recipe will be preparing the vegetables, as some are more amendable to hollowing out than others. Tomatoes and peppers are easy, zucchini and eggplant slightly less so. In order to tackle these more difficult vegetables, it is handy to have a long handled spoon. This is particularly useful if you are going to be stuffing long slender zucchini. Although, if you are trying this meal for the first time, choose the shorter, typically pale green zucchinis versus the longer, darker ones; the former will be easier to deal with. You can also carefully insert a knife into the zucchini and eggplant and gently twist it around to mush up the vegetable innards. You can then insert a spoon and scoop out the inside of the veggies.
When we make yemista we tend to stuff tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and peppers (both bell and the longer ones pictured above…what are those called?). Every vegetable tastes different and we each have our favourites. If you opt not to stuff zucchini and eggplant, you will still need to incorporate them into your filling.
Making yemista is a bit of a commitment. It will take about an hour to prepare them, and another 2 hours or so for them to bake. You can prepare your filling and stuff your vegetables on one day, refrigerate it all, and then bake it the following day.
We suggest that if you are going to decide to make yemista, you make a big batch. They keep well, baked, in the fridge for several days and make a perfect take-along lunch. Because every vegetable tastes differently, you won’t feel as though you are eating the same thing every day.
The ingredients used in yemista are very simple. For this reason it is important to use the freshest and best quality ingredients possible.
The following recipe will make enough filling to stuff 12-15 medium sized vegetables. It can easily be doubled, or halved.
Yemista or Gemista
- 12-15 vegetables to stuff assortment of peppers, tomatoes, small eggplants, zucchini
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions (both white and green parts)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill or you can replace by chopped fresh mint
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 cups mixed shredded zucchini, and carrots
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 2 cups uncooked medium grain rice
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
For the baking:
- 1 1/2 cups reserved tomato pulp
- tomato sauce if needed
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Potatoes optional
- water if needed
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Start by washing and preparing your vegetables12-15 vegetables to stuff
- Hollow out your peppers by removing seeds and ribbing. Keep lids to the side. Place peppers and lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water for approximately 10 minutes. This will help soften the vegetables. Drain after 10 minutes, and rinse with cold water.
- Prepare tomatoes by cutting off lids and scooping out the insides. Remove as many as the seeds as possible, and blend the tomato pulp you have scooped out, measure, and set aside. Add enough tomato sauce, if necessary, to make 1 1/2 cups.
- Prepare zucchini. Cut off the stem ends and then with a small pairing knife cut out a pyramid shaped piece of zucchini. These will act as “stoppers” to keep the filling from falling out. Set aside. With a spoon or butter knife or apple corer, begin to carefully cut through the zucchini, being careful not to pierce and break the skin. (If you do…it’s really not the end of the world). Follow the same procedure for the eggplant. Place the zucchini and eggplant shells in a bowl, cover with boiling water for approximately 10 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water.
- Finely chop the zucchini innards, and place in a bowl. Grate 1 medium size carrot, add to the bowl and measure everything. You will need a total of 2 cups. If you fall short (which you likely will), shred some zucchini and carrots until you reach the desired amount of 2 cups.2 cups mixed shredded zucchini, and carrots
- To prepare filling, heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large pot and add onion. Cook over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes and until the onion is softened, being careful not to burn it.1 yellow onion, chopped, 1/2 cup olive oil
- Combine the parsley, garlic, green onions, dill, paprika, shredded and chopped zucchini/carrots, tomato sauce, rice, salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir well to combine, add to the pot with onions and cook until just heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 tbsp minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped green onions, 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, 1 tsp paprika, 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, 2 cups uncooked medium grain rice, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
- Begin stuffing vegetables with filling. Be careful not to pack the filling in too tightly or to the top, and ensure that there is some liquid from the filling added to each vegetable stuffed. When stuffing tomatoes, add 1/2 teaspoon white sugar to the bottom of each tomato shell before stuffing it. According to our folks, this is essential, especially, when the tomatoes are not fresh from the garden.sugar
- Once the vegetables are stuffed, top them with their lids and stoppers. Place vegetables in a roasting pan. If you find that you have extra space between vegetables, fill it with potatoes that you have peeled and cut into thick chunks.Potatoes
- Mix the reserved 1 1/2 cups of tomato pulp with 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, add the 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pour into roasting pan. We use a 15 inch round roasting pan.1 1/2 cups reserved tomato pulp, tomato sauce, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Bake in a 375 degree oven for about two hours. If you find that the liquid in your pan has evaporated during the cooking process, add some water.water
- Let cool and serve.