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 10 – 12 medium sized vegetables. It can easily be doubled, or halved.
Mia Kouppa: Yemista
- Vegetables to stuff – any assortment of peppers, tomatoes, small eggplant or zucchini For filling:
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions (both white and green parts)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2 cups shredded zucchini and finely chopped eggplant, total.
- 1 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups uncooked rice (our parent’s use Carolina rice but we have used Calrose. If you can’t find either of these, a long grain rice will work fine)
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- sugar For the baking:
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Potatoes (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Start by washing and preparing your vegetables
- 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.
- Prepare tomatoes by cutting off lids and scooping out the insides. Blend the tomato you have scooped out, measure, and set aside. Add enough crushed tomatoes 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 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. Finely chop the zucchini and eggplant innards and measure. You will need a total of 2 cups. If you fall short (which you likely will), shed some zucchini and finely chop some eggplant until you reach the desired amount of 2 cups.
- To prepare filling, heat 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.
- Combine the parsley, garlic, green onions, dill, shredded and chopped zucchini and eggplant, crushed tomatoes, 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.
- Begin stuffing vegetables with filling. Be careful not to pack the filling in to tightly 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 when the tomatoes are not fresh from the garden.
- 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.
- Mix tomato sauce with vegetable oil and pour into roasting pan. Add enough water so that there is about 1 1/2 inches of liquid in bottom of pan.
- Cover with tin foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about one hour. Remove foil and continue to bake for another hour or until rice is cooked. If you find that the liquid in your pan has evaporated during the cooking process, add some more water.
Let cool and serve.