I first discovered my love for yemista when I was an Ionian Village camper in Greece in 2008. I looked forward to days when the campers and staff followed the Orthodox fast and had to abstain from meat. That meant yemista was on the table. After the three weeks spent at Ionian Village I came back inspired in my faith, more knowledgeable in Greece’s history, and hungry for yemista. Yemista (or Gemista) is a Greek word meaning “to be stuffed with.” Like me, you likely grew up just calling it stuffed tomatoes or peppers, or zucchini. Many chefs and amateur cooks have created their own take on this traditional Greek dish, finding that most of the variety will come from the filling.
Yemista is typically served by hollowing out vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and sometimes potatoes, and then filled with rice, herbs, cheese, and ground meats. This is a dish you can let your imagination run wild with, creating stuffing flavors of your choosing to fill your favorite vegetables. Since that visit I’ve made it my mission to try as many kinds of yemista as possible at people’s homes, in my own kitchen and restaurants throughout Greece and America. My yemista fixation led me to discover many new tastes and textures until I created a recipe all my own.
My favorite vegetables to stuff are tomatoes and peppers, and my favorite stuffing combines many herbs, cheese, and sour Trahana (a Greek pasta made of wheat flour kneaded with milk you can find in Greek specialty markets or by ordering online. Some people even make their own. I’m not there yet). Many yemista recipes will use rice, but I think the Trahana creates a better texture, especially when combined with feta cheese. Whether this is your first attempt at yemista or you’re like me and order it any chance you get, it’s a tasty dish you can easily create at your next party or family gathering. Your guests are guaranteed to leave both satisfied and…stuffed.
-5 large ripe tomatoes
-6 green bell peppers
(or hollowed zucchini or eggpant)
-1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
-1 large white onion, chopped
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 jalapeno, finely chopped*
-1 1/3 cups Sour Trahana
-3/4 cup raisins or currants
-1 cup skim milk
-1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
-1 fist full of chopped parsley
-4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
-Sea salt to taste
-1/2 cup olive oil
-1 zucchini or potato cut into cubes**
-1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
*Instead of a jalapeno, substitute for 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes.
**I use the zucchini to fill the gaps between the tomatoes and peppers so they don’t tip over while cooking.
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Wash and cut off the tops of the tomatoes (save the tops) and carefully scoop out the tomato pulp. Place pulp into a strainer.
- Wash and cut the tops off the peppers (preserve the tops) and remove the seeds.
- Tightly pack the tomatoes and peppers in a large casserole baking dish, leaving as little space between the vegetables as possible.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions and garlic, adding in the chopped bell and jalapeno peppers after onions become wilted.
- Add the preserved tomato pulp, raisins, trahana, and skim milk, and stir the mixture. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add mint, parsley, and feta cheese. Stir mixture and adjust this seasoning to your liking, more or less mint, parsley, or feta to your taste.
- Stuff vegetables evenly with the mixture, and cover the tomatoes and peppers with the their tops.
- Lightly brush or pour olive oil over vegetables and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and salt. Pour the remaining olive oil in the pan to prevent burning and sticking.
- Bake for about 1-1 ½ hours or until peppers and tomatoes are softened.
- Let cool 10 minutes before serving.