By: Eleni Saltas
Since my first cookbook was published in 2019, I’ve hosted numerous cooking demonstrations. Live demos are not happening now, so ninety nine percent of them were “instagram live” or zoom feeds due to COVID. The sessions last one to two hours with me on one end whipping up Greek dishes from ‘All You Can Greek’ while viewers on the screen are cooking along or asking questions. It’s always a challenge but sometimes those questions lead to great results.
For example, as I was stirring fasolakia on a recent show, I was asked, “Eleni, what is your favorite Greek dish?”… Twenty years ago, my answer would’ve been rice pilafi. Ten years ago, I may have said rice pilafi with a side cucumber salad–I didn’t even eat tomatoes ten years ago. Since that first tomato, I’ve toyed with even more vegetables. So now, my answer every time is yemista–with tomatoes and lots of them!
Yemista is a traditional Greek dish basically meaning “to be stuffed with.” Greeks stuff onions, peppers, zucchini, cabbage, eggplant and tomatoes–basically anything that can be hollowed out. They are then filled with anything imaginable. Remember when it comes to cooking, especially this dish, you’re the author. If you like meat, use minced meats. If you’re a vegetarian, use a variety of vegetables. If you’re an omnivore, use meat and vegetables. With any of the variables, add plenty of herbs and spices according to your own preference.
For this recipe I’m only using big, ripe tomatoes. I’ve always preferred vegetarian style yemista, and that preference was reinforced while taking a cooking class in Crete. Our instructor told the group she never mixes meat with her yemista. Never! Ποτε! I follow that basic mindset using just rice, onions, garlic, and plenty of herbs. Twenty years ago this would have never been on my taste radar, and I’m so thankful I overcame my fear of vegetables. Therefore I’m dedicating this tomato yemista recipe to my younger self. Maybe this will soon be your favorite, too.
- 10 large ripe tomatoes
- 1 cup uncooked rice*
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced or grated
- 3 to4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 8 ounces tomato sauce (or tomato passata)
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- ½ bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 handful of mint, finely chopped
2 zucchinis or potatoes, cut into
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup water
Step by Step Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
For the cases, wash and cut off a thin layer from the tops of each tomato (about 1cm). Save the tops. Scoop out the pulp and blend or grate the tomato pulp until finely crushed. Reserve in a medium bowl.
Pack the tomato casing tightly in a baking pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
To the bowl with your tomato pulp, add the rice, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, parsley, dill, and mint. Season generously with oregano, salt and pepper. Add it to the rice mixture. You want a nice, herby, liquid-y mix. Add half of the olive oil and mix the filling together.
Stuff the tomatoes with the filling but don’t over stuff as the mixture will expand while cooking. Cover tomatoes with their own lids and pour one cup of water around the tomatoes.
Cut the potatoes or zucchini in wedges, season with salt and pepper and then place in between the tomatoes to hold the vegetables in place while cooking. Add any extra filling over the potatoes or zucchini. Add the remaining olive oil over all of the vegetables.
Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue to bake for an additional 1/2 hour to 1 hour, until vegetables have softened and the tops are golden in color. Let cool before serving.
*An easy way to measure rice is to use about 1 heaping tablespoon of rice per vegetable used.