Gemista
Gemista (Credit: Alpha, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Gemista: Greek “stuffed” tomatoes, peppers and more

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A beloved quintessential summer dish, gemista (literally “stuffed”) is a tasty recipe that combines fresh vegetables (usually tomatoes and bell peppers and sometimes zucchini and eggplant) with aromatic herbs and rice (occasionally pine nuts or raisins are added). Every Greek household and restaurant has its own version, some adding ground beef, potatoes or additional veggies to the mix. Gemista is a delicious dish that has been a beloved staple for generations never failing to impress. Give this traditional recipe a try at home filling it with aromas of Greece. Depending on where you are in the world, most of the following ingredients can be easily sourced in your local supermarket or deli. If not, don’t be afraid to get creative here and throw in a local substitute.

Ingredients: 4 red peppers, 4 tomatoes, 6 tbsp extra vergin olive oil, 1 large onion, finely chopped
1 grated zucchini, 14-16 tbsp carolina (or risotto or brown) rice, 1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped, sea salt & black pepper, 1tbs dried oregano

Gemista (Credit: Olgaki1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Instructions
Set the oven to 180° C. Wash the peppers and tomatoes and cut around their tops. Don’t throw their tops away. Deseed the peppers. Carefully scoop tomato flesh out and place it in a blender (this will be part of the sauce). Place hollowed-out tomatoes and peppers in a large baking pan. In a frying pan, fry the chopped onion in olive oil until it softens. Add the grated zucchini, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice, add parsley, oregano and the half of the tomatoes flesh. Sauté over medium heat for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Fill the peppers and tomatoes loosely because the rice will expand while cooking. Put the tops back on. In a small bowl, mix well the remaining tomato flesh with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the vegetables in the pan. Add any of the leftover filling in the pan too. Drizzle generously with the tomato mixture and some water. Sprinkle Bake in the oven at 180c covered in aluminum foil for about an 1hour. Remove the foil and continue for another 15 minutes or until the vegetables have caramelized. Allow the vegetables to cool down before eating.  

Tips: This traditional recipe for Gemista falls under the category of Greek dishes called “Ladera”, meaning dishes prepared with olive oil. Don’t try and hold back with the oil, as its abundance is paramount to achieving soft, delicious, flavoursome gemista.

A prerequisite for a tastier result is to accompanied them with Greek salty feta cheese. You can modify gemista by adding potatoes or cooked ground beef if you wish to make them more filling. It is usually served as a main dish but it can be an excellent side dish or even an appetizer.

Sharing is at the heart of the Greek dining experience. It is common for Greeks to use foods as a means to pleasure and enjoyment, encouraging everyone to try a bit of everything. Invite your loved ones around to enjoy!

Kali orexi! (‘Bon Appétit’)