Since my grandparents are Greek, my parents are Greek and I am Greek, you better believe that I grew up eating a lot of Greek food and I’m so excited to share one of my favourite meals with you, Yemista (pronounced yeah-mih-STAH).
Yemista is a classic Greek version of rice-stuffed tomatoes and bell peppers that my family likes to eat vegetarian but you can definitely add ground beef if you’re so inclined. Even as a carnivorous little woman, I still prefer the vegetarian version because I find it’s much more moist and flavourful!
This Yemista recipe comes from my Mum’s side and has been handed down from my Yiayia (grandmother) to my Mum, to me and my sister and now, to you! Welcome to my big fat Greek family!
Growing up, I always knew that I was in for a a good feed when I walked through the front door and was greeted by the aroma of fresh cooked Yemista, and with thanks to my Mum and my Yiayia, I’m excited to give those same experiences to my family!
DEVELOPING A RECIPE THAT LIVES INSIDE MY MUM’S HEAD
(FROM HALF WAY ACROSS THE WORLD!)
At 6 months pregnant, I had a mad craving for Yemista but no idea how to make it! So I got in contact with my recipe developer partner, my Mum, and nutted out the recipe.
Now this is a process in itself and I thought I’d share a little behind the scenes of how I get recipes from half way across the world since she lives in Australia and I live in America:
- I facebook message Mum with a request (Facebook is our best friend! Did you know you can video call now?)
- She writes down the recipe from her mind and sends me some photos of the recipe.
- I read it and have a confused reaction.
- Then I type out her recipe, try make sense of it (as much as a newbie to Greek food like me can)
- Next, I write down a million questions like: “Your handfuls of rice or my handfuls of rice?(Because that’s a pretty big difference since I have child-like hands..)”, “Do you mean 1 zucchini? 1 capsicum? How many tomatoes?”, HELP!”
- Then I email her my typed up recipe + my millions of questions
- And lastly, she emails me back, graciously trying her best to answer all of my questions about measurements and fine details (I’m all about the details..)
Cooking can seem super daunting, especially when your mentor can make all her recipes without actually looking at a recipe. I always remind myself that she was just like me at one point in her life; needing to follow a recipe until it became something that was second nature to her. In fact it’s kind of hard for her to write out her recipes for me since she has to delve into her kinesthetic process. I totally admire that and aspire to that one day. So there we have it, finally, a recipe!
The awesome thing about my Mum is that she knows how much I love this dish, so when Nate and I recently visited my family in Australia, I was greeted with the aromas of my childhood as my Mum cheekily asked me “do you know what that smell is?” to which I responded with a squeal of delight, knowing full well it was a fresh pan of Yemista! And to top it all off, she knows I’ve been working hard on this blog so she organised a session in the kitchen cooking Yemista together so I can see it first hand (and document any and all the changes that she makes ‘live’! Let’s just say there were quite a few from her original recipe…)
One of my fondest memories is the vision of Mum pulling her Bessemer baking dish from the oven full of those crinkly top tomatoes and browned capsicums while me and the rest of the family salivated. I reflected even more on my memory and I came to remember my Yiayia doing the exact same thing! Hopefully I can add to that memory for my kiddos one day.
I guess my Yiayia thought it was only fair that I be initiated into the Greek cooking club by gifting me my very own Bessemer baking dish. I love it so so so much!!!!! Although mine isn’t the flame colour I remember my Yiayia having, black fits into my 21st century life a little better than flame.. although, flame is cool! I’ll say it one more time because it’s fun, flame.
OK, I’m done =)
I can’t sing this baking dish’s praises enough. It’s 34cm diameter and non-stick which means I can cook anything on the stove top from schnitzels, pancakes, grilled cheese and even cakes with such simplicity and ease. It also comes with a giant dome lid which means I can put the whole thing in the oven, so I can cook a leg of lamb, roast chicken with vegetables or Yemista!
This is my go-to cooking item for pretty much everything, especially since it can go from the stove top to the oven. The only thing that compares is my Le Crueset french oven which is more for pastas, stews, soups and sauces. But let’s leave that review for another day, shall we?
These days, my heritage is often mistaken since I changed my name from Christopoulos (which is pretty telling) to Anderson (now I’m Dutch). That being said, some people are often surprised when they discover my background and one of the funniest occasions of mistaken identity was a few months after our wedding when we were hanging out with some friends who mentioned how much they loved the Greek dancing at our wedding. They thought it was strange at the time but didn’t really think too much of it because it seemed like something random Nate would do! Then we broke the news to them that I am in fact, Greek-Australian, that being the reason for all the Greek dancing!
On to the food!
YEMISTA: A PINCH OF THIS, A HANDFUL OF THAT…
You can definitely use your own judgement when it comes to spices and flavourings just like my Mum does (she puts in a big sprinkle of this or a few pinches of that..)
This recipe uses a lot of oregano which is a pretty typical and traditional herb in Greek cooking.
I don’t believe it’s too powerful, even in excess (but hey, I grew up on this stuff!) so by all means (especially if you have picky eaters or little kiddos), start with less and add more to your taste.
note: This recipe seems like it has a lot of steps but after your prep, it’s really just adding a whole bunch of ingredients into a pot, cooking, stuffing vegetables and baking them. simples, right?
- 4 Tomatoes (vine ripened), use a spoon to take out the insides and keep for the stuffing
- 4 Red or Capsicums/Peppers, use a spoon to take out the insides and keep for the stuffing (minus the seeds)
- 2-3 Potatoes (optional)
- 1-1½ cups Chicken stock or boiling water (the amount will depend on the size of your baking dish)
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions or 1 large, chopped finely
- 1 zucchini, grated
- 1 medium carrot, grated
- 2 cups long grain rice
- Approximately ½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¾ cup tomato puree/passata
- 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Preheat oven to 210 degrees celsius (fan forced) or 450 degrees fahrenheit
- Using a sharp knife, cut the lid off our stuffing tomatoes.
Once you’re done, don’t discard the lids, we’re going to put them back on.
- Using a spoon, scrape the pulp out of each tomatoes and set the pulp and the shells aside.
- Cut the top off the capsicum/pepper and set aside. Scrape out the seeds. (If you scrape out any flesh, chop it up finely and reserve for the stuffing. Remember, no seeds.)
- Set aside the pulp/flesh for the stuffing and set the shells aside to be stuffed.
- If you are using potatoes, wash and cut them into wedges and place them in a bowl of cold water so they don’t turn brown.
- Heat olive oil in a fry pan on medium heat until sizzling
- Fry onions until translucent
- Add grated zucchini, carrot and finely chopped capsicum
- Blend the insides of the tomatoes and capsicums and add to the mixture.
- Next add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.
- Turn heat to low, add the rice to the pan and cook for around 3 minutes.
You want the rice to still be hard when you place in the oven so try not to overcook it at this stage.
- Add herbs (parsley, 2 tablespoons oregano, dill and smoked paprika) and cook for an additional 1 minute
- Season with salt and pepper.
The stuffing mixture should be quite sloppy. If there’s not enough liquid, add some chicken stock to get the right consistency.
- Stuff each tomato and capsicum ¾ full with the rice mixture and arrange them in your baking dish with a gap in the centre of the arrangement. (along with potatoes if you are using them).
- Place lids back on vegetables and pour the tomato puree/passata on top of them.
- Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oregano and then pour olive oil on top the vegetables.
- If you have leftover rice, place two pieces of tin foil in the middle of the baking dish in a 'cross' shape. Pour remaining rice mixture into the tin foil and then scrunch the ends towards the top to create a parcel.
- Pour chicken stock into the dish to come up ⅓ of the way to the vegetables.
- Cover the baking dish with tin foil and place in the oven.
- Check the dish after 40 minutes. Once rice is cooked, uncover and cook further until vegetables are browned.
As yummy as this dish was, the green peppers I bought were way too bitter and infused that flavour into the rice stuffing! I would suggest splurging a little more on red or yellow peppers for this dish which tend to be sweeter in flavour.
KIDDO/PICKY EATER ALERT
As a kid, I used to hate eating the tomatoes the rice was baked in, so I would only eat the rice, wasting all that delicious and fragrant tomato. There seems to be something about little kids and cooked tomato that doesn’t mix..
If you have picky eaters, I suggest stuffing less tomatoes/capsicums and place the remaining rice mixture in the tin foil packet.
YEMISTA FROM AROUND THE WORLD
As I was doing a bit of research, I was interested to find that stuffed peppers are a world-wide food. I came across Spanish, American, Indian, Mexican, Scandinavian, Balkan and Central European, Middle Eastern and Central Asian variations. Pretty much every country or region has their own take on this delicious dish but the Greek version is my favourite.. Yes, I’m biased but maybe after trying this dish, you’ll become partial to Greek stuffed vegetables too?
Did you make this dish? Take a photo and hashtag it #FUNSIZEAUSSIE
I’d love to see how it turns out!