Gemista, or Yemista, is one of the most popular Greek recipes, traditionally vegan and healthy, that recalls the richness of the Mediterranean vegetable gardens. Various vegetables are filled with rice seasoned with herbs, then baked until soft and nicely brown: delicious!
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STUFFED VEGETABLES INTO THE MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
Along with Dolmades, Gemista is the most popular Greek stuffed food: sure enough, Gemista in Greek means “filled with”!
Initially, the Gemista recipe varied depending on the availability of the vegetables in the gardens. Nowadays the choice is not limited to the garden, and the most popular vegetables to fill are probably tomatoes and green bell peppers.
The Gemista follows the Mediterranean tradition of stuffed vegetables that comes from the Middle Eastern cuisine, where are called Dolma, up to the Italian and Spanish cuisine. On the contrary of the majority of Middle eastern stuffed vegetable recipes, the original recipe of Gemista is vegan.
The two closest recipes to Gemista are Georgian and Italian, and both of them belong to the Jewish tradition.
The Georgian recipe requires tomatoes stuffed with rice, mushrooms, and spices, including Fenugreek and coriander.
The Roman stuffed tomatoes are very simple into ingredients: just tomatoes, rice, basil, cinnamon powder, and olive oil! They are baked along with potatoes wedges like in the Gemista recipe, served both warm or cold.
TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
TRADITIONAL VEGETABLES – As I said, the Gemista was initially made with all the stuffable vegetables available in the garden. Nowadays tomatoes and green bell peppers are the most popular.
CASSEROLE SET UP – Before baking, the stuffed vegetables are placed into a deep tray lined with parchment paper. Traditionally the excess of rice is placed between the vegetables and soaked with liquid. The potatoes are a typical addition, especially if Gemista is prepared as a main dish.
RICE –Nowadays, several Chefs prefer to prepare Gemista with rice Carolina. Actually, the original rice to make this recipe is long rice.
TOMATO SAUCE – The original Gemista recipe requires just fresh tomato pulp to season the rice. To add more flavor, now it’s common to add double concentrated tomato paste. Furthermore, some cooks also add a few tbsp of tomato sauce.
HERBS – Parsley and Mint are the original herbs used to prepare Gemista. Some chefs prefer to add more herbs like dill and coriander.
RAISINS AND PINENUTS – Probably raisins and pine nuts are the missing links between the Greek Gemista and the Middle Eastern Dolma recipe. In these days they are almost disappeared into the contemporary Gemista, but present in some old recipe.
CHEESE – the majority of the traditional recipes do not require any cheese. Some other recipes suggest adding Greek Kasseri cheese.
SERVING AND PAIRINGS
Gemista is a typical dish served the day after re-heated just warm, or presented cold! This recipe can be an appetizer along with other traditional dishes of the Greek Meze, like Melitzanosalata, Dolmades, Saganaki cheese, or Spanakopita.
- 1 cups (200 g) long rice
- 6 mixed vegetables (beefsteak tomatoes, onions, green bell peppers)
- 3 medium potatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 medium zucchini squash
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tbsp raisin (optional)
- 1 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
- 4 tbsp Kasseri cheese, grated (optional)
- 2 tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
- 3 tbsp + ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 dash black pepper
- To taste table salt
- SCOOP THE VEGETABLES
Let's start with the onions: peel the onions paying attention not to incise the pulp. Now, cut the upper part of the vegetables to obtain a lid, and save it. Then, scoop out the pulp saving the two last outer layers of the onions. Save the onion pulp as well: you need it to season the rice. Finally, immerse the onions into cold water for 20 mins.
At this point, repeat the process with the tomatoes, saving the pulp. Finally, salt the inner part of the tomatoes, and let rest them upside down on a rack in order to clean out the liquid in excess.
- Incise and scoop out the Bell peppers, in the same way, discarding any white parts and seeds, then salt and place on the rack in the same way of the tomatoes.
Eventually, salt and place on the rack the onions as well.
- COOKING THE RICE
First, soak the raisins into hot water, then dice the zucchini squash. Now, mince the onion pulp, and the cloves of garlic, and pour them in a saucepan along with 3 tbsp of olive oil.
Place the pan over medium heat and sauté until the onions become pale golden. At this point, add the diced zucchini squash, the raisins, the pine nuts, and 1 tbsp of double concentrated tomato paste, and sauté 5 minutes more.
Now add the rice and stir-fry a couple of minutes, then add the tomato pulp. Cook the rice 5 minutes adding hot water and stirring if necessary: we'll finish to cook it after, into the vegetables. Salt to taste and place the pan far from the heat.
Finally, add the minced parsley and mint leaves, the black pepper, and optionally the grated Kasseri cheese, stirring well.
- STUFFING THE VEGETABLES
First, peel and reduce the potatoes into wedges. Then combine 1 cup of water with 1 tbsp of double concentrated tomato paste and ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil, whisking until consistent.
Now rinse a sheet of parchment paper under the water, then coat a deep tray. Brush the vegetables with olive oil, place them into the tray, and fill them with the rice. Pour the excess of rice between the vegetables, along with the potatoes wedges. Finally, close the vegetables with their lids, and pour the water, oil, and tomato paste mixture over the rice, and vegetables.
- GEMISTA IN THE OVEN
Preheat the oven to 355° F (180° C). Then, cover the tray with a lid made with two layers of aluminum foil. Bake the Gemista 1 hour covered, then discard the lid and bake 30 minutes more, or when the potatoes are done. Finally, if necessary, broil a few minutes to brown the vegetable lids nicely.
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