Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stuffed Tomatoes, Bell Peppers and Zucchinis (Yemista)

The most fun part of cooking this traditional Greek dish is making its stuffing. There are a lot of possibilities to prepare it. Therefore, you can explore your own creativity. Basically onions, parsley and rice are used for the stuffing. But depending on family’s tradition and region, the stuffing may change (for instance, it may include ground meat or be purely vegetarian). When I first tried to cook the stuffing, I simply used rice, onions and dill. The stuffing came out OK but I felt something was missing. Then my imagination was challenged. I added green onions, chopped mushrooms, raisins, and various kinds of nuts, herbs, and meats. Some were very good but others were not so good. However, I truly enjoyed these experiments. This week my husband and I decided to eat only vegetarian dishes until the Orthodox Easter coming this Sunday. Therefore, today’s dish is a vegetarian version of yemista (or “stuffed” in Greek). The stuffed tomatoes require ripen large tomatoes, which is hard to be found in markets at this time of the year; early spring. The tomatoes I used might had been picked when they were still green. So they were a little bit sour. However, the stuffed peppers and zucchinis were so delicious! Unfortunately, I ran out of potatoes so I was not able to bake them with the rest of the yemista vegetables. But adding also sliced potatoes together with the other stuffed vegetables is highly recommended.
4 large ripen tomatoes
4 bell peppers
4 large zucchinis
2 chopped onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ cups rice
1 cup chopped mushroom
1 cup finely chopped fresh dill
2 cups tomato juice
1/4 finely chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tbsp and 1 cups extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cups crashed pine nuts
3-5 potatoes
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees.
2. Wash well tomatoes, bell peppers and zucchinis and cut a slice off the top to form a lid. Put the lid parts aside.
3. Scoop out the insides of the tomatoes and zucchinis. These insides will be used for the stuffing. Take out the seeds of the bell pepper and clean them. Place the tomatoes, zucchinis and bell peppers in an oven pan.
4. Heat the 3 tbsp olive oil and the garlic in a large pot and fry the onion until it becomes transparent. Add the chopped insides of the tomatoes and zucchinis you just scooped out. Add the rice, tomato paste, 1-cup of the tomato juice, chopped mushrooms and pine nuts. Fry them till the rice becomes half cooked. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Fill the tomatoes, zucchinis and bell peppers with the rice mixture. Sprinkle the mint leaves and cover them with the lids
6. Add sliced potatoes. Sprinkle the 1-cup of olive oil and 1-cup of tomato juice.
7. Bake them for about 1 hour. Serve them with Greek yogurt and feta cheese!

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