It is not possible to talk about tomatoes, the Mediterranean diet and Greek food without mentioning Gemista. Gemista are vegetables usually tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant filled with rice (sometimes with ground meat) and baked in the oven. Gemista translates as “ones that are filled”. And as I mentioned earlier my mom’s gemista happen to be my favorite food.
As with most people’s favorite foods, this is also a comfort food for me, but as opposed to many comfort foods this one is healthy. At first glance you may think it’s a starchy dish, but once you take a look at this recipe you will notice that there are plenty of vegetables, to be exact, for each gemisto you eat you get almost 2 servings of vegetables. Why? Well the rice itself is mixed with some more vegetables; in fact you only eat about a ¼ cup of rice per serving.
Now I need to mention that yes, this recipe has a lot of olive oil for non-mediterranean standards, but don’t let that scare you. First of all there is plenty of olive oil left in the pan so unless you drink it or mop it up with bread you won’t be getting all those calories. Secondly, as I have mentioned the beauty of the lathera-Greek vegetarian dishes with moderate starch and a good amount is olive oil is that you actually end up with a moderate amount of calories because the vegetables hardly add any calories to the meal.
Now as I said my mom’s gemista is my favorite food, I don’t order gemista when I’m out because I don’t like them. Here is why these are the best…
- The rice is cooked until it is very soft not al dente and so are the vegetables. My mom says that if the gemista look too pretty they probably won’t taste good. And she is right, whenever I see nice bright looking gemista that have kept their shape, the vegetables are somewhat hard and so is the rice, making for a tasteless and boring dish. Also, do not pre-cook the rice, the whole point of cooking together is that the rice absorbs all the flavors of all the other ingredients,
- She only fills them with rice, not ground beef. It is a summer dish; beef would just make it heavier and add calories.
- She mixes the rice with a bunch of herbs, which makes them super tasty.
- There is olive oil in this dish and it is important that you use it, otherwise you won’t get this melt-in-your mouth sensation. Trust me. I recently saw a recipe for gemista on the site of a popular US NYC newspaper that used only 3 tablespoons of olive oil, that will not work, you’ll end up with a hard, tough and dry gemisto.
- She cooks potatoes with them. By adding potatoes you actually have a whole meal fit to serve guests.
- And did I mention that this recipe has no animal products, so perfect for vegans too!
Ok this is my mom’s famous recipe, it will take you about an hour to do the prep, so you are better off making a big batch, these last 2-3 days and they taste better the next day.
This dish is a lathero and it is enjoyed best at room temperature with feta. I don’t eat it with bread, as there is the rice and potatoes, but most Greeks do.