A Nutritionist’s favorite Mediterranean Summer Dish: Greek Stuffed Tomatoes-Gemista

July 20, 2012
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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.
  • 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. 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!

The Best Greek Stuffed Tomatoes –Gemista

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.

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 large tomatoes and 5 large green bell peppers or a combination of 10 total + 1 small green pepper
  • 10-12 tablespoons un-cooked short grain rice (do not use long grain)
  • 8 zucchini
  • 1 onion
  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • 7 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons dry mint
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • cloves-whole
  • allspice – whole
  • 1 1/2 cup olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt/pepper

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven at 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius).

2. Wash the tomatoes and peppers. For the peppers cut around the stem and empty the inside of the pepper. For the tomato cut around the base (the bottom part) not the stem part and empty the tomato with a spoon. Put these pieces of tomato in a separate bowl along with the juices. Make tiny slits on the inside bottom of the peppers and tomatoes (not all the way through)

3. Place the empty tomatoes and peppers along with their caps n a large pan about 3 inches deep.

4. Take 2-3 zucchini peel them and grate them, put the grated zucchini in another bowl.

5. In a food processor add an onion, 4-5 garlic cloves, a bit of oil about a teaspoon and some salt. Mix but not too much (you don’t want a paste). Add the onion mixture to the zucchini.

6. Take a small green bell pepper and also dice it and add to the zucchini mixture.

7. Finally take a small potato (a bit larger than an egg) and grate it and add to the zucchini mixture.

8. Now strain the juice from the tomatoes (squeeze the tomato with your hands too) and save in a separate bowl. Now you should have 3 bowls one with tomato, one with zucchini-potato-onion mixture and one with tomato juice.

9. Cut the tomato in small pieces and mix it with the zucchini mixture. Add 1 tablespoon salt, dry mint, parsley and tomato paste. Now add to the mixture 10 to 12 tablespoons short grain rice and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Finally add ¾ cup olive oil. Let the mixture sit.

10. Now start cutting the potatoes. Take 2 lbs. of potatoes, peel them and cut them into quarters, place in a bowl. Take 3-4 zucchini, peel and slice and add to potatoes. Add ¾ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon oregano, some salt and 2 cloves garlic cut n small pieces. Mix well (with your hands preferably). Then add the tomato juice which you had saved from the tomatoes in step 8.

11. Now start filling the tomatoes and peppers with rice all the way to the top and close with their caps.

12. Add the potatoes to the pan, making sure to place around the tomatoes and peppers so they don’t slide in the tray. If there is any rice mixture left mix it with the quartered potatoes and add to to the pan.

13. Add 5 cloves to the potatoes and about 5 allspice.

14. Add about a cup of water, but not on top-you don’t want to “wash off” the oil. Add the water in a corner of the pan and tilt slightly so the water goes everywhere.

15. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes at 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius). Then reduce to 320-340 Fahrenheit (170-160 Celsius ) and bake for another 1-½ hours. If you notice it getting dry, add a bit more water.

To see if it is done, check the rice it should be soft and mushy.

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.

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22 Responses to A Nutritionist’s favorite Mediterranean Summer Dish: Greek Stuffed Tomatoes-Gemista

  1. margaritta goumas jost
    August 3, 2012 at 3:35 am

    thank you so much..both my parents and all my grandparents were of greek descent..(spelling)I so enjoy good greek food, but can’t seems to make anything taste right….i an’t wait to go shopping tomorrow to try the gemistas…my auunt would stuff the squash and squzh flowers, also…..i’ll let you know how they turn out..

  2. Kirsty
    September 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    This recipe looks great! I have some arborio rice at home, would that work?

    • August 16, 2014 at 3:07 am

      If you cook it right . allow cook time when it is in the oven. So you dont over cook it.

  3. Kirsty
    September 6, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    One other question – when you say reduce the temperature to 170-160, is that degrees F or degrees C?

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      September 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      Kirsty, It is in degrees Celsius, which is 320-340 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks for pointing that out!

  4. Nancy Studebaker
    May 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    i made these during Great Lent – they were fabulous, though labor intensive (more than an hour for me)! But it makes a lot, and I loved them! Thanks for a great recipe! Kali Anastasi!

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      May 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Great! Yes, these take a bit more work, but it is so worth it!

  5. Monica
    June 3, 2013 at 9:49 am

    I have just come back from Greece and am very keen to make these. I had many variations in Greece but my favourite had a lovely lemony taste to the rice. I just want to be clear that the rice is not pre cooked.

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      June 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Monica,
      Yes the rice is not precooked. I’ll add that on the recipe.

      • Monica
        July 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm

        They are delicious and do actually taste better a day or two later.

        • Elena Paravantes RD
          August 2, 2013 at 10:13 am

          Thanks Monica!

  6. July 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    So you put the rice in completely raw right? I was always under the impression you have to par cook the rice or even fully. This is a very interesting recipe I will be sure to try it. Thank you for posting.

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      July 11, 2013 at 7:34 am

      Hi Nicko, Yes, the rice is not cooked at all. Let me know how it works out for you!

  7. August 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Yasou Elena,
    You didn’t mention what to do with reserved juice of the tomatoes, I’ll be putting it in the pan with a little less water. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      August 12, 2013 at 7:27 am

      Hi Yiorgos.
      The reserved juice is mixed in with the potatoes in step 10. I just added it, thanks for the question!

  8. August 7, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Love, love, love this post! Your description of gemista and how it’s done correctly (cooking time, olive oil, calories, no meat) is great! I have been working for weeks on the recipe post for my pathera’s gemista. There are so many little details that need to be addressed, especially when describing the dish to someone who may have never tasted gemista before. One challenge I am having is finding the best rice to use in the US. Because the rice in Greece is called “Carolina”, it causes for confusion. Carolina rice in the US is a long grain rice. From what I can tell, I need to use some type of Japonica rice, or as someone mentioned above, maybe an Arborio rice? Thanks! Ashley

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      August 8, 2014 at 8:03 am

      Thanks Ashley,
      For the rice, as I mention in the recipe just choose short grain rice, no need to look for special varieties.

  9. Patricia Kyritsi Howell
    August 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for including all the critical details. I was taught to make this by watching others cook it but have never seen it written out so nicely. I feel sorry for those who follow most recipes for gemista as they end up with a dried out bunch of vegetables with uncooked rice! You can never have too much olive oil on these…

  10. CharlottN
    August 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for this recipe! The Gemistas sound yummy and I will definately try it on a day that I have lots of time. The fact the steps are numbered is great! But I’m still wondering about a couple of things. In step 8, it’s the insides of the tomatoes (the meat) that you squeeze the juice from, right? Doesn’t adding the tomatoe juice to the potatoes make them soggy? And about the rice, would basmati work? I live in Sweden and don’t really know what a short-grain rice would be. And just to make sure I understand – the tomatoes are utlimately filled with zuccini+a chopped bell pepper+onions+chopped tomatoe meat (that was scooped out)+uncooked rice+herbs+a grated potato. It’s a complicated recipe and I want to be sure to get it right!

    • Elena Paravantes RD
      August 24, 2014 at 9:09 am

      Yes, that is correct. The potatoes will roast absorbing the liquids so they should come out soggy. Short grain is short, stubby rice. You could try Italian arborio. Basmati would not work as well, due to texture and flavor.

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