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The Best Authentic Greek Stuffed Tomatoes-Gemista

Gemista Greek stuffed tomatoes

It is not possible to talk about tomatoes, the Mediterranean diet and Greek food without mentioning Gemista (or Yemista). 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.

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.

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 none of them will compare. These are truly the best (and I don’t say that lightly). Here is why:

How to Make the Best Greek Stuffed Tomatoes- Gemista

  • 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!
greek stuffed tomatoes and peppers

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.

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The Best Authentic Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers-Gemista

Gemista Greek stuffed tomatoes
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
The quintessential Greek Mediterranean dish: Roasted summer vegetables stuffed with rice and herbs. The famous Gemista or Yemista.
Course: Dinner, Entree
Cuisine: Greek, Mediterranean, Vegan
Keyword: Greek Stuffed Tomatoes
Servings: 7
Author: Elena Paravantes RDN
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Ingredients

  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 5 large green bell peppers + 1 small green pepper
  • 10-12 tablespoons un-cooked short or medium 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

Instructions

  • Preheat oven at 400 Fahrenheit (200 Celsius).
  • 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)
  • Place the empty tomatoes and peppers along with their caps n a large pan about 3 inches deep.
  • Take 2-3 zucchini peel them and grate them, put the grated zucchini in another bowl.
  • 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.
  • Take a small green bell pepper and also dice it and add to the zucchini mixture.
  • Finally take a small potato (a bit larger than an egg) and grate it and add to the zucchini mixture.
  • 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.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.
  • 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.
  • Now start filling the tomatoes and peppers with rice all the way to the top and close with their caps.
  • 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.
  • Add 5 cloves to the potatoes and about 5 allspice.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Notes

You can also just use only tomatoes.
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Leave a comment or share on instagram and mention @greekdiet

Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

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88 Comments

  • Reply Tessa September 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    I’ve made this so many times this summer and it keeps getting better, it really is worth the effort and time. Olive oil as mentioned is really essential for flavor and texture, so don’t be shy to use a generous amount.
    For me arborio and also baldo rice have worked well until now.
    Thank you Elena for sharing your mom’s recipe for Gemista, it has become one of my favorite dishes!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN September 23, 2019 at 6:53 am

      Thank you Tessa! And thank you for your helpful tips, happy you enjoy the gemista.

  • Reply Christina Konospiris September 26, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that I have made your recipe many times now to great success. I do add some ground beef to make this more if a stand alone meal it has been amazing every time. My Greek born parents were very impressed both at the result and my use of the term “lathero”. I am eager to try more of your recipes!

  • Reply Donna January 18, 2020 at 12:14 am

    I have not made this recipe yet but I would like too! If I was making it for 2 people, how many tsp or tbsps of rice would I need? Also, could I use jasmine rice?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN January 18, 2020 at 8:35 am

      Hi Donna, You can change the number of servings, just go to the box where it has the servings and change the number. In any case for 2 servings you would use 3-4 tablespoons of rice. Although as it is a time consuming recipe and tastes even better the next day, I would make extra. I do not recommend Jasmine rice, long grain rice will not give you the smooth texture we are looking for in this recipe.

      • Reply Panayiota March 29, 2020 at 10:50 pm

        Hi Elena I’m about to start making the gemista.Just wondering if 12 tbsp or 3/4 cup rice is enough for this recipe or should I use more rice.Most recipes recommend 2 cups that’s why I was wondering.Thanks

  • Reply Panayiota March 29, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    Hi Elena I’m about to start making the gemista.Just wondering if 12 tbsp or 3/4 cup rice is enough for this recipe or should I use more rice.Most recipes recommend 2 cups that’s why I was wondering.Thanks

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN March 30, 2020 at 6:43 am

      Hi Panayiota, Yes this amount of rice works perfectly for this recipe which accounts for using 5 tomatoes and 5 Peppers or a total of 10. Also this recipe uses tomato and zucchini in its filling as well.

  • Reply Jill April 10, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Excellent is all I can say! Thank you for this detailed recipe, it worked out perfect! Definitely worth the effort.5 stars

  • Reply Jonne June 24, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Elena, my sister and I are going to make this this weekend, it looks delicious! I have one question, I read the recipe at list 5 times but I can’t figure out where the 1.3 liter of olive oil goes? What am I missing? I suppose you oil the tomatoes and bell peppers and the baking tray. But I can’t find it in the description. I would love to hear from you. Thank you so much for answering.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN June 24, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      Hi Jonne, thank you for your message. The amount of olive oil is 1 1/2 cup (not 1.3 liters). In steps 8 and 9, it is noted to add the olive oil (3/4 cup in step 8 and 3/4 cup in step 9).

      • Reply Jonne June 24, 2020 at 5:20 pm

        Oh gosh, you talked about the amount of olive oil so I googled it, and was like yeah that’s a lot but okay, let’s do it. Funny. Thank you so much!

      • Reply Jonne August 1, 2020 at 1:29 pm

        Hi Elena, just wanted to say that we already made it twice! It is so delicious, it taste like a vacation to Greece from the comfort of your own home. We love it! Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks to your mom as well.5 stars

  • Reply Jason Howard July 7, 2020 at 2:01 am

    This was very good. I did all tomatoes, because I had a flat from CostCo. I ended up with too much stuffing, though, so next time I’ll throw in some peppers to accomdate the spare. Because there seemed to be a lot of moving parts to this recipe, I ended up re-writing it into my own style. Would be glad to share if anyone wants it. Served with a block of feta, a decent bread, and a pinot grigio.5 stars

  • Reply Meghan Lennon September 7, 2020 at 6:46 am

    We don’t seem to have short grain rice in the shops around me other than arborio rice, will medium grain rice work?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN September 7, 2020 at 7:33 am

      Hi Meghan, Yes you can use medium grain rice, just don’t use long grain rice.

  • Reply Stacy Heffner September 10, 2020 at 3:15 am

    Can eggplant be substituted for zucchini for the potato mixture you place around the peppers/tomatoes (not the rice mixture)? I have some from my garden I’d like to use.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN September 18, 2020 at 5:51 am

      Yes, you can, although I would still try to add a bit of zucchini. The texture will be slightly chunkier.

  • Reply One-Pot Greek Zucchini Rice | Olive Tomato October 6, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    […] we roast it in the oven along with other vegetables like in briami (roasted vegetables) and gemista  (roasted stuffed tomatoes), we make it into a savory pie, we stuff it with garlic and tomato […]

  • Reply Anna October 10, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Absolutely fantastic! Used barley groats instead of rice and it was a good idea – it is creamy and delicious. Thanks for the recipe!5 stars

  • Reply Summer October 29, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    So good! I’ve made these 3 times and everyone is so impressed. So flavourful and taste better than you could order in a restaurant. I will keep making these when we have friends or family over. This dish is a keeper! Thank you!!5 stars

  • Reply Spiros January 30, 2021 at 8:34 pm

    How would i add ground beef to this?

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