Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers

I am going to continue my Greek dish series (I hope you all don’t mind!) throughout my stay in this beautiful Mediterranean country. With that said, I would like to present to you a very typical Greek dish, which can be found on practically any Greek restaurant’s menu. While this dish is a bit labor intensive, it certainly isn’t complicated. There are numerous variations prepared throughout Greece, and almost every home cook will have his/her favorite variation, not unlike the notorious Greek meatball, which everyone seems to have an opinion about! Just when you think you have finally mastered the recipe, someone comes along and tells you that you, in fact, have not.

In addition to the typical stuffed tomato and pepper, I have seen stuffed zucchini and eggplant. Some variations include ground meat in the stuffing, but I must tell you that I prefer this dish to be made strictly vegetarian. I think the meat overpowers the delicate taste of the vegetable, but feel free to try it and taste for yourself. If you have children who are not particularly inclined toward eating many vegetables, you may also like to add finely chopped pieces of carrot or grated zucchini into the rice stuffing. Feel free to experiment with whatever herbs you may have growing in your garden. If you happen to have mint on hand, I think it compliments this dish nicely; however, I have had to use a combination of basil and oregano when fresh mint was unavailable.

This dish is quintessentially summer, incorporating so many of the abundant seasonal vegetables and herbs available. However, it can be made with peppers from the grocery store throughout the winter months. Living in New York City, I have yet to come across a good tomato large enough to use in winter, but if you happen to live in a climate that lends itself to winter tomatoes, go for it!

A dear friend of our family’s, who lives on the Greek isle of Aegina, has, in my opinion, perfected this dish. The following recipe is a version of her “Yemista” recipe, and I am sure that if you give it a try, you too will be won over.

6 ripe tomatoes
2 green peppers
8 large spoons of Arborio rice (pearled rice works best in this dish)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large wedges
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
¼ c. raw pine nuts
¼ c. dried currants (raisins may be substituted, however, currants add a more delicate touch)
½ c. fresh mint
Olive oil
Sugar
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375° F.
Prepare the tomatoes: turn the tomatoes upside down and cut off the bottom off each one, forming a cap to enclose the rice mixture. Set aside the cap. Scoop out the insides with a spoon and reserve in a food processor. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with a little bit of sugar. Set aside. In the food processor, add the mint to the insides of the tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add about ½ c. of water to the tomato mixture. Set aside.
Prepare the peppers: cut off the top about an inch from the stem; set top aside. Scrape out the seeds. Sprinkle the inside with a little bit of sugar. Set aside.
Prepare the rice mixture. You will use one large spoon of uncooked rice per vegetable you intend to stuff. For example, if you are going to cook 4 tomatoes, you will use 4 large spoons of rice. In a large sauté pan, on medium high heat, pour about ¼ c. of oil into the pan. Add the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally as not to burn your contents. After about 2 minutes, add the rice, giving a good stir to coat with olive oil. Add ¾ c. of the tomato mixture you previously processed to the rice. If the mixture is too dry and begins to stick to the pan, pour in another glob or two of olive oil. Add the pine nuts and currants. Sprinkle with about 1 large spoon of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, adding more water if the rice requires it. Remove from the heat source. Set aside.
In a baking pan, large enough to hold all your vegetables close together, (you want the vegetables to touch each other, which will allow them to hold their shape nicely throughout the cooking process) arrange your tomatoes and peppers. Fill each vegetable ¾ of the way full with the rice mixture. Pour the rest of the tomato mint mixture into each vegetable. You want to put as much moisture into each stuffed vegetable so that the rice cooks through. Cap each vegetable with its top. Arrange the potato wedges in between the stuffed vegetables, filling up any unused space in the baking pan. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the potatoes, and sprinkle some sugar over the tops of each vegetable, which will give them a beautiful caramelized effect. You may also sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs, if you desire, however, I usually skip this step. Pour any left-over tomato mint mixture gently into the bottom of the pan from a corner of the pan. You don’t want to disrupt the seasoning on the top of the vegetables. Pour a bit of olive oil over the entire dish.

Place in the oven, allowing to cook until the tops of the vegetables have a slightly burned effect on their tops, about 1-1 1/2 hrs. Make sure the rice has cooked through, as well as the potatoes. Allow to cool. Serve with wedges of feta cheese. This dish is lovely right after cooking, but I must admit that it tastes just as good the following day straight from the fridge.

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  1. And I’m back….with $8 meals « Two Dancing Buckeyes

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