A traditionally summer dish, Vegan in its original version, coming from East Mediterranean countries
Gemista or Yemista, juicy and colorful, is the Greek name used for the dish of Stuffed vegetables with rice, meat or the combination of both. Their name comes etymologically from the Greek verb ‘gemizo/yemizo’ (‘γεμίζω’ written in the Greek alphabet) which can be literally translated into the english verb ‘stuff’ or ’fill’.
Since this dish consists of vegetables not just filled but overfilled to the point of bursting with rice, meat or the combination of both, the term is better to be translated as ‘Stuffed Vegetables’ and not ‘Filled”. Because the notion of Gemista/Yemista to those loving this dish is that the ingredients filling the vegetables are overflowing.
Depending on the ingredients used for their stuffing, Gemista /Yemista are separated in two categories :
- The “Orphans’’: Stuffed Vegetables only with rice and chopped herbs like basilic and rosemary
- The “Married ones”: Stuffed Vegetables only with meat or with both rice and meat
Why are Gemista/Yemista considered a typically summer dish? Simply because the main vegetables used in this recipe, that is tomatoes, are considered seasonal summer vegetables.
Tracing the origins of a food is not easy. Gemista /Yemista is one of the most popular Greek dishes, also dominant in the kitchen of other East Mediterranean countries like Turkey and Lebanon.
The story has it that they were first introduced into the Greek mainland by the refugees of Asia Minor, and mainly the female cooks of Smyrna, the nowadays Turkish city of Izmir. Female cooks of Asia Minor have held a name of a heavy legacy in the art of cooking. Since the exchange of their recipes with the recipes of the Greek mainland after the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922, each Greek household owns its own recipe of Gemista/Yemista with minor differentiations in the herbs used, the amount of olive oil or the addition of extra vegetables or stuffing ingredients.
Nowadays Gemist/Yemista have increasingly entered the international cuisine gaining more and more fans, not only due to their taste but also due to the fact that they attract Vegans since their first version has been the recipe of the Vegan one.
The main Greek recipe for Gemista/Yemista (their first vegan version)
8 tomatoes, 4 green bell peppers, 1-2 eggplants, 5-6 potatoes cut into wedges, 2 red onions finely chopped, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 1 zucchini chopped, 500g/ 18 oz. rice (for risotto), 1 tin chopped tomatoes, a small bunch of chopped parsley, a small bunch of fresh chopped mint, 2 tbsps of tomato puree, salt and freshly ground pepper, 1tblsps of sugar, olive oil
Wash the vegetables. Slice off the top of the tomatoes; using a spoon remove the flesh of the tomatoes and keep it in a bowl. (The flesh of the tomatoes will be the base for the tomato sauce for the Gemista/Yemista). Slice off the top of the eggplants and remove the flesh, using a spoon. Cut the flesh of the eggplants in small cubes and set aside, as you will use them later for the stuffing. Slice off the top of the peppers and remove the seeds and white parts from the inside. Place the empty vegetables on a large baking tray. Season the empty vegetables with a pinch of salt and sugar.
In a blender add the flesh of the tomatoes, 5-6 tbsps olive oil, the tomato puree, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside this tomato sauce.
In a saucepan add some olive oil and sauté the onions, until translucent. Chop the zucchini in small cubes, add in the saucepan and sauté for one more minute. At the end add the flesh of the eggplants (chopped) and the chopped garlic and sauté, until softened. Add the rice and continue sautéing, unit it becomes transculent. Pour in the tin of chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. As soon as the liquid has been absorbed, the stuffing is ready. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the fresh herbs.
Spoon the filling inside the empty vegetables and place the potatoes, cut into pieces, in between the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and pour the tomato juice (sauce) over the vegetables and in the baking tray. Cover the vegetables with their lids and add 2-3 glasses of water. Cover the Gemista/Yemista with aluminium foil and bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees for 60-75 minutes. Halfway through cooking time remove the aluminium foil and bake, until nicely coloured.
The Gemista/Yemista are equally delicious, served either warm or even straight out of the fridge. Try them either in their simple or any other mixed version and enjoy!
Written by Maria Papamargariti, Greek and English Philologist, Substitute Teacher in ISL School (Luxembourg) and Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. She holds a Bachelor in Greek Language and Literature (Philology) and a Bachelor in English Language and Literature, both from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She has published three books in the field of children’s literature, Books publication link. She speaks English, French and Greek. At present, she is completing her Master Studies in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts in the University of Luxembourg.