Greek Stuffed Vegetables with Rice (Gemista/Yemista)
A simple how-to for flavor-packed Greek rice-stuffed vegetables (Gemista/Yemista). This "one size fits all" recipe works wonders for Greek stuffed peppers, zucchini, eggplant, onion, and tomatoes! Best of all, this recipe is naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and packed with color, flavor, and nutrients!
Core them, scooping out their flesh and transferring it to a bowl.To core the peppers, tomatoes, and onions (peel or leave unpeeled), first slice off the top and then use a spoon to scoop out the middles (ensuring you don't pierce the veggie "walls"). For the zucchini, slice them in half lengthwise and then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving a thin "wall."
For the eggplant, I recommend pre-baking it (without coring). Slice the eggplant in two, score lightly down the middle of each half, and then bake for about 15 minutes at 400ºF/200ºC.You can also optionally fry the zucchini and onions before stuffing them to tenderize and "brown" them slightly. However, I skip this "extra step" to save time and still love the results.
Once all the vegetables are prepared, oil them (inside and out) and lay them on a large baking tray.
Step 2: Prepare the tomato "sauce"
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and finely dice the onions (if you're making stuffed onions, you can use the scooped-out flesh without needing any extras). At the same time, mince the herbs, and rinse the rice (until the water runs almost clear).
Add the chopped onions to the pan and cook, stirring often, until translucent (3-4 minutes). Then add all the remaining vegetable pulp (roughly chopped), the tomato paste, and salt, mixing well.
Add the rinsed rice and water, mix well, and then cover and cook until around 90% cooked (follow the package instructions, minus about 4 minutes). Just before it's ready, add in the minced herbs and dried mint and stir to combine.
Step 3: Bake the stuffed vegetables
Stuff the vegetables with the rice mixture, making sure not to overfill, as the rice will still slightly expand when baking in the oven. Once filled, add all the "lids" to the vegetables.
Bake for between 30-35 minutes at 400ºF/200ºC, or until the vegetables are tender with a cooked rice filling.The open-faced veggies (zucchini and eggplant) can "dry out" slightly while baking. To avoid this, you can bake the stuffed vegetables covered in tin foil (the entire pan) for the first 20 minutes before removing it for the last ten minutes.Optionally, you can broil the vegetables at the beginning (before stuffing) or at the end of the baking process for more of a char on the veggies.
Remove the Greek stuffed vegetables from the oven and serve optionally topped with extra herbs, cheese (like feta or vegan feta), tzatziki, or a dollop of yogurt (dairy or dairy-free), and some lemon wedges. I also recommend further drizzling with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil before serving.
How to Make Ahead and Store
Make ahead: you can core and stuff the vegetables up to a day in advance and store them, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake them. You can also freeze the rice-stuffed vegetables pre-baking (be aware that certain vegetables – particularly tomatoes - are more likely to "collapse" when thawed and baked. They won't look great but will taste amazing, still) for between 2-3 months. Store: once baked, allow the stuffed vegetables to cool and then store in an airtight container for up to four days.Reheat: you can reheat the baked stuffed vegetables either in the microwave or in the oven, in a large baking pan filled with around a cup of water at 400ºF/200ºC, until thoroughly warmed.
Cook this gemista recipe "ladera" style: in Greek cooking, there is a method called "ladera," meaning "with oil" that relies on lots of high-quality olive oil to add silky mouthfeel and a melt-in-the-mouth texture. These stuffed veggies are perfect for that and can handle up to 1/3- 1/2 cup oil (in total). Drizzle it into the filling and over the veggies before and after baking.
For more tender onions: it's best to pre-bake the onions slightly. To do this, wrap the onions in foil and bake with the eggplant at the beginning. If you aren't using eggplant, I recommend baking the cored onions at 355ºF/180ºC for 30 minutes). Then stuff and bake once more. Alternatively, you can peel and boil the onions for 10-15 minutes (until tender but still firm) before coring, stuffing, and baking.
Make enough for leftovers: As they "sit" in the fridge overnight, the flavors develop further, and they'll taste even better! Enjoy the Greek stuffed peppers/tomatoes and other veggies cold or warmed.
Adapt the veggies to the season: for both what you're stuffing and what's in the stuffing, adapt this stuffed vegetables recipe to the season for a dish you can enjoy year-round.
Experiment with other grains: feel free to try this recipe with other grains like couscous, barley groats, or quinoa. Follow a similar method by par-cooking the grain to 90%, then finish it off in the oven. Adjust the liquid ratio and stovetop cooking time accordingly.
To grill the stuffed veggies: if it's still grilling weather, then no need to turn on the oven. Instead, use some yarn or kitchen twine to tie the top and bottom of the filled veggies together, brush with a bit of oil, wrap in tin foil, and then grill for 10-15 minutes, until tender with a fully cooked stuffing.
Optional add-ins and recipe variations:
Stuffing other vegetables: this simple rice stuffing works well for other vegetables, like potatoes, mushrooms (sauteed first to remove extra liquid), squash/pumpkin, cabbage leaves, artichoke, etc. However, the baking times will vary.
Lemon: serving the yemista with lemon wedges is a great way to enhance the flavor and add an extra "brightness".
Vegetables: feel free to enhance the nutrients in these Greek stuffed vegetables with finely chopped vegetables added into the rice filling. I recommend peppers, spinach, carrot (grated), potatoes, corn, peas, shredded broccoli, etc. You could also make for a heartier filling with the addition of legumes like lentils, chickpeas, or beans.
Otherseasonings: this rice filling will pair wonderfully with all sorts of dried herbs, including oregano, thyme, basil, cumin, Italian seasoning, Mexican/taco seasoning, etc.
For spice: feel free to add chili/cayenne pepper or pepper paste to the rice filling. You could also top them off with a sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes.
Raisins: you can use golden or dark raisins added to the rice mixture.
Protein: you could add marinated crumbled tofu, tempeh, or vegan mince (or soy protein), for extra protein. Sauté it in a skillet to cook.
Check the blog post for more tips and serving suggestions.