The tastiest gemista (Greek stuffed peppers and tomatoes)
This gemista, or Greek stuffed peppers and tomatoes, is a staple meal in Greek households. Almost every home has its own recipe. My version is super tasty, with minced beef, lots of herbs and spices and a delicious tomato sauce spooned over the top. Don't forget to serve with big wedges of feta cheese!
Slice the top of the tomatoes off (keeping each top close to its corresponding tomato), then scoop the flesh out of them using a teaspoon. Leave enough around the edge so that the tomato ‘shell’ stays intact. Put the tomato flesh straight into a food processor.
Add the olive oil, tomato puree, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine and make a sauce.
Now slice the tops off the peppers (keeping the tops close by) and scoop out the pith and seeds. Arrange the empty peppers and tomatoes in a large baking dish (keeping the tops close by).
For the filling/stuffing
Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 390F. Heat up a big drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the grated onions, zucchini, carrot and garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes until softened, then add the beef. Cook and stir again until meat is browned (another few minutes).
Add the oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper and stir for about another minute.
Add the rice, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and about 1 cup of water. Mix well, then cover and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the rice is partly cooked.
Stir through the parsley, mint, salt and pepper.
To assemble the dish
Use a dessert spoon to fill tomatoes and peppers with the stuffing. Put the tops back on.
Tuck the potato wedges in between the peppers and tomatoes.
Pour the tomato sauce that you made in the food processor all over the tomatoes and peppers and potatoes. Then pour over 1 cup (250ml) water.
Cover the baking dish with aluminium foil and bake for 1¼ hours or until the potatoes are cooked and the tops of the vegetables are starting to brown. Remove the foil half way through cooking.
Serve a half to a whole tomato and a pepper and a few potato wedges for each person. Spoon over some of the tomato sauce. Serve with a wedge of feta.
Making the filling
I usually grate all the vegetables for the filling (including the garlic) using my food processor.
Rice and potatoes
You'll notice that you have far too much rice filling! Simple freeze it for next time. Don’t make the potato wedges too big because you want them to be properly tender by the time the vegetables are baked.
Optional additions to the filling
Add a quarter to a third of a cup of chopped dill if you like
Add half a cup of pine nuts and a handful of raisins or sultanas if you're feeling brave (it's delicious!).
If you want to leave out the meat, either add more grated vegetables or add cooked lentils and/or beans.
How to serve
Always serve with chunks of feta cheese on the side. Add crusty bread if you like. You can serve the stuffed vegetables hot, warm, or at room temperature. Delicious any of these ways!
Leftovers keep covered in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively freeze in sealed containers. Defrost then reheat in the microwave for 8 to 10 minutes (it takes a while for the filling to reheat from cold). You can even eat the leftovers cold. They make a perfect fancy packed lunch!