Mint, almonds, Greek currant and rice with a hint of cinnamon give these Vegetarian Yemista an exquisite Middle Eastern flavor.
Did I ever tell you about my passion for Greece?
When I was a teenager I spent my holidays on the same little Greek island for few years in a row.
This island was Leros, in the Dodecanese in the southern Aegean Sea.
I became friend with the locals, I pushed myself into learning their beautiful language and I worked during the summer as a waitress in a little restaurant in front of the sea.
As many of you know one of the classic of Greek cuisine are Yemista (also written as Gemista, or Γεμιστά in Greek): peppers and tomatoes stuffed with minced meat and rice. I learned in Leros how to bake them.
They have always been a success in my house, but we when we decided to cut our meat consumption, the Yemista kind of became a forgotten dish.
Until one day last year, when I met Elefteria, a girl from Athens who was doing an internship in Dublin in the same office where I used to work from time to time.
She told me she came from an area in Athens where there is a great Middle Eastern influence and that in her family “Ta Yemista“have always been vegetarian.
That came as a surprise! And obviously triggered my curiosity. I asked her instructions and ingredients and I was lucky enough to try her Yemista when she baked them for a pot luck.
I also browsed the net and found a similar vegetarian Yemista recipe in Diane Kochilas’ blog. My final version of the vegetarian Yemista recipe which you find below takes from both, and from my experience in Leros.
Notes: I chose to bake Yemista with peppers for this recipe, but Yemista with beef tomatoes instead of peppers are quite common as well. This is a possible variation of this great recipe.
Also, Yemista in Greece are often baked with some potatoes and a little bit of fresh tomatoes. That’s why I baked them like that (check my photo below) but you can skip these ingredients if you like.
Ingredients for Vegetarian Yemista (Greek Stuffed Peppers)
- 8 red or yellow peppers, possibly in a “square” shape
- 3 large onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cup of whole grain basmati rice
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- 1 third of a cup of Greek currants (very tiny raisins)
- a good handful of sliced almonds
- half a cup of mint
- 250 gr tomatoes (I used cherry tomatoes)
- salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium size potatoes (optional)
- 1 regular size tomato (optional)
How To Make Vegetarian Yemista (Greek Stuffed Peppers)
- Wash the peppers and cut a circle around the stem. Keep the stem which you will use as lid later on.
- Remove seeds and white membranes.
- Place the peppers in an oiled tray and sprinkle some salt inside each of them.
- Place the finely chopped onions with some olive oil in a large pot. Let them sauté for 10 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir continuously for few minutes.
- Add chopped tomatoes, garlic, currant, almonds, cinnamon stick and 1 cup of water.
- Cover and let everything simmer at a lower heat for about 15 minutes (or until rice is almost cooked – but not fully cooked because it will cook further in the oven).
- Remove the cinnamon stick.
- Add salt pepper and chopped mint, and mix.
- Stuff the peppers with the mix and close them with their lids and stems.
- Place the stuffed peppers back in the tray.
- Peel and cut the potatoes in wedges and place them between the peppers to help them stand and to cover the tray surface.
- Add some tomatoes slices to the potatoes to help moisturize.
- Pour some olive oil on top of the peppers.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for over an hour until peppers are soft and start to get brown at the edge of the cap.