Roasted vine-ripened tomatoes brimming with the flavoursome combination of dill, parsley and rice, and lavishly drizzled with good quality olive oil. This dish is a vegan’s dream come true; healthy and packed with fresh ingredients.
Drawn from my Greek heritage, Yemista means ‘filled’, and is a traditional recipe for stuffed tomatoes or other vegetables such as zucchini and eggplants (aubergines) that are baked. Every Greek household would have its own version of Yemista, depending on preferences. This recipe, taught to me by my mother, has a simple list of ingredients and can be eaten as a main or as an elegant accompaniment to most dishes. I recommend eating Yemista at room temperature or cold; straight from the fridge.
- 10 – 12 medium size vine ripened tomatoes. (Note 1)
- ½ cup of each chopped parsley, chopped dill. (Note 2)
- ¼ cup grated onion
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup of medium grain rice
- 1 cup of tomato pulp puree (from the tomatoes)
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling salt, pepper
- 2 medium baking potatoes, cubed
- Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
- Slice off the tomato lids, but do not go all the way. Leave a flap which is still attached.
- Scoop out the pulp with a spoon or melon baller in one go so you end up with one round ball of flesh per tomato. Place the scooped out tomatoes in an oven tray. Scatter the cubed potatoes in the gaps between the tomatoes. (Note 3)
- Grate each pulp and place in a bowl. Discard the hardcore.
- In a separate bowl place the grated onion, herbs, tomato paste, oil, salt, pepper, tomato pulp puree and rice. Mix. (Note 4)
- Fill each tomato very loosely with the mixture until it is two thirds full. Place the caps on the tomatoes firmly to create a little oven where the rice will steam. (Note 5)
- Pour ½ cup of tomato juice into the tray so that there is moisture at the bottom of the tray.
- Drizzle tomatoes and potatoes generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with some more salt.
- Bake uncovered for 1 hour. (Note 6)
- Remove from the oven and check to see if rice is cooked. If required, return to the oven for 5 minute intervals until the rice is ready. If the mixture seems a bit dry, spoon a little of the tomato puree pulp into each tomato and reseal with the lid.
- Stuffed tomatoes are delicious eaten warm or straight from the fridge.
- Make sure your tomatoes are roughly the same size.
- No need to chop too finely.
- Be careful not to create too thin a wall when scooping out the pulp or you will tear the tomato. No need to scrape it dry, a bit of residual liquid at the bottom is good.
- At this point, work fairly quickly as you don’t want the rice to sit too long and begin absorbing the liquid before it goes in the oven. I usually add 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper. Remember, no salt, no taste!!
- Don’t be tempted to fill to the top. It’s hard, l know! If overfilled, the tops will rise as the rice swells and will result in unevenly cooked rice. If you have left over mixture, tip it into the tray to cook with the potatoes. It will taste divine.
- I usually place my tray on the top rack as this gives the tomatoes a beautiful colour. You may need to adjust to suit your own oven.
Yemista is ‘the Greek dish’, that means the most to me, as we used to eat it a lot when l was growing up, particularly when money was tight. It is the kind of meal (when tomatoes are plentiful) that is inexpensive, healthy and versatile.
This dish is enhanced by the quality of tomatoes used. I suggest similar size vine ripened tomatoes as they have a deep, rich slightly caramelised flavour after baking. The dill and parsley accentuate the overall flavour of the dish by providing a mouth-watering lemony zing. When l am entertaining, l tend to scoop the filling out of a couple of tomatoes and use it to top up the remaining tomatoes, as indicated in the first shot l took. I think they look a lot more elegant this way.
And for my top tip; stick to the given ratio of wet to dry ingredients otherwise you might end up with rice that is either mushy or too dry (l learnt the hard way). If you prefer to substitute herbs, use the same amounts indicated in the recipe.
Bon Apetit, or as we Greeks say, Kali Orexi,