Greek Tomatoes stuffed with Rice and Herbs (Yemista) is a much loved family dish; we’ve been making it forever. The tomatoes are filled with the flavoursome combination of dill, parsley and rice, lavishly drizzled with good quality olive oil, then baked until lightly caramelised. It’s a dish that can be eaten all year round.
I am most proud of my cooking when l can make a dish that’s just as good as my mum’s. Greek Tomatoes stuffed with Herbs and Rice is one of those dishes. Like many cooks of her generation, she cooked by sight and taste. So pinning her down to measurements was impossible; l simply had to watch very carefully and write notes very quickly.
For this post, l made the vegetarian version and only used tomatoes (just like my mum). Other versions use vegetables such as zucchini, capsicums / peppers and eggplants. Mince / ground meat can also be added to the mixture. Personally, l think the vegetarian version is the best.
My Mum’s Top Tips for Making Yemista
- If you can get vine-ripened tomatoes that’s what l’d go for. They have a deep, rich caramelised flavour after baking, especially if you drizzle them with lots of olive oil.
- Buy similar sized tomatoes. This means that the filling will cook uniformly; no overcooked or raw bits.
- When scooping out the contents of the tomatoes, don’t go too close to the skin or your tomatoes won’t hold their shape after baking.
- Don’t overfill the tomatoes; 2/3’s full will do as the rice expands during cooking.
- Slice 3/4’s of the way through the tops (lids) of the tomatoes, leaving a flap still attached (see photo). This step is a bit tricky and some of my lids do come off entirely.
- If your tomato lids come off, make sure you match the right lid with the right tomato. This is important because the lid acts as a seal allowing the rice to cook evenly.
- To get that intense flavour in the tomatoes, you must bake uncovered.
Eaten at room temperature or straight from the fridge, Yemista are delicious (and super healthy too).
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 – 6
- 10 – 12 medium sized tomatoes (note 1).
- ½ cup roughly chopped parsley
- ½ cup roughly chopped dill
- ¼ cup grated onion
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup of medium grain rice (note 2).
- 1 cup of tomato pulp puree (from the tomatoes) plus 1/2 cup extra
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra 3 – 4 tbsp for drizzling
- 1- 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 – 2 medium potatoes, cubed (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
- Slice 3/4’s of the way through the tops (lids) of the tomatoes. Leave a flap which is still attached to each tomato (see photo).
- Scoop out the tomato pulp with a spoon or melon baller. Place the tomatoes in an oven tray (note 3 & 4).
- Scatter the cubed potatoes in the gaps between the tomatoes.
- Grate the tomato pulps over a medium bowl. Discard the hardcore.
- In a separate bowl, place the grated onion, herbs, tomato paste, oil, salt, pepper, 1 cup of tomato pulp puree and rice. Mix. Have a taste and adjust seasoning (note 5).
- Fill each tomato very loosely with the mixture until it is two thirds full. Add one tsp of tomato pulp puree to each tomato. Firmly place the lids on the tomatoes (note 6).
- Pour ½ cup of tomato pulp puree over the potatoes. You may need to add a little more puree if the bottom of the tray dries out during baking.
- Drizzle tomatoes and potatoes generously (3 – 4 tbsps) with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
- Place tray on the top rack of your oven. Bake uncovered for 1 hour (note 7).
- Remove from the oven and check to see if the 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 couple of teaspoons of the tomato puree pulp into each tomato and reseal with the lid before returning to the oven.
- Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
- Vine-ripened tomatoes have more flavour, so whenever possible that’s what l buy. Regular tomatoes will do nicely too.
- You could also use long grain rice if you prefer.
- Once you have scraped out the pulp, leave a little residual liquid in the bottom of each tomato (see photo). This will help cook the rice.
- Select a tray whereby the tomatoes fit snugly (not too tight and no big gaps between each tomato – see photo).Work through steps 6 – 8 fairly quickly. You don’t want the rice to absorb too much liquid before it goes into the oven.
- Don’t be tempted to fill the tomatoes to the top. 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.
- If you notice that the tomatoes are colouring too quickly, place the tray on a lower rack.
This recipe was first published in 2017. I have updated it with more concise wording and rearranged the images. The recipe remains the unchanged.