Most Cypriots and Greeks can remember the smell of stuffed vegetables – or gemista – cooking away in the oven during their childhoods. Perhaps it was a grandmother who would cook, passing on her secret ingredients so the next generation can make them just the same. In essence, this dish has a certain nostalgia to it, but is also still very much enjoyed today.
The tradition is thought to have started in the Middle East and Mediterranean, with many variations still eaten today across the region. The Greek word gemista literally means ‘to fill’ or ‘to stuff’, and the dish falls under the “ladera” category as a Greek dish cooked with plenty of olive oil. So, make sure to use a good quality olive oil for this recipe to ensure you get the best flavours as a result.
Considered a comfort food to many who grew up eating gemista, this dish is rich in the flavour and goodness of a home cooked meal. And the best thing is you can eat it hot straight from the oven, or as cold leftovers the next day with some fresh yogurt.
Moreover, gemista can be cooked either as vegan or vegetarian dish – which many say is the best version. But it can also be made with minced pork, beef or lamb depending on your taste and dietary needs. And although it is traditionally a summer meal, the recipe is flexible according to whatever vegetables are in season. So, in summer you can cook more stuffed tomatoes when the island’s crop is at its ripest. And in the cooler months you can use more zucchini or even aubergine.
Delicious on their own, stuffed vegetables are also great served with fetta crumbled on top and crusty bread fresh from the bakery, or as a side dish for meat, salad or steamed vegetables.
The recipe for this traditional dish varies from household to household and from tavern to tavern, depending on old family secrets. Below Prinos Farm&Deli have shared our chef’s special stuffed vegetables recipe for gemista, using product available in store and at our e-shop. But feel free to experiment, adding or taking away ingredients according to your tastebuds!
PRinOs Tip: In general, peppers are not as juicy as tomatoes, so the peppers can often come out of the oven a little drier than the other veg. So, spoon a little bit extra of the tomato and vegetable stock mixture over the peppers before they go into the oven to solve the problem!
Gemista – Stuffed Vegetables
- 500gm of ground beef or pork (substitute for lentils to make dish vegan)
- 2 large tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 zucchini
- 1 large red onion
- 1 lemon juiced
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1/2 bunch of fresh parsley chopped
- 1/2 a cup of uncooked short grain rice
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup of raisins
- 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 2 cups of vegetable stock
- Heat the oven to 220°C
- First up we need to prepare the vegetables for stuffing. To start, remove the stems and cut the tops off the peppers and tomatoes. Next, cut the top and bottom off the zucchini and cut in half. Set aside the vegetable tops, these will be used as the ‘lids’ during cooking. Next, discard the seeds from inside the peppers and carefully scoop the flesh out most of the tomatoes and zucchini. Be careful not to pierce a hole in the skins and leave some zucchini at the bottom of each half to make a cup to hold the stuffing. Finely dice the removed flesh from the tomato and zucchini and set aside. Finally, peel and cut off the top of the onion. Gently remove most of interior, leaving about 2-3 outer layers. Be careful not to break the outer layer to create a shell.
- Next up, we need to make the mixture. In a large bowl, mix the ground meat or par-boiled lentils, together with the rice, diced onion, chopped parsley, mint, raisins, pine nuts, half of the tin of chopped tomatoes and the juice of the lemon. Add in the chopped tomatoes and zucchini flesh that we set aside earlier. Lastly, season the stuffing mixture with salt and pepper and stir well.
- Now we need to fill the vegetable shells with the mixture almost to the top. Then place each stuffed vegetable in an oven dish making sure that they are tucked in snugly and can’t tip over.
- In a jug, mix the remaining half tin of chopped tomatoes together with the two cups of vegetable stock and pour the liquid over the gemista (more on the peppers). Cover each one with the ‘lid’ we set aside earlier. Drizzle olive oil over the entire over dish and season with extra salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover the pan with aluminium foil and cook in the oven for 50 minutes, before removing the foil and cooking for another 20-30 minutes or until golden.
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