Greek Stuffed Peppers (Yemista)
So if you didn’t already know I’m a fruit and vegetable loving kinda girl. I like them all and any which way. But you give me roasted veggies and I’m one very very happy girl!! So no doubt I absolutely adore roasted peppers. Greeks and in fact all Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries do roasted vegetables really really well (mouth watering just thinking of them perfectly roasted bringing out their intense and sweet flavours and then drizzled with some amazing EVOO whoa!!!!)
Naturally a favourite classic I grew up on was roasted red peppers and my mom’s were the most amazing. I’m super partial though cause it’s from my mom’s hands so you will just have to trust me on that one. Have I told you about her? Well if you don’t already know her she is the sweetest and kindness human being I know!! Back to the roasted peppers. When I was younger with a very innocent palate I use to peel away the pepper and dig into the filling which I would crumble feta over and then just devour!!!
I think the slight bitter taste of the green peppers was what turned me off, but I did get over that cause I love all things bitter now and just adore related red peppers in any colour. Naturally the red ones are a little sweeter but I like variety when I’m making these. Looks pretty and gives a variety in flavour too.
Now in Greek cuisine we literally can stuff anything. But very commonly we stuff peppers and tomatoes. But we also stuff zucchini, zucchini flowers, quince, eggplant etc… The name for these stuffed beauties in Greek is (γεμιστά) gemista or yemista basically meaning things that are filled. They are named after what they really are.
Good yemista for me are perfectly roasted and browned tomatoes or peppers. Please don’t serve me no crunchy stuffed peppers unless your intentionally serving them raw and with a dip. They need to be perfectly soft and almost falling apart and with a slight char on them. So that being said, if you don’t have the time to cook them until they are perfectly soft, then I would recommend blanching the peppers in boiling water for a few minutes beforehand to help kick start the cooking process. You can also pre roast your cleaned peppers for 10-15 minutes before stuffing to help them roast faster. I don’t usually do either though. I just bake them unstick they are done. It takes a bit longer but I usually plan for that and make sure to give them enougah time to fully bake properly. If you are low in time then def try the methods I mentioned above.
You can make the filling so that it’s suitable for all food personalities, whether it’s omnivores, vegans or vegetarians that you’re cooking for.
I love the variety you can get out of the stuffing too. You can make the filling so that it’s suitable for all food personalities, whether it’s omnivores, vegans or vegetarians that you’re cooking for. It’s always gluten free because it’s stuffed with your choice of rice or grain. I will get into more stuffing options later.
I try to pick large sized peppers for the obvious reason that you would have more room to stuff but sometimes I don’t always have the option of choosing gigantic ones here, so I stuff small to medium sized ones too and they are perfectly delicious. I usually make these when the peppers are in season to keep it more cost effective too!
Lets talk a little about the stuffing. I will mainly use mined beef but you can replace the meat with any meat. Minced chicken, turkey and lamb are some other options although with the turkey and chicken you may have to season a little more aggressively, because I find they are a little less flavourful than beef or lamb.
I usually use arborio rice but really any rice or grain can be used. i have even made them with quinoa just to switch things up and get a little more protein in. I feel I am using quinoa I use a cooked cup of quinoa and add it to the meat after. That’s isolated to the quinoa otherwise with any other kind of rice I usually wash it and add it to the sauce as its simmering and it gets ½ or ¾ way cooked and then cooks down the rest of the way in the oven in the peppers for simplicity. I’m sure you could do that with the quinoa too but I just usually precook it separately.
The variety is endless for vegan and vegetarian options, but I really like using green peas. I make the sauce like I would make Lathera. Which is basically stewing them in a lot of EVOO oil, chopped tomato and the same herbs and add then for stuffing you just add your grain into that sauce instead of the meat sauce. That would literally be combining two of my favourite recipes-Lathera and stuffed peppers! A totally fabulous vegan option.
Many other recipes add feta or other hard Greek cheeses or even Parmesan cheese to the mix but I like to leave it out and add it later as a side. This is especially good if youre cooking for vegetarians, dairy intolerant and of course vegans.
As for the herbs in the recipe well you can’t mess with the trifecta of dill, mint and parsley. I go heavy with the oregano in my horiatiki salad and don’t usually add it to the mix but it definitely would be fine to add in as well if you’re a fan. I just like the flavour the other herbs produce on their own without the oregano.
This recipe is very versatile. Perhaps you hate mint and dill, then feel free to use your own combination. Maybe you prefer basil and parsley for a pesto-ish flavoured stuffing, that is great. Or maybe you want to “Trinify” it and season your meat with chive, chadon beni (cilantro family), celery, pimentos and parsley. It’s totally up to you so feel free to alter the recipe to your taste. But the recipe below is a more traditional Greek style stuffed peppers
I love to serve this up with a beautiful horiatiki salad, or a maroulosalata and some hearty crusty bread to sop up the salad juices and the sauce from the cooked down stuffed peppers. Hope you enjoy this as much as me and please tell me what you thought of them!
- 8 small to medium size peppers washed well and tops cut off ready to stuff (clean away seeds)
- 2 tbsp of olive oil plus more for over the peppers when they are stuffed and ready to go into the oven
- 1 cup aborio rice or grain of choice
- 1 lb of ground beef/turkey or your choice of meet
- Small Bunch of parsley chopped
- A few springs of Mint chopped
- Small bunch dill chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 carrot chopped
- 2 celery chopped
- Lots of salt and pepper to season
- ¼ cup of red wine (optional)
- 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 can of crushed or diced tomatoes
- ½ to 1 cup water or broth
- 4 potaotoes peeled and chopped into large chunks (optional)
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a medium sized sauce pan and sauté onion and all vegetables for a few min until they start to soften.
Add your garlic and herbs and season generously with S&P
Add your meat and brown it, or if you prefer brown your meat first in a separate pan and then add it (I add it to the vegetables and brown it with them because I find it gets more flavor that way but either way is fine) and season with S&P to taste
Add your wine if using and continue to sauté and stir until it has reduced
Reserve ¼ cup of diced/ crushed tomatoes and then add remaining diced/crushed tomatoes and your heaping tablespoon of tomato paste and your broth or water to the pan (add more if sauce is too thick as needed) stir well, check and season with S&P to taste and let simmer on medium low for 5-10 min until it’s a little thicker and the rice is almost cooked through and remove from heat and set aside
Meanwhile clean and cut the tops off the peppers and remove seeds.
Prepare your pan or casserole dish. Pour the reserved sauce on the bottom of pan and then place the peppers into pan open side up so that they are ready to stuff
Stuff all the peppers. In fact overstuff them because even if they are overfilled it will just add to the sauce at the bottom of pan (if you have extra stuffing it makes a great lunch bowl so don’t stress if you have any left over)
Put the tops on the peppers and toss in the chopped potatoes around the peppers
Drizzle with a little EVOO and sprinkle some salt over them too
Cover with lid or foil and cook for approximately 45min to an hour depending on size of peppers. Check occasionally after 30 min. Once they are soft and withered and you can cut through them easily (do knife poke test) then take the lid/foil off and cook for another 10-15 min to brown the tops or if you prefer broil for a few min but really keep an eye on them when broiling so they don’t burn. a little charr on the edges is alright and welcome
Remove from oven, let cool for a few min and serve drizzled with some of the wonderful sauce at the bottom of the pan