Traditional stuffed peppers and tomatoes - Gemista

Stuffed peppers and tomatoes is a very traditional and popular summer dish in Greece while the vegetables are in season. This is also one of my favorite Greek dishes. The tomatoes are medium size, firm, ripe and juicy. The peppers are small and so tender that you don’t need to peel the skin when cooked. I have experimented with different type of peppers. There are only two types that can be stuffed; bell peppers and cubanelle peppers. Cubanelle peppers have thinner skin than the regular bell peppers. I find them the closest to the peppers I find in Greece.

My mother used to make mainly peppers and tomatoes, but the peppers were the only ones I would eat. Sometimes she’d stuff eggplants too. The eggplants in Greece are also small; what we call here in the US baby eggplant. When my mother made this dish during the summer, she made it mainly vegetarian. On occasion she’d use ground beef. The vegetarian version is with rice and different vegetables. When I make the vegetarian version, I use chopped carrots, and if I stuff zucchini or eggplant, I will incorporate the flesh in the stuffing along with herbs like parsley and dill.

There are many different versions of gemista – or yemista. My mother in law used raisins and pine nuts in the vegetarian version. The raisins give them a sweeter taste and the pine nuts some crunch.

I often make this delectable stuffed peppers, tomatoes and eggplant dish. Living in the US we can find these vegetables year round, (they are being shipped here from warmer climates). Sometimes I will make them vegetarian style, and other times I will use ground turkey. I usually make enough so that I can give some to my daughters. They also freeze well, especially the peppers. Tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini are best eaten first if you are planning in freezing some. You can place the uncooked stuffed peppers in a separate dish, cover them tightly with saran wrap and aluminum foil and freeze them. When you need them you can take them out, pour some olive oil, a little bit of tomato sauce, season and bake them in the oven. They will taste as good as the day you made them. Another option is to cook all of them, and freeze the stuffed peppers in an airtight container. When you need them, you can take them out of the freezer early in the morning, then warm them up in the oven for about ½ hour till heated through. Now you have dinner ready in minutes.

These will take an hour to prepare and about two hours to cook in the oven. But it’s worth all the effort. Enjoy them with a dollop of Greek yogurt, a slice of feta and some fresh crusty bread on the side. A glass of red wine will also go nicely.

Enjoy!

Stuffed Peppers, Tomatoes and Baby Eggplant

Makes 13 servings about 15 oz each serving

½ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 lbs ground turkey
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped parsley
½ cup chopped dill
1 cup chopped eggplant (the flesh)
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (the flesh)
½ cup rice
3 large tomatoes
5 cubanelle peppers
5 baby eggplants
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
14 oz diced tomatoes

Directions
Wash, clean and peel the baby eggplant (as you see in the picture).   Hollow out the eggplant and chop the flesh. Set aside. Wash the tomatoes. Hollow out the tomatoes and chop the flesh. Set aside. Wash the cubanelle peppers, cut the top, and remove the seeds. Set aside. Wash, peel and chop the onion. Set aside. Wash, peel and shred the carrots. Set aside. Wash and chop the parsley and the dill. Set aside.

In a large skillet add the 1/2 cup olive oil, and the chopped onions. Sauté till lightly browned. Add the ground turkey. Sauté till cooked through. Add the carrots and the flesh from the eggplant and sauté. Add 1 cup of the diced tomato flesh. Add the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup water and cook till the rice is slightly cooked. Add the salt and pepper. Stir. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large oven proof pan, 13x10 assemble the vegetables. Take one by one and fill with the mixture. When the pan is full and all the vegetables are stuffed, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper, the remaining cup of the chopped tomatoes and a can of diced tomatoes. Add 1 can (14 oz) of water. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours, uncovered, till the vegetable are tender and slightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and serve.

Nutrition Facts Serving Size 15.708 oz (445.3g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 272
Calories from Fat 124
Total Fat 13.8g
Saturated Fat 2.1g
Cholesterol 26mg
Sodium 139mg
Total Carbohydrates 27.8g
Dietary Fiber 10.5g
Sugars 9.8g
Protein 13.8g 







After Greek Easter holiday customs, traditions and celebrations



This year our Greek Easter was the same time as the Catholic. The holiday is already gone but we don’t stop wishing everyone Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen) and Hronia Polla (meaning = many years) till Holy Pentecost which occurs 50 days after Easter Sunday.

While it feels great when Greek Easter is the same time as the Catholic, it does have its ups and downs. The stores are busier, you can’t find everything you need, and the lines at the checkouts are atrocious. However, I can’t help but feel this exhilaration when our Easter is the same time as the Catholic. The Greek church is full of people during the Greek Holy Week, and especially on our Good Friday (we don’t call it Good Friday; in Greece, and in Greek our Good Friday is called Great and Holy Friday – but that’s for another post).

After we celebrate our Easter Sunday, by stuffing ourselves with lamb (a recipe post for another time), meatballs (link), tzatziki sauce (link), tsourekia and red colored egg, then we try to detox the following few days. In Greece, while life goes on the same way as before the holidays, the good wishes continue till Holy Pentecost. When you meet or call someone you know, or when you enter a store to buy something, you wish them Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen), and they respond with Alithos Anesti (He is truly Risen). Or with the most common wish Hronia Polla (many years).

There are a few holidays after Easter that people celebrate. The Sunday after Easter is the Sunday of Thomas which commemorates the appearance of Jesus to his disciples eight days after his resurrection. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples after His resurrection and said: “Peace be with you”, Thomas was not present and did not believe it. Eight days later, the Sunday after Easter, the disciples gathered again while Thomas was present. That’s when Jesus appeared once more and Thomas believed and said: “My Lord, my God”. Anyone who is named Thomas, or Tom, even the female version of Thomas which is Thomai (pronounced: Tho-ma-eé) celebrates his/her name day on this day. That’s when we wish them “Hronia Polla”.

The other holiday that is celebrated after Easter is St. George’s. It is on April 23rd but if it falls during our Greek Holy Week, the celebratory day is moved to Easter Monday. St. George was a Christian martyr, but he is also depicted in icons as the dragon slayer. Anyone named Georgios (the Greek name for George), George, Georgina, Georgia, will be celebrating their name day. Even though St. George’s day is not a public holiday in Greece, if it’s celebrated on Easter Monday, it’s considered a holiday. This year, St. George’s day falls on Sunday April 23rd, which is also the Sunday of Thomas. There will be many homes in Greece who will be celebrating.

Since my brother was named George, and later on my father in law, I always, in a way, felt St. George’s day as a holiday. I used to send them a card and in later years called them and wished them Hronia Polla.

While I was growing up, my mother made preparations for my brother’s name day. Relatives and friends would come and visit, to wish him Hronia Polla. On many occasions my mother ended up making tsourekia (link) and koulourakia (link) again, since we basically devoured them. Along with tsourekia and koulourakia she’d offer the chocolate sweets that you’d find at the local zaharoplasteio (za-ha-ro-pla-steéo)-sweet shops- that carry everything from chocolate sweets, to beautiful decorated cakes, ice cream, and anything you heart desires. I haven’t found a sweet shop here in the States that’s anything like the sweet shops in Greece.

The next big religious holiday is Holy Pentecost. This is a three day holiday in Greece. Holy Pentecost is celebrated each year on the 50th day after Easter Sunday. Pentecost comes from the Greek word Pentikosti (Pe-nti-ko-steé) which means 50. It’s the day the Holy Spirit appeared to the Apostles while they were gathered around in one room. After the appearance of the Holy Spirit, tongues of fire sat upon each of the Apostles thus giving them the ability to speak in different languages. There are many icons depicting this. And so it begins the teachings of the Gospel and Jesus work as we know it nowadays.

When Holy Pentecost is over, we stop wishing everyone Hronia Polla, or Christos Anesti. The Easter or Pascha (Pa-ska, as it is called in Greek) season is over.

Hronia Polla and Christos Anesti!

Enjoy!