Kreatopitakia

kreatopitaki plasio“Kreatopita” is meat-pie in greek, and it is very very well loved in Northern Greece (where I’m from). In fact, in my area, Pieria, we even cut it instead of Vasilopita on New Year’s Day. Of course, us being food lovers, we eat both!
But I digressed. Kreatopitaki (Kreatopitakia being the word’s plural, yes, greek is complicated!) is a small meat-pie, say, one portion.
That’s what I made, after all of these months of hiatus. Believe me, it is a good comeback! The story behind these is that I was looking for a few good beer snacks, because we were having people over. It wouldn’t be anything formal, it would be just us, sitting in the balcony, enjoying the beautiful summer night and having a beer. Me being me, I thought “we should be snacking on something”.
I ended up with this:
IMG_8261

That’s nachos and spinach muffins, bruschette caprese, with eggplant and garlic, and mushroom and bacon, kreatopitakia, chilli, sausages, and then sweet muffins and chocolate pie for desert. We ended up just eating, I’m not sure anyone even had any beer, we all just had coke or wine. I know how to ruin plans, you know?

Anyway, that being said, I got calls the next day, and messages on FB about my kreatopitakia, by our friends that were there and also by their girlfriends or in one case the girlfriend of a friend who wasn’t there but heard it from another friend, you get the picture. So, I thought, yup, this is worth a post.

Or a video.

I’m playing around with Final Cut again, and thought I’d give video-cooking a shot. I know that’s not even a term, but so what? I grabbed my iPad (and my phone in some cases, when the iPad had run out of battery, for some reason it is always close to death, did someone say Words With Friends?) and recorded most of the process. So, there it is, right underneath the recipe.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed making them. I actually know you will!

What you need

2 sheets of short crust pastry
2 tablespoons olive oil
400g minced meat, beef
1 onion, sliced
200g mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
200 ml red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
250 ml beef stock
Rosemary
salt and pepper
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

What you need to do

Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F. Lightly grease a 12 hole muffin tin. Cut out 12 x 12 cm rounds of pastry. They don’t have to be precisely 12 cm, just around 12 cm, in order to form a good basket with the help of the muffin tin. Press them into the base of each muffin tin. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill. Bake for about 15 minutes until ready (they should be near “golden”, which in real life terms means “you know, ready, like you see in cookbooks”).

Leave them aside, to cool down, and in the meantime prepare your meat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Brown the meat and then remove from saucepan. Add the remaining oil in your pan, reduce the temperature, add your veggies (you could probably add some red chilli pepper here, for a kick) and cook for about a minute. Return meat to the pan and stir through the flour. Cook for one minute then add the wine, tomato paste, stock and rosemary.

Cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until ready. While it’s cooking, check it regularly, give it a stir, see how it’s doing, don’t just let it do this on its own! When it’s done, season with salt and pepper to your liking and set aside to cool.

At this point, fight your urge to eat the meat. It’ll be a struggle, but you can do it, I believe in you.

While the meat is cooling down and to give you something to do in order to help you not eat it, spread the puff pastry on your workstation (I’m doing that on my kitchen counter) and cut out 12 x 10 cm rounds of puff pastry. Again, they don’t have to be exactly 10cm, but keep it close. Remember to preheat your oven again, if you turned it off (I suggest you do, do not waste energy!). 200°C will be fine.

Now, spoon the meat in the pastry baskets and place the puff pastry rounds on top. Press the edges so that they’ll stick, brush them with the egg, pierce the tops and bake them for about 12-15 minutes or 20 or until they are nice, golden and look done. Mine took around 20 minutes.

My advice is to eat them and not store them, as they don’t drive me crazy when cooled in the fridge. But if you want to store them, do so in the fridge!

Enjoy!

Tsoureki

IMG_7877It is the Holy Week in Greece and there’s a different food-related tradition almost every day. But I am not here today to talk to you about these. I am here to talk to you about Tsoureki.

Tsoureki is a brioche-type bread we eat a lot in Greece. It is a favorite for breakfast, with your coffee, soaked in milk for dinner, or smeared with Nutella, jams, with feta, butter, oh wow, I can’t think of anything that doesn’t go perfectly with tsoureki.

The sad thing is that it is pretty fattening – and hard on your stomach, if you’re as sensitive as I am. But once you’ve tried it, you can’t go back.

Good tsoureki is difficult to achieve, and store-bought quality is almost impossible. I swear I don’t know WHAT they do, but home-made tsoureki is always different. The great part of this is that, it’s ok. Every type of tsoureki has a certain magic to it and, believe me, it works!

Every year, Greeks make tsoureki during the Holy Week and the kids bring it to their godparents, in order to get their presents (usually clothes) and their candles for Resurrection night. One of the things that brings the most memories is the very distinctive smell of tsoureki everywhere, in our homes, out on the streets, inside cars (it can get EVERYWHERE!) during Holy Week. It always takes me to my happy place.

This year my nephew visited and myself and my mom made tsoureki at my place for the first time. Let me tell you, though, trying to start a memory bank for a 3-year-old that really really REALLY wants a garbage truck for Easter is not an easy thing! :D

At least the tsoureki turned out great!

Disclaimer: Although I will post photos of our tsoureki, I will also post photos of a store-bought tsoureki, so that you will recognize them when you visit Greece. That is because, well, let’s face it, me and my mom? We are not really what you’d call “tsoureki artists”! Oh, and we completely forgot to add sesame or shaved almonds on top before baking them, do that, it gives it a different look (it doesn’t change the taste much, though).

Usually, we don’t say “I’m making tsoureki”, but “making tsourekia” (that’s the plural of the word). It is almost a whole-day process and involves making a massive amount of tsourekia, that will probably go uneaten by the end of the holidays – there’s only so much tsoureki one can eat, no matter how good or honest their intentions, right? The traditional recipes yield maybe 10 loafs each and require about 10 eggs or something. We all know by now that I am allergic to eggs, so my good mom tried to minimize the damage and adjusted the recipe to our needs. The recipe that follows yields about 3 tsourekia (that’s how many we got, anyway) and uses only 3 eggs, which was good because I didn’t have to handle too many of them and didn’t have a reaction (haven’t had one yet, at least!).

One more thing: we used the oven baking sheet and a round baking dish for our tsourekia, because we didn’t have the appropriate utensils. If you have anything like the photos that follow, use it. If not, remember it is perfectly ok to put your tsourekia on a baking sheet, just remember to leave space between them, because they do spread!

forma forma2

 

So, here’s what you’ll need:

60 gr. fresh yeast (by “fresh” I mean “not dry” –keep it cold so it can crumble)

2 Tb sugar (or 40 gr)

80 gr warm water

1 kg flour (if you can find tsoureki-specific flour, that would be great, but common flour will do just fine) plus more if you need some

3 eggs

350 ml full-fat milk

250 gr. butter

300 gr. sugar

Some mastic

1 tsp ground mahlab (mahlep? We call it “mahlepi” in Greece)

1 tsp cardamom

1 more egg

About 1 Tb olive oil

Some butter for the baking sheets

 

Here’s what you need to do:

First things first: Heat your oven to 50 degrees Celsius. When it is heated, turn it off and keep the door shut. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the 2 Tb of sugar, cover with some cling film and put it in the oven. Cute little trick to activate the yeast, yay!

IMG_7864

While this is in the oven, put the butter in a small pan and melt it, along with the sugar. Do not boil it or any of this, actually do not boil anything while making tsoureki – we don’t want that. While the sugar and the butter are sloooowly melting, put the milk in another small pot and heat that too (not too much, like I said, just heat it through) and place the flour, the mastic, the mahlab and the cardamom in a large bowl.

IMG_7865

When everything is heated and melted, make a small well in the middle of the flour and pour your liquids in there, including the yeast – which must be foaming by now.

Mix everything together with your hands and work the dough with your hands for a few minutes. What you have there is a very very sticky dough. You don’t need to work it much, just until it is all in one piece and soft. The dough needs to be a little sticky. If you feel that there’s something wrong with it, that it is waaaaaaay too sticky or runny, add some more flour. Really, trust yourselves as cooks – and if you do something wrong, really, who’s going to know? ;)

IMG_7866 IMG_7868 IMG_7869

Transfer the dough in a pretty large bowl (I used a large pot), cover it with cling film and leave it in a warm place for about 2 hours, until it triples in size (we heated the oven – 50 degrees – once again and put it in there).

When it has tripled in size, empty the dough on a floured surface and divide it in two or three parts, depending on how many tsourekia you want. We had three. At this point you can weave the tsourekia or shape them if you want. My mom and I made braids: three long dough strips, you join them at the top and braid them, like hair. Use your imagination, but remember that tsourekia are always meant to be braided! In Greece, we also place a (red) dyed egg on top of the braid, or at the center, if you braid it and put it in a circular pan. Be warned, it will rise in the oven, much like a cake!

IMG_7871

Didn’t use parchment paper for this one – the third – because we were out. It didn’t matter one bit. It did grow a lot in the oven, though! A. Lot!

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius (the fan function). Butter the sheets and cover them with parchment paper. Place the tsourekia on the sheets and leave them there, for another ten minutes, to rise even more. Remember to leave some space between them. If they don’t all fit on the sheets, well… batches! :D

IMG_7872

This is how we left ours to rise. That there is the oven door, open. There’s heat coming out, but the oven is not on, just hot.

Once the oven is heated and the tsourekia well risen, mix the egg and the oil, brush your tsourekia, and put them in the oven for 40 minutes. At the bottom of your oven place a small tray or pan filled with water. That is supposed to make your tsourekia shiny.

IMG_7874

Down there, in the darkness, you can see the water – thingy.

What you are looking for is a dark brown – black at places color. Before you take them out, stick a knife at the center of the tsoureki, to make sure it’s done.

IMG_7876

This is the tsoureki that was up there, it expanded and rose so much that the baking sheet could not contain it! It even incorporated a small cookie we had placed on the side, made from what was left of the dough, you can see it there, on the bottom left.

After you take them out, let them cool a little and them turn them on their head, on a different tray or plate, so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.

Enjoy them a million different ways! And happy Easter all!

    

tsoureki1

This is what a store bought tsoureki looks like. It looks better, but the taste is pretty much the same!

IMG_7873

This is my table after working the dough on it. I had to use a wooden spatula to clean it!

 

Potato Kimpira with Bacon

kimpira1

This is a big bowl, and it’s almost full, perspective is not doing the quantity of the food justice!

   As a household, we have a couple of recipes we eventually like to fall back on, when we need the warmth and safety of something familiar. These are not necessarily recipes that bring us back to our youth, or anything our mothers (separately) cooked or cookies our grandmothers slipped in our pockets when no-one was watching. No, in fact most of these recipes have been recently added to our repertoires, but still have a soul-warming effect.

This is one of those recipes. Taken out of the book by Master Chef Murata called Japanese Home Cooking with Master Chef Murata: Sixty Quick and Healthy Recipes, Potato Kimpira with Bacon seems to be the obvious answer to the question «so, what are we cooking today, that the weather is bad and we need something to cheer us up before going to work/babysitting/class?».

In general, this book is one of my favorites. I didn’t really know Yoshihiro Murata until I bought this book. Oh, yes, I’m guilty of buying cookbooks by cooks I don’t really know, judging only by the cover, or by the contents’ page. So, one day I decided I wanted a couple of books on Japanese cooking. One of the books I bought was this one. Boy was I happy with it!

The photos, the tastes, AND the fact that I can actually cook most of the recipes, without having to travel to an exotic country to find the ingredients. Most of the exotic ingredients, like mirin, bonito flakes and I don’t know what else, have not yet reached my town. Now, you will find recipes that require some of these ingredients. But they are mostly optional – and I found out that whole wheat spaghetti can be a great substitute to buckwheat noodles, thanks to Master Chef Murata.

Kimpira actually means «sauté and simmer» according to Wikipedia, and is used for cooking vegetables, such as carrot and other roots I would never find in Greece. We will be doing that with potatoes, but I might try it with carrots one day, it sounds pretty interesting!

What we’ll need 

2 medium all – purpose potatoes (I used to big ones – hey, we are eaters!)

2 slices of bacon (again, eaters, I used 4. It changes nothing, other than, you know, more bacon!)

1 Tb vegetable oil (the more bacon you use, the less oil you need – that said, I used 1 Tb, despite using more bacon)

½ tsp crushed chili flakes (I know this is becoming annoying, but I like things HOT. So, I actually used ½ Tb of that. Maybe more!)

1 Tb soy sauce

1 Tb sugar

1 Tb water (funny story: the larger the potatoes, the more liquid you need. Adjust – I used what the book said and then added a little bit more of both)

½ tsp sesame seeds

1 scallion, chopped

Ground black pepper

What to do

Start by cutting the potatoes into really small sticks. The book says 7mm thick and 7cm long, but I didn’t really count. I just cut them up as thin as I could, because the thinner they are, the faster they cook. This will also take you a loooooooooooong time – unless you are a chef or something. I realized how long this took when my boyfr… eh… husband (wow, I’ll never get used to that!) left to go to the store and then returned and put everything away and then sat to watch a game while I was still chopping up potatoes. Still, it’s a great meditation game, emptying your mind and just chopping potatoes. Try it!

kimpira2

Ok, when you’re done with the potatoes, chop up the bacon and add it in a large pan – or a wok – along with the oil and the chili flakes over medium heat. Let them cook until the fat of the bacon is done and your kitchen smells amazing. (I bet we could add garlic, too, why didn’t I think of trying that? Or would it complicate the taste? I need to think about this…).

kimpira3

When your bacon is cooked, add the potatoes, the water, the soy sauce and the sugar, stir and let it cook until all the liquids are gone. I cover it because my pan is large and shallow and I fear that the humidity won’t circulate around the potatoes enough. But that’s just me, you know how your cutlery works better than I do.

Now is the time to start tasting it. When you see that your liquids are gone and you really want to try it, well, go ahead. If the potato doneness is to your liking, add the sesame seeds. Stir once, ONCE, and remove from heat.

Arrange your kimpira in a dish or a bowl and garnish it with the scallion. Add some black pepper and serve.

This makes enough for two people. Now, sometimes we may only need to have the potato kimpira and we are good to go. I must confess, though, that this time we had it alongside a burger  – a burger, not a burger in a bun with everything that accompanies a burger, just the burger! – but it was a cold day and it was our only meal of the day, so hopefully we weren’t just being pigs!

So, there you have it. Potato bacon kimpira for everyone. I hope you enjoy it!

kimpira4 PS. This is how I cook. With a black cat staring at me, sniffing every time I bat my eyelashes, meowing every time I move towards the fridge. She begs for food even in her sleep sometimes. Of course I always give her a little treat, which, I guess, means I’m to blame. But who can say “no” to these eyes?

(She’s actually “eying” the bacon)

Red Apple Torte

ImageIt has been a while since I last updated this blog and I for that, I apologize. In my defense, so much has happened in Greece in the past few weeks, that I really did not have the head to cook! From the murder of a 34-year-old hip hop antifascist musician by a Golden Dawn member (that’s the far-right party that made it in the parliament in the latest elections) to a beginning of the uprooting of the official fascist branches in Greece, by arresting the Golden Dawn leadership and indicting them for forming a criminal group, Greece is, of course, not changing yet, but surely moving and boiling.

All this, and the fact that I went back to University to study Italian Literature, has kept me plenty busy – oh, and in all that, I got married too. Did I forget to mention that?

Well, it is Saturday today, a warm sunny Saturday – after a couple of pretty cold weeks, so we opened up the windows and let the sun fill the house and help our minds relax. For some strange reason, a sweet cinnamon smell flooded our apartment. My guess is that my next door neighbor must have been making something for her 2-year-old, Nicola. But my mind wandered off to Smitten Kitchen’s and something I had read a couple of days earlier. Their Purple Plum Torte.

Now, I don’t really care for plums. OK, that’s a lie, I like plums, but I prefer apples. I realize that plums have their significance in the food world, just like every other fruit, vegetable, herb, meat, whatever, but if I can have a fruit torte, I prefer to make it an apple torte. So I went rogue and turned this into a Red Apple Torte.

This is a great dessert, because you can literally make it with what you have in your fridge and cupboards. You WILL have eggs and butter and flour and everything needed, and you WILL have some kind of fruit.

I’m thinking frozen strawberries next, I’ll let you know!

Anyway, let’s get started.

What you will need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoon (I used a little more than 1)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (I used light, because that’s what I had in my fridge.
2 eggs
2 apples, peeled (or 3, I used two, but I actually could use a bit more)
Some fresh lemon juice for sprinkling
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

What you will need to do:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). Mix together flour, baking powder and salt in one bowl and in another cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs scraping down the bowl in the process (don’t neglect to do that, otherwise the eggs form a yukky soup-y thing above the fluffy butter-sugar mix, it gets ugly! Scraping down the bowl makes it all good). Add the flour mix and… eh… mix (I usually don’t repeat words, I’m better than that!!) until everything is combined. Pour the mixture (there we go again!) in a 9-inch pan (which you will have greased lightly or not at all, your choice, I greased it a little bit!) and smooth the top. Now, chop the apples in round slices (or that’s how I did it, you can cut them anyway you like, just remember to keep the pieces large) and arrange them on top. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and then add the sugar and the cinnamon.

Put the cake in the oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean). The Smitten Kitchen people advice we be patient and eat it on the second day, but I honestly couldn’t do it! In fact, I couldn’t even keep it long enough to take a picture! We dug in it, head first, myself, my boyfriend (oh, wait… my husband… I AM OLD!!) and our friend! So, really… If you can’t help yourself, don’t worry, it is heartwarming and a sweet pleasure either way! But, whatever you decide to do, make sure you do one thing: Enjoy it with some warm coffee and good friends (like we did!).

Image

[NEXT DAY EDIT] The people on Smitten Kitchen were absolutely right. The one piece of the torte that was left next morning was absolutely divine. Makes me wonder if maybe next time I should make two: one for those who can’t wait and just have to have a piece right there and then, and one more to consume next day. Anyway, you should definitely leave something for next day.

Eggless banana and chocolate muffins

ImageI am allergic to eggs. There, I said it. Every time I eat an egg, I get stuff all over my body. Even so, I can’t help it and I often eat eggs, having before hand calculated and accepted the consequences. Of course I stay as far away from eggs as possible when I have something to do or somewhere to be, but if it is, say, a wintery Friday, with a slow week ahead of me, then I go for it – and enjoy everything and anything I make, from the first bite to the last!

Of course, summer is no such occasion. Greek summers are hot and, even if you don’t do it on purpose, you need to expose as much of your skin as possible, if not to feel some cool air on it –there is NO such thing- at least to keep yourself from ripping it off because it will be boiling under any layer of cloth! :D

Big red spots are out of the question.

But sometimes there’s things to be done. Necessarily and unavoidably. And, what then?

Toughie.

Let me explain: About ten days ago, my neighbor saw me on the balcony and said “hey, I have a bag of zucchini that will go bad, because we are leaving for a few days, and it’s a pity. Do you want them?”. “Sure” I said, because you don’t throw away food. Along with the zucchini, she gave me a beautiful vase with flowers, because “they would die, and such beauty should be looked at, not left to die alone in an empty house”.

I appreciated her gifts, and now they are back. As good manners have it, I want to return her plate and her vase full with something. I’m thinking “muffins”.

Being summer, though, it will make it hard for me to taste the dough and see if it’s ok, if there’s an egg in it. So, the dilemma pretty much solves itself, doesn’t it?

Eggless muffins.

I looked quite a bit on the internet, and most of the eggless muffins use vinegar or other stuff that I don’t have or will never use in my kitchen (that’s vinegar. Never. Uh-oh. Nonono!). And then I came across this one from www.loveandoliveoil.com, which I really really liked. Now, I didn’t make the frosting, I made the cupcakes as muffins and covered them with some powdered sugar – it’s summer, let’s not make them super heavy! Oh, and I substituted the coconut milk for regular 1% milk, because that’s what I had in the house (and, quite frankly, coconut milk is way too expensive in Greece to use just to make muffins!)

So, this is what I came up with. That actually gave 14 muffins, I’m not sure why, but I didn’t complain!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 ripe banana
1/3 cup canola oil (I used sunflower oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
a little cinnamon

What you need to do:

Preheat your oven in 180 degrees Celsius (I believe that’s 350F).

Mash the banana with a fork. Whisk in the milk, the sugar, the oil and the vanilla until all mixed up together. I actually whisked in the sugar first, gave it a spin with the banana, because, frankly, I love to lick the spoon after I’ve done that. But that’s just me, you do it your way! Make your mixture as lump free as it will go.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients and stir well, until smooth and nice (but not too much!).

Pour into liners, about 2/3 or a little more full. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack or whatever else you have (I use a plate, so shoot me) and let cool completely.

Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the muffins and, ta-da!! They absolutely amazing!

Image

We lost a friend

dimosPlease forgive me for the non-cooking post, but I will have to digress a little bit and write about something else. The title says it all – and says nothing at all. Two days ago, we lost a friend. Demos was a friend from work, someone I held very high in my list of «good people».

Kind, always smiling, with a huge heart and a calm peace that rubbed off on everything around him, making his surroundings a little brighter even in the darkest of days, Demos was no stranger to tragedy. In fact, he lost his wife to cancer shortly after their beautiful daughter was born. After that, he devoted his life to raising their beautiful Juliette and making sure that, while she never forgot her mom, she missed nothing at all.

A few years back, Demos quit his job, packed up his things, took Juliette by the hand and moved to the beautiful island of Skyros. It was there where he had met his wife, there where he had married her, it was the island they had loved together and he wanted to share it with Juliette as well. «She will have a normal, happy, carefree childhood there» he said to me, when we were hugging our goodbyes. «She will play like children are supposed to play and be happy and carefree and careless and stupid. We all deserve the right to do that».

«And what will you do?» I asked him.

«I will enjoy the beauty of nature and life», he answered.

Ironically, that was what took him away. Nature.

On Tuesday afternoon Demos and Juliette went out for a swim. They opted for a semi-secluded beach, instead of the busy, filled with tourists beaches of the island, so that they would have more fun. While Juliette was in the water, the wind grew stronger and the waves got bigger, dragging her away from the shore. Demos dove to get her, fought with the sea and brought his baby back out on the shore. But, exhausted as he was, he couldn’t keep himself safe. The sea took him.

For two days they were searching for him, and yesterday morning, he was discovered by the port authorities. Dead.

He will be buried there, in the island he so loved. It is pretty painful to think about him, but it is heart shattering to think about Juliette. That 9 year old child that has now suffered so much pain – and is up for a whole mountain of it in the future, having lost both of her parents.

My heart goes out to Demos’ family and of course Juliette. Although in times of tragedy we can all lean on one another for comfort, the truth is, we can only depend on ourselves and our own efforts to heal. And that is one mountain they will have to climb on their own.

What I will miss the most about Demos, is the knowledge that he is somewhere out there on this planet. His huge heart, his kindness, his never-ending smile, his calm certainty, his concealed sense of humor, his carefree spirit, his open mind, his good nature, made him the kind of person that render this world worth living in.

He had devoted his whole life to his daughter, and in the end died to save her. I can think of no nobler act. But I still can’t think of a way to fill the huge gap that he is leaving behind.

So long, my friend. I hope where you are going, it’s filled with the love and respect you so deserve.

Stuffed peppers and tomatoes a.k.a. Gemista

Gemistes piperies Every Greek food blogger has written their own stuffed peppers recipe, at least once. And each and every one of those recipes is different. That’s because stuffed peppers, a.k.a. gemistes piperies, gemista for short (which means «stuffed» in greek) is one of the most traditional foods you will eat in Greece. Every family makes them, it is one of the most beloved dishes, especially during the summer, and knowing how to make them is a sign of a good «noikokira» (house keeper).

Along with pasticcio, gemista is the food always prefered by advertisers who want to play on the stereotype of the notoriously-clinging-to-their-mothers Greek men, in order to profit from the family-oriented Greek home and establish a sense of security.

As a food that is being cooked in every nook and cranny of the country, the recipes for it are innumerable. It is said that every family that has ever lived in Greece and abroad have their own gemista recipe, and we all believe that ours is the “real” one. The truth is that there are no huge differences between recipes – only small details added to the dish by a grandmother or an aunt and passed on.

That said, there are different ways of making gemista, but they are explicitly stated beforehand. For example, there are gemista stuffed with meat and gemista stuffed only with rice. These last ones are more summer-y and more refreshing – and have fewer calories, if that interests you. These are the ones I always prefer to make. Also, even though we call them stuffed peppers, we almost always refer to stuffed peppers and tomatoes (gemistes piperies and ntomates).

The idea to give you my family’s recipe came after a dish I saw at Flora’s Table. This recipe has been prepared this way by myself, my sister, my mother and her sister, my grandmother and her sisters. My grandfather’s sisters actually had a different recipe. I think they grated some eggplant in the stuffing. There are as many recipes as there are families, but the basis is always the same.

So, let’s see what you will need:

5 large (not huge, but large) bell peppers (I always use green ones, of course you can use other colors, but my grandma always used green ones, and so do I. It is a matter of memory!)

5 large tomatoes (not huge, but absolutely not small ones)

3 onions

1 verrrry full Tb shortgrain rice for each pepper or tomato, plus 3 more (that makes… uhmmmm *calculates* 13 Tb of rice. OK, add 14, 13 is an unlucky number!)

Some tomato passata

oil (I use olive oil for cooking, unless it is for frying)

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (or a little less if you don’t love it, but remember that herbs are the essence of gemista!)

2-3 leaves of fresh spearmint, chopped (or if you absolutely love it, use more, it’s up to you)

salt, pepper

2 potatoes

Gemistes ntomates

I always pick the tomatoes – oh, and these were laid on their caps in the pan. This is what they will look like, once ready!

What you will be doing:

Preheat your oven at 200 degrees Celsius (or higher, depending on your own oven). Now, start with the tomatoes. Cut the tops off, but not all the way, so that you will make a nice pouch with a cap. If it gets cut off, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal! Use a teaspoon and empty the inside of the tomato. Don’t throw it away, we will be using that! Do that with all the tomatoes, place the insides in a food processor and whizz it, until you have a thick tomato paste. Open up the peppers in the same way and clean them from the seeds (which we will not need, throw them away).

Chop up the onions and saute them in some oil. Add some of the tomato paste (keep enough to pour over the pan in the end) and some passata. I don’t use a lot, just to give your stuffing a nice coolness, but, again, it’s up to you. Still, don’t make it too watery. Where were we? Oh, yes. Add some tomato paste and passata and heat it through. Add the rice (1 Tb for each vegetable, plus 3-4), add the herbs, season with salt and pepper and let it boil a little bit – not long, you don’t want to cook it, just a couple of minutes, to allow the tastes to blend.

You are now ready to stuff! Take the pepper – or tomato – in one hand, open it up and stuff it with the rice mixture. I usually don’t fill them all the way to the top, but my mom does. The rice comes out and makes a roasted crust and it is amazing. Why don’t I do it? I’m weird. Sometimes I do. You pick where you will stop, but make sure you are close to the top – we don’t want people to think we are poor and have no rice to stuff our peppers, right?

Arrange them in your pan and if you have any rice mixture left, don’t be afraid to put it around the peppers. Cut the potatoes in thick sticks and place them between peppers/tomatoes. Pour the tomato paste over your gemista, pour some oil over them (in the old days, when we didn’t care about calories – or money! – we used to use a lot of oil to «bathe» the gemista. This is not important. Use some oil, but don’t overdo it. Half a ladle is more than enough), and place them in the oven.

Believe it or not, you are done! That wasn’t so hard, was it! Bake them for about an hour. They are ready when they are nice and wrinkled and have developed a slight black burn on top. This is why I always put the caps on top, so that I won’t «lose» any of the vegetable to the burn!

Enjoy them with some feta and fresh hot bread. And of course with the ones you love. Food is only meant to be enjoyed that way!