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)
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)
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!