Stuffed vegetables (Γεμιστά [jemista’]) are a common food in Greece! Every housewife has her own recipe. And, during periods of fasting, it is one dish that is absolutely vegan.

The stuffing is basically the same as in stuffed vine leaves (Dolmades).  You can make stuffed vegetables vegan style or add minced meat. The secret for the right taste of the stuffing, as well as for “Gemista” as for “Dolmades”, is to try the stuffing before filling the vegetables. If it’s tasting good, it also will be right when cooked!

To close the stuffed vegetables it’s best to have some vine leaves in addition. If you have the possibility to get fresh vine leaves, you can deep-freeze the remaining ones. In Spring, when the vines start pushing the leaves, we always collect some in our garden and the surrounding vines. I then wash, drain and stack them, and store in well closing plastic box for the freezer. Each box I have right now, contain about 40 vine leaves which are enough for one time “Gemista” and for some extra “Dolmades”.

If you cannot find fresh leaves, you may find them in glasses in your local supermarket. In this case I recommend to wash them several times in lukewarm water and cook them for appr. 3-5 minutes in hot water as they usually have a kind of strange taste. After cooking quench the leaves with cold water. For “Gemista” take just the amount of leaves you need out of the jar. The rest you can keep well sealed in the fridge.

Tip: if you collect fresh leaves take only the light green ones which are not more than half to three-third size of your palm. Just wash and drain them at home. A precooking will not be necessary.

What you need:

4 large tomatoes
2 small eggplants
3 medium-large bell peppers
6 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot
1 thump sized piece of celery root (optional)

20-40 vine leaves
2 cups medium grain rice
500 gr minced beef (optional)
1 medium chopped onion
1 can chopped tomatoes (400gr) or tomato juice
1 cup of water
½ cup of olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika powder
¼ tsp dry spearmint (or fresh)
¼ tsp cumin
1 Tsp chopped parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt
Pepper
1 cup of water
some olive oil

How to prepare:

Clean all vegetables.

Cut off carefully the top of the tomatoes with a sharp knife. Empty the inner of the tomato carefully.  Collect the remaining in a large bowl. Set the tomato with the top aside.

Cut off the stem of the zucchini and the eggplant and empty them carefully with the help of a spoon into the bowl. Collect the remaining in the large bowl together with the rest of the tomatoes. Set the empty zucchini and eggplant aside.

Cut off the top of the bell pepper. Remove the seeds and rinse eventually with some water. Set aside with the top.

Chop the onions coarsely. Grate the carrot and the celery root coarsly and add all to the bowl together with the canned tomato or tomato juice.

Add all spices and the ½ cup of olive oil. Try the juice if it’s tasty (if necessary add some more of the spices). Add one cup of water. Chop everything with a hand blender. Add the rice, the minced beef (optional), and stir well.

Fill the vegetables with a spoon, leaving appr. 1cm space to the edge, and place them close to each other in the deep baking sheet of the oven. The size of the baking sheet should be analogue to the amount of vegetables you prepare. The vegetables should not sit too tight together neither to loose. Close the zucchini and the eggplants with one stuffed vine leaf, and the tomatoes and the bell pepper with the cut off top.

Tip from Mama Marika: before you fill the tomatoes sprinkle a pinch of sugar in the bottom of the vegetable. It will neutralize the sour taste of the tomato.

Fill remaining vine leaves with the stuffing and place between the vegetables.

Add one cup of water into the baking sheet and add pour generously some olive oil on top of each vegetable and the vine leaves. Preheat the oven on 180ºC and cook for appr. 1½ hours on the lowest rail of the oven.

Let cool down for appr. ½ hour before serving.

Tip: You will for sure have some remaining stuffing at the end. Do not throw it away! Just cook it and serve it as a side dish or Risotto the next day. Or take your time and stuff a few more vine leaves with the remaining stuffing. You either can cook them together with the vegetables in the oven or place them in a separate pot and cook them as “Dolmades”

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