Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comfort Food: Zucchini Stuffed with Rice (Yemista)

Today, I am drawing on my Greek roots to share a recipe for a favorite dish with you – Yemista. Yemista means “filled” in Greek and I think it’s a fitting name since vegetables (bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini or zucchini flowers) are filled with a rice mixture.

Depending on where you are from or where you visit in Greece, the stuffing mixture may vary but usually includes rice. My mother uses a rice and tomato paste mixture. My mother-in-law is from a different part of Greece and she uses a rice and ground beef mixture. (Both versions are excellent, by the way). In some restaurants, I have seen them topped with cheese, although I prefer the Americanized version topped with bread crumbs.

Michael Psilakis has a good recipe for Yemista in his book "How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking" which I referred to as a guide for creating my own recipe. Psilakis uses dill in his recipe which my mom does not use. I find all these ingredient variations interesting (I’m a food nerd as well as an accounting nerd!), so I am interested to hear if you have tried a different variation. [Disclaimer: The Cooking Accountant is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to]

Regardless of how the stuffing is prepared, Yemista is the food I grew up with. And believe me, you can’t get enough of it if you try it! And now that fall is almost here and the nights are getting chillier in New York, I wanted to serve this comfort food for dinner. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated for lunch or dinner the next day (although my dad likes eating the leftovers straight from the fridge! They are that good!).

Zucchini Stuffed with Rice (Yemista)
(Serves 4)

- 4-5 medium zucchini
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- ½ a Spanish onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup uncooked long grain rice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Bread crumbs

Wash the zucchini but leave the skin on.
Blanch the zucchini for 5 minutes (Boil water in a pot large enough to hold the zucchini, add the zucchini once the water is boiling and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Remove the zucchini from the pot and run cold water over them in a colander for a couple of minutes until they cool down).

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep chef’s pan or sauté pan under medium high heat.
Add the chopped celery and onion and sauté for 3 minutes until soft.

Add the rice and salt and pepper. Stir for 2 minutes being careful that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the water while stirring and bring to a boil. Let the mixture boil for a minute and then turn off the heat.

Stir in the fresh herbs, lemon juice, chopped garlic and tomato paste. Let stand while you prepare the zucchini.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a vegetable cutting board or clean counter, slice each zucchini in half lengthwise.
Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and create a little trough for filling with the rice mixture.

Coat a large pan or casserole dish with a light layer of olive oil.
Place the zucchini halves into the pan, skin-side down, troughs facing up.

Use a spoon to fill the zucchini troughs with the rice mixture. Fill a little higher than the top of the zucchinis if you have extra filling.
Sprinkle bread crumbs over the rice mixture.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes (removing the aluminum foil in the last 10 minutes of baking). Serve while still warm. Kali Orexi!

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