Gemista is the generic term in Greek for stuffed vegetables, and there are myriad recipes in this category of foods. Generally, stuffed vegetables are a summer preparation, and the classics include stuffed peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplants. Often, these are all prepared in the same pan, with the same stuffing, and baked all together.
Rice and herbs: this is the most basic stuffing. The rice used is generally long-grain rice called nihaki in Greek, as local cooks prefer this texture to the more toothsome long-grain rices, such as basmati or jasmine. Anyway, these latter varieties are newcomers to the kitchen. Onions, and plenty of them, almost always go into the stuffing, too.
Trahana: this is the milk- or butter-milk-based tiny pasta that is a traditional Greek pantry item. It is sometimes used instead of rice in certain stuffed dishes. One of the best known is a trahana-stuffed onion dish from the waterfront town of Galaxidi, in central Greece.
Bulgur:like trahana, bulgur wheat also sometimes replaces rice in stuffed vegetable dishes. Its use is most prevalent in certain parts of Crete and in some of the Dodecanese islands.
Ground Meat:ground meat -usually lamb or beef- appears often in stuffed dishes, almost always combined with rice.
Vegetables:in many stuffed vegetable dishes the pulp from the scooped out vegetables is used as part of the filling. Other dishes, such as imam bayialdi -one type of stuffed eggplant dish- a savory combination of onions, tomatoes and herbs, without rice or other starch, make up the mainstay of the filling.
Greek Stuffed Peppers
12 medium bell peppers
1. Prepare the peppers for stuffing: wash and dry. Cut off the stem ends with a sharp knife about an inch or less below the top, so that the vegetables can be hollowed easily and their "caps" put back on. Remove and discard the pepper seeds.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onions over low heat for about 12 minutes, or until soft. Add the rice and stir once or twice. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of water. Let the mixture simmer uncovered and over low heat, until the water has been absorbed, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. While the rice is being cooked, pulse the parsley and garlic together in a food processor until finely chopped and almost paste like in consistency. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice mixture with the parsley and garlic. Add the remaining herbs, four more tablespoons of olive oil, and the strained tomato juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (375 degrees F). Rub the remaining tablespoon of oil on the bottom of an ovenproof glass or earthenware baking dish, large enough to hold the tomatoes and peppers snugly. Place the peppers side by side in the pan and fill with the rice and herb mixture. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the vegetables with the bread crumbs. Pour about a half a cup of water in the baking dish. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking the stuffed vegetables for another 30-40 minutes, until the peppers are wrinkled and browned around the edges and the rice is completely cooked and soft. Remove and cool slightly before serving.
Yield: 6-12 servings