I love travelling and anyone who knows me, knows well that food always plays a huge part in my overseas adventures. Recently I visited some great friends in Greece and being the warm-hearted, wonderful people that they are, it is perfectly normal to meet and visit their entire family along with a splendid Sunday lunch cooked by my friend Dimitra's Mother. Mama G (as I call her) is the matriarch of the house and her cooking is really pretty special and on the Sunday we arrived for lunch, Gemista (stuffed peppers), Keftedakia (meat patties) and Horiatiki (Greek Salad) were the order of the day. All the vegetables were picked from her own garden (I love this fact!) and the recipes are classic, authentic Greek recipes using local produce. Could anything be more wonderful?
After lunch I begged Mama G to give me the recipe for Gemista and she gave me a run-down of the process (minus quantities) and upon my return to London, it was one of the very first things I tried out back in my own kitchen... and I was rather impressed with the results. So here is the fantastic recipe... Quantities are tough to gauge to be honest, as I wasn't given any but the below quantities worked for me. I have taken step-by-step pictures to try and aid the process for you so you know what each stage should look like roughly.
Gemista - Greek Stuffed Peppers
16 mixed colour whole peppers (whichever colours you choose is fine)
500g of lean minced beef
300g Basmati rice
2 large onions (or 3-4 small), peeled and finely chopped
1 large bunch of parsley, finely chopped
140g tin of tomato puree
8 ripe (or overripe) tomatoes, quartered
500g tomato passata
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Maldon sea salt
Ground black pepper
Olive oil (quite a bit)
**Aluminium foil & baking/oven paper**
Wash your peppers and cut off 1 inch lids off the top and clean the insides out, carefully, trying not to damage or break the pepper. Make sure the lids are in tact as they will help create steam for the rice to cook properly in the peppers.In a large cooking pot over a medium high heat (or medium, if using gas) add your onions to the pan with a generous glug of oii (don't be afraid to add plenty of oil as the mixture will need it)and lightly sweat your onions til they are translucent and just a little golden but not browned. At this point, add your mince meat quickly followed by your quartered tomatoes, tomato puree and passata. Now normally, you would always brown the meat first before adding other ingredients, but in this case you want the meat to stew and remain soft, rather than browned and tough. Make sure you stir the meat really well to ensure the tomato puree and passata are evenly distributed. Then season generously (in fact over season, as you will be adding rice to this mixture later) with Maldon sea salt and just a little black pepper. Turn of the hob and remove from heat before stirring in your chopped parsley anfd setting aside. The mixture should look like this;Once the mince mixture has cooled, stir in your 300g of Basmati rice and mix evenly with the beef and tomato mixture. It should look like this;Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and add one last generous glug of olive oil to the rice and beef mixture and stir well before stuffing the peppers 3/4 full (leave about 1cm clear from the top) and place the pepper lid over them. Once done, line 2 large oven trays with a sheet of aluminium foil and then some baking paper and lay the peppers, on their sides, in the tray ensuring the caps are on securely as best as possible. **At this stage, I would like to say that different families have told me that they prefer to stand the peppers up right throughout the cooking process, so do whichever is best for you. I just chose to stick to the recipe given to me by Mama G**Once the peppers are laid out in the oven trays, drizzle them with olive oil, and scattters a few handfuls of water over them too before placing in the oven and baking for 30 minutes. Once the 30 minute period is done, carefully turn them over (I used a large spoon and a cooking spatula) and cook them for a final 30 minutes before serving. I like to enjoy them with a Greek salad (Horiatiki) of olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and feta cheese with a sprinkling of dried oregano and some good olive oil. Absolutely delicious.