Gemista is a staple dish in many a Greek household. I make them pretty regularly and rarely deviate from the simple rice/tomato/herb stuffing such as the one I used here. I’ve also made them with a mushroom filling and you can of course make them with any variation of stuffing your heart (or stomach rather) desires. When tomatoes are in season, of course, I love filling big juicy beefsteaks alongside plump red and green bell peppers. Well it’s January and, well, it’s cold. Extremely cold! Produce available in the vegetable markets is mediocre to say the least. But the other day I spotted these green peppers, mixed peppers (a little red, a little green) and cubanelle or Italian frying peppers that were firm, bright and shiny. Perfect for gemista.
Now, when I was in Greece last summer I came upon this new variety of wild rice from the Agrino brand (a popular brand of Greek rice) and it quickly became my rice of choice for filling peppers, tomatoes, zucchini or any other vegetable I used to make gemista all season. The first time I tried this wild rice in my gemista was when I was hosting a lunch for my husband’s relatives in Agrinio, my husband’s birthplace and it just so happens the city where the Agrino brand took root in 1955 and continues to manufacture its products today. A few bites into the meal, his aunt began asking my mother-in-law what kind of rice I’d used. They were assuming it was something “exotic” that I’d brought with me from America! I quickly went into the kitchen and pulled out the package of Agrino Wild Rice to show them and just a couple days later, Thea Litsa (who sends over plates of food regularly whenever we’re there) sent over a plate of her gemista … made with the same wild rice! I was thrilled to have made an impression on a woman who easily spends 10 hours out of the day (no exaggeration) in the kitchen cooking this for one family member, that for another, bread-desserts-meats-pies-and-everything-in-between for friends, family and neighbors and who really covets the traditional ways of Greek cooking.
Gemista / Γεμιστά — Wild Rice Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4 to 6
8 medium/large peppers
1/4 cup + 1/3 cup olive oil, separated
1 1/4 cup wild rice
1 cup + 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, separated
3/4 cup water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
4 medium potatoes, peeled, halved and quartered
Salt and freshly ground peppers to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a large baking dish or tin.
In a medium skillet, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the onion, scallions and carrot until slightly softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for a minute longer. Add the 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, water and dill and continue to cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from heat and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Meanwhile, rinse peppers then cut a cap from the top and reserve. Clean the seeds from each pepper then place it in the baking tin, making sure to set its corresponding cap close by. Season insides of the peppers lightly with salt and pepper. Fill each pepper (without packing) 1/2 to 2/3 full with the rice mixture. Top each pepper with its cap, securing with toothpicks if necessary.
Arrange the potatoes in the baking tin around the stuffed peppers. Sprinkle peppers and potatoes with salt and pepper, drizzle remaining 1/3 cup olive oil on top then pour over the remaining 1 cup chopped tomatoes. Bake covered with foil, for 40 minutes, then remove foil and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes longer until the potatoes are fork tender and the rice is done when tasted (add water to the baking dish as necessary during cooking).