Juicy, healthy and bursting with fresh and vibrant colors and flavours! Gemista or yemista (which in Greek means ‘filled with’) is a traditional recipe for Greek stuffed tomatoes and/or other vegetables that are baked, until soft and nicely browned. It is one of the most popular recipes in any Greek taverna and household, together of course with the traditional Greek Moussaka!
This is my traditional Gemista (yemista) recipe, just like my mother used to make it! So read along to discover my tips and tricks, step by step photos and of course my delicious recipe!
What is Gemista/Yemista?
The traditional Greek recipe for Gemista can be either vegetarian, which in my opinion is the best, where the vegetables are filled with rice, chopped vegetables and baked in a tomato based sauce, or they may also contain minced beef or pork.
There are countless recipes for Greek stuffed tomatoes (Gemista), with almost every household having its own. So feel free to experiment with the stuffing, with different types of herbs and a varying amount of spices. Your imagination is your limit with this amazing Greek dish!
- Suitable for vegetarians: Many versions don’t contain meat but you can use this if you want
- Loads of variations: You can use almost anything you have around the house to change up this recipe
Gemista (Greek Stuffed Vegetables) Key Ingredients
Gemista is a very simple dish to prepare, relying on the freshness of the ingredients for its delicious flavor. To make them you’ll need:
- Tomatoes, Bell peppers, Aubergines and Zucchini (courgettes): The size for your tomatoes, peppers and aubergines is more important than anything as you want them to be big enough to remove the centre and stuff them. You also want them to be fresh and ripe to impart as much flavour as possible in the dish. For your peppers, if you like them sweet, get yourself some yellow or red peppers as the green ones are slightly more bitter. Finally you’ll need a courgette, which is used for the stuffing as it makes it extra moist and creamy.
- Potatoes: Yukon Gold is the best potato for Gemista. The skin is so thin that I don’t always remove it, and I love when it crisps up at the edges. I slice them half lengthwise, season them, and place them on the dish around the stuffed vegetables.
- Rice: This is your fillings star of the show! As you want your filling to be starchy and creamy, get yourself some risotto rice, also known as arborio. This type of rice is different to the more common basmati as it contains more starch which oozes out when slowly cooked.
- Herbs and Spices: You’ll need to grab yourself some fresh parsley and mint as well as fresh garlic, red onions, some tomato paste and a tin of chopped tomatoes
What Peppers should I use for Gemista?
If you like your Gemista to taste sweet use yellow, red or orange bell peppers. If you prefer a slight tang and bitterness, use green peppers. Why?
Because green bell peppers are bitter because they are simply unripe! So substituting them for a more colourful kind will make your Gemista deliciously sweet!
Key Preparation Steps
There are just a few steps to prepare your delicious traditional Gemista:
- Prepare your vegetables
- Prepare the sauce and filling for the Gemista
- Assemble the Gemista
Prepare your vegetables
Remove the tops of the tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the flesh of the tomatoes with a spoon and place it in a bowl as the tomato sauce for Gemista will be made from the flesh of these tomatoes.
Slice the top off the eggplants, then peel off the skin and remove the flesh with a spoon. Cut the eggplant flesh into small cubes and set them aside, since you’ll use it later as part of the filling for Gemista. Remove the seeds and white parts from within each pepper before cutting it in half.
Place the clean vegetables on a large baking sheet. Keep the vegetables with as little flesh as you can while still allowing them to be peeled, but avoid poking through their skin. Season the empty veggies with a pinch of salt and sugar and a dash of butter on each one.
Prepare the sauce and filling for the Gemista.
Start by preparing the sauce for your gemista. In a blender, combine the pulp of the tomatoes, 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil, tomato paste, sugar, salt, and pepper and blend. Once smooth and creamy, set aside.
Now proceed to prepare the filling. In a pan, heat some olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the zucchini to the saucepan and cook for another minute. Finally, add the eggplant chunks and garlic, and cook until softened.
Add the rice and continue sautéing, stirring until translucent. Pour in 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 2 cups of water, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil while cooking for 5 more minutes. It won’t need much longer to cook once it’s baked because it will finish in the oven.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the fresh herbs, and season with more salt and pepper as desired.
Assemble the Gemista
Firstly, get yourself a large, deep baking dish. Then start filling the hollowed-out veggies, about 2/3 of the way up with the filling. When cooking, the filling will expand somewhat! Place them on the baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Finally, add your potatoes, spreading them apart among the vegetables to complete.
Next, spoon the liquid from your rice and from your tomato sauce in your vegetables until they’re full. Place their lids back on and pour any remaining liquid and filling on the baking dish. Finally add 3 cups of water to the baking dish.
Finally, cover the Gemista with foil and bake for 60-75 minutes at 180C / 350F. Remove the aluminum foil halfway through, to colour them evenly.
As Gemista taste best when warmed up or served right away, just add some salty feta cheese on top and serve!
Gemista (Yemista) recipe tips and tricks
This traditional Greek recipe for Gemista falls under the category of Greek dishes called “Ladera”, meaning Greek dishes prepared with olive oil. So make sure to use some good quality extra virgin olive oil, which will do wonders in this recipe, lifting its flavor!
Although the traditional Greek recipe for Gemista doesn’t call for any butter, a little secret is to add just a little bit inside the Gemista before adding the stuffing for some extra flavor.
As the peppers are not as juicy as the tomatoes the stuffing for the peppers always comes out a little dry. To avoid that, spoon some extra tomato juice over the peppers and they will become just amazing. When cooking the Gemista, make sure to cover them with aluminium foil as the steam allows the rice to cook and the vegetables to soften without them ending up being burnt.
When tomatoes are in-season they are obviously the best choice to prepare this Greek dish, but for an all-year-round dish you can use eggplants and peppers or even courgettes!
Delicious Gemista Variations
If you like your gemista with meat, add 250g (8.8oz) of ground beef with the onions in the first step. When the beef juices have been absorbed and the meat is browned, add the zucchini to the saucepan and sauté for another minute.
Add the chopped eggplant and minced garlic and cook until softened. Then continue with the recipe as above!
Making ahead of time and storing
You can prepare this stuffed tomato dish ahead of time in a couple of ways.
- You may fully prepare and cook the gemista in advance, allow them to cool down in their baking dish, cover it with cling film and refrigerate. To reheat, allow them to sit at room temperature for an hour or so to warm up, then add half a cup of water to the bottom of the pan, cover and bake until heated through in a medium-heat oven.
- You may prepare the gemista filling but avoid assembling and baking them. Cover and refrigerate the filling only and when it’s time to bake them, prepare your tomato sauce, the vegetables, fill and assemble, then bake.
You can store leftovers in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, in an airtight container.
These Gemista are delicious eaten on their own, served with some delicious Greek Salad, tzatziki, crusty village bread or sourdough bread as a side.
However, if you’re having a Greek feast, these can also be used as an attractive side to grilled lamb leg or slow-cooked lamb kleftiko, chicken souvlaki or lemon chicken. The options are endless!
Gemista recipe (Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers with rice)
- Prep Time: 45 min
- Cook Time: 75 min
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: 14 pieces 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Greek
Looking for a traditional Greek Gemista/ Yemista recipe (stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice)? Find out how to bake them to perfection with this locally sourced recipe and secret hints and tips!
- 8 tomatoes
- 4 green bell peppers (or orange, red or yellow if you prefer them sweet)
- 1–2 eggplants
- 5–6 potatoes, cut into wedges
- 2 red onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 500g/ 18 oz. rice (for risotto)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- a small bunch of parsley, chopped
- a small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
- 2 tbsps tomato paste
- 2 tsps sugar
- 2 tbsps of butter
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- olive oil
- 250 grams (8.8oz) beef mince (optional)
- To prepare this delicious Greek stuffed tomatoes recipe, start by preparing your vegetables. Slice off the top of the tomatoes. Using a spoon remove the flesh of the tomatoes and keep it in a bowl. (The flesh of the tomatoes will be the base for the tomato sauce for the Gemista.) Slice off the top of the eggplants and remove the flesh, using a spoon. Cut the flesh of the eggplants in small cubes and set aside, as you will use them later for the filling of the Gemista. Slice off the top of the peppers and remove the seeds and white parts from the inside.
- Place the empty vegetables on a large baking tray. Try to leave the vegetables with as little flesh as possible, but be careful not to poke through their skin. Season the empty vegetables with a pinch of salt and sugar and add a little butter on the bottom of each one.
- Prepare the sauce for the Gemista. In a blender add the flesh of the tomatoes, 5-6 tbsps olive oil, the tomato paste, sugar, season with salt and pepper and mix to combine. Set aside.
- Prepare the filling for the Gemista. In a saucepan add some olive oil and sauté the onions, until translucent. Chop the zucchini in small cubes, add in the saucepan and sauté for one more minute. At the end add the flesh of the eggplants (chopped) and the chopped garlic and sauté, until softened. Add the rice and continue sautéing, unit it becomes transculent. Pour in 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 2 cups of water and season with salt and pepper. Let the filling come to a boil. After 5 minutes the stuffing is ready. It doesn’t need to cook throughout as it will continue cooking in the oven. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the fresh herbs and taste and season with some more salt and pepper if needed.
- Meat Variation: If you prefer your gemista spiced up with some meat, try sizzling 250grams (8.8oz) of ground beef with the onions in the step above. Once the beef juices have been absorbed and the meat is done, chop the zucchini in small cubes, add in the saucepan and sauté for one more minute. At the end add the flesh of the eggplants (chopped) and the chopped garlic and sauté, until softened. Add the rice and continue sautéing, until it becomes transculent. Pour in 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 2 cups of water and season with salt and pepper. Let the filling come to a boil. After 5 minutes the stuffing is ready. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the fresh herbs and taste and season with some more salt and pepper if needed.
- Peel and chop your potatoes in bite-sized chunks.
- Assemble the Gemista. Spoon the filling inside the empty vegetables, filling them up by about 2/3rds of the way up. The filling will expand a bit when cooking! Add your potatoes, spreading them out in between the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Finally spoon the filling liquids from step 4 and your sauce from step 3 inside the vegetables until full and pour the remaining in the baking tray. Cover the vegetables with their lids and add 3 cups of water in your baking tray
- Cover the Gemista with aluminium foil and bake in preheated oven at 180C / 350F for 60-75 minutes. Halfway through cooking time, remove the aluminium foil and bake until nicely coloured.
- The Gemista are equally delicious, served either warm or even straight out of the fridge. Just pair them with some salty feta cheese and enjoy!
- Serving Size: 2 pieces
- Calories: 493kcal
- Sugar: 19.6g
- Sodium: 481.7mg
- Fat: 20.6g
- Saturated Fat: 4.6g
- Unsaturated Fat: 15g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 73.8g
- Fiber: 13.8g
- Protein: 9.7g
- Cholesterol: 8.7mg
Keywords: Gemista recipe, Greek stuffed Tomatoes with rice, Greek Yemista
These are great with minced lamb and beef
In step 2. we are preparing the sauce.. in further steps I don’t see where you use it..
Hi Natasa, it is used in step 4, I have added a clarification to the recipe.
🙂 Thanks Eli, I thought that but wasn’t sure
No worries Natasa, hope it turns out beautiful! Eli x
heh, didn’t have time these days, but for sure will leave a comment … thanks Eli again xx
This is the most tasteless gemista I have ever made. Too much water in everything I think…..
I’ve used fresh herbs from the garden too. It’s just tasteless. So disappointing
I’m loving this dish and I’d like to include it in a post I’m doing about Greek food, it’s history and origins. Of course, I would give all credit and links back to you and would not print the recipe. Could you let me know if I have your permission, please? Thanks so much.
I would be honoured!
Eli, nothing like good Greek food. I love stuffed tomatoes and peppers. But here is something I have found to cut the cooking time for the peppers to 40-45 minutes. I microwave them first until they are soft but still on the firm side (4-7 minutes depending on the size) but not the tomatoes. My husband’s garden produces many tomatoes, green, yellow and red peppers. So I am in the kitchen a lot. Try them Patti
That is a really good idea, that would help soften the peppers up as tomatoes and aubergines cook faster than the peppers! Sometimes I parboil the potatoes for about 10 minutes to further cut down the cooking time, something else to give a try to 🙂
It does not say to cook the rice or not before stuffing
You do not cook the rice before stuffing. It will cook in the tomato juices when in the oven.
Dear Kathie,its said”make sure to cover them with aluminium foil as the steam allows the rice to cook”, so there is no need to cook the rice.
Spot on Natasa 🙂
Looks incredibly delicious. Just try!
How much time does it take to make it?
Loved this the first time I made it, it’s a bit different from my Mum’s recipe, but since she refuses to share… I looked this up again so I can make it for dinner tomorrow night 🙂
how much is a tin of tomatoes?
My yiayia sometimes uses eggplant in her gemista, and while she doesn’t use butter in this recipe, she uses it in many others. It might not be traditional in your family, but it obviously is in someone else’s.
Thank you for your email on Easter recipes.
My wife loves gemista and I cooked for her your recipe for Easter we both love it. As I have cooked gemista many times over in my life I found your secrets really did make a deference in the cooking. The butter and the risotto rice it worked wonders.
Well said Alexandros. Even in Albania where we make the same dish, we don’t use butter, but rather healthy extra virgin olive oil. I know what you are saying because I grew up in Athens and New York, and when we talk about traditional food of our area we use healthy olive oil and not butter for these dishes. Also stuffed eggplant is another dish
Better fix the 180 deg, baking temperature. I’.m cooking the meal now with a meat addition and after 40 minutes at 180 deg. all I’ve done is warm up the pan. Love the technique and once finished this looks like a winner recipe.
I’m assuming that’s 180 Celsius, which is 350 Fahrenheit.
What size tin of tomatoes?
The usual tin you get from the supermarkets – its 400g I believe
Can you prepare these ahead?
Of course you can. Prepare the filling and stuff them but don’t bake them. Cover in cling film and put in the fridge. They will keep for a day or so before needing to be baked. After baking they keep for up to 2 days in the fridge. Just make sure to re-heat them thoroughly before serving.
Hi Eli, thanks for this recipe which I am in the middle of preparing. In previous attempts at gemista the green peppers come out extremely bitter, to be honest I never used sugar and I’m hoping that will soften the bitterness but are there other notes you can give me on this issue?
Thank you from Spetses
Fun fact – actually green peppers have a slight bitterness to them simply because they are unripe! So if you want them to taste sweet simply swap them for yellow, orange or red peppers!
Can you freeze the filling?
Hi! I never saw an authentic Greek gemista recipe with zucchini and tomato sauce in it 🙂
I know gemista, but this recipe doesn’t cut it, sorry Eli!
I think for the American cook it will work
I have made this a few times now. Flavours are great but the Gemista is much more liquid than I. Your photos which I have just seen – so certainly does not need extra water in baking phase. I am wondering whether you only use the flesh – I,e, not seeds, juice and core of tomatoes. This is not specified in recipe. If not what am I doing wrong