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Stuffed vegetable recipes from Greek family cooks

My mother, my aunts, and my grandmother were all marvelous cooks, but I never saw any of them with a cookbook. I'm certain there wasn't one in the house. The same dish tasted differently from the kitchen of each of them, each with something special from their Greek heritage.

Each woman carried with her the traditioin of her particular hometown and her personal taste. Yet it all had that indefinable mixture of earthy aromas and light seasonings.

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The Greeks are not heavy-handed with spices, primarily using lemon, parsley, salt, a little garlic, mint, oregano, and onions as condiments.Unlike the Italians, we use little tomato and unlike the French, we are economical in the use of butter. As for the use of olive oil, yes, we use a great deal with vegetables, although not with meat.

The Greeks excel in cooking vegetables, and their forte is stuffed vegetables. Here are some ways to prepare vegetables with a stuffing or filling.

The rule of thumb is when stuffing with rice, use olive oil; when stuffing with meat, use butter. The first are eaten cold. Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers (Yiemista) 1 pound ripe tomatoes 1/2 pound green peppers 1/2 cup good olive oil 1 cup rice, uncooked 1/2 cup diced onion 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped Salt and pepper

Choose large, firm vegetables and wash well. Slice a layer off the top with the stem, so that it looks like a lid, and save. Scoop out tomato pulp gently, but leave enough flesh with the skin so tomato stays firm. Save pulp.

Scoop out seeds from peppers and discard. Rinse peppers inside and drop in boiling water for 3 minutes. Arrange tomatoes and peppers in wide pyrex dish.

Heat oil in large frying pan, and add onions. Saute briefly, then add rice. Coat each grain of rice with oil and brown slightly, stirring all the time. Add tomato pulp. Season with parsley, salt and pepper. Cook slowly until liquid from tomatoes has been almost absorved -- the rice will be only half cooked.

Fill prepared tomatoes and peppers 2/3 full. Add enough water to fill. You may use the water in which you blanched the peppers. Cover each with its own lid.

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Bake in 350 degree F. oven for about 40 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Remove from oven and let cool. You may prepare this a day ahead of serving, or early in the morning to serve that night. Though they can be eaten hot, they are much better cold.

Papoutsakia means "little shoes." This is the version I like best of what has become the most popular Greek casserole in the States, generally known as moussaka.m Stuffed Eggplant and Zucchini (Papoutsakia) 3 eggplant 5 zucchini Butter and oil to fry eggplant 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup onions, chopped 2 pounds ground meat, extra lean 2 cups tomato pulp, fresh or canned 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped Salt and pepper 1 1/2 cups Bechamel sauce (white sauce) 1 cup feta or romano cheese, grated 1 cup bread crumbs

Wash eggplant and remove steams. Slice in half lengthwise, the scoop out seeds until you have a little boat. Leave enough flesh all around, from 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Do the same with zucchini.

In a little butter mixed with oil, fry eggplant boats about 2 minutes on each side. The skin will turn dark and the flesh will soften. Arrange in pyrex baking dish.

Drop zucchini in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Remove. Arrange side by side in pan.

Melt butter in large pan, saute onions, then add ground meat. Brown well. Add tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper. Taste to adjust seasoning. Let meat absorb liquid.

Fill papoutsakia to the top. If you want, a fancy dish, spread thick bechamel sauce over top of meat, then sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes until top is golden brown.

In summer, especially if you have large, ripe tomatoes on hand, omit bechamel sauce. Slice tomatoes in thick round slices and place over eggplant. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and cheese. Bake as above. Serve hot.

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