My Yaya's Yemista

I’m told I ate yemista as a child and I really wish I remembered, but I don’t. I remember lamb and manestra on Easter and spanakopita at Christmas and saganaki at parties, but sadly, not yemista. Yes, surprise! I’m part Greek.

Even if I did remember, it wouldn’t matter in this moment because I’m not going to bore you with a lengthy, flowery flaunting of words about my food memories. I’m not fucking Marcel Proust. I’m your friendly internet cooking instructor with a heart of gold who almost always gets straight to the point.

And the point is this: yemista are Summer vegetables stuffed with beef, rice + LOTS of aromatics and my Mom sent me my Yaya’s recipe for them last week! They’re not difficult to make, but they are time consuming. Anything stuffed always is. Here’s some pointers-

1. Have a couple spare vegetables such as peppers or small globe zucchini on hand in case you end up with extra filling.
2. You’re turning the oven on, so fill it up! As you can see in the photos, I tossed in some fingerling potatoes with my yemista.
3. The shittier your tomatoes, the more doctoring you will have to do. If your tomatoes are sub par, add a couple Tablespoons of tomato paste and then 1 Tablespoon of sugar at a time until your filling tastes good. That’s why we (apparently) always made yemista in July- it’s when the tomatoes are the best.
4. The amount of herbs is truly non-negotiable. I used 3/4 cup finely chopped parsley, hemp leaves and mint, but team, I don’t think you’ll regret it if you use more. I’d recommend you use mostly parsley + small amounts of the other herbs. Pick at least two. My Mom says mint is the most important, but it’s strong! Don’t use more than 3 Tablespoons of it.
5. Yemista doesn’t keep well, so eat it while it’s hot and invited friends over to eat it when you make it!

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Yaya’s Yemista
-serves about six

large baking dish (something like one 9 x 13, or pictured: two 9 x 7 oval rarebits)
14 to 16 medium tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil + extra for drizzling
1 onion, finely diced
1 pound ground beef
kosher salt
1/2 cup uncooked rice
optional: just a touch of grated nutmeg or allspice
at least 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs such as: parsley, dill, mint, and/or oregano

1. Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and use a paring knife to cut loose the inner flesh. Take a small spoon and scoop out the rest of the flesh and seeds into a small bowl to use later. Sprinkle the inside of each tomato with a little salt and leave them sitting upside down with their tops beside them so you remember which is which.
2. Cook the onion in the olive oil over medium with a small pinch of salt until soft and beginning to show color, at least 10 minutes and up to 20. Add the beef and brown well with 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
3. Preheat the oven to 350. Pour the reserved tomato innards into the pan with the rice and spices if using. Break up the meat and the tomato into very fine pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has absorbed into the rice/cooked off. Taste for seasoning.
4. Rub the outsides of the tomatoes with olive oil. Add the herbs to the beef and rice mixture, stir well and spoon it into the tomatoes. Put their little tops back on, pack them into a baking dish, drizzle with a more olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
5. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until tomatoes are just beginning to char and meat is tender. Serve immediately.