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Yemistes Domates: Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes | Sortachef

Yemistes Domates: Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes

“No meat!” The Greek proprietor slashed the air with his pointed finger.  He bent behind the counter to pull out a large tray, which he proceeded to set before us. We inhaled the wonderful smell of tomatoes mixed with rice, onion and herbs. No meat. A smile spread across the face of my wife the Salad Queen.

We had come in from the late afternoon heat to the coolness of this man’s shop in our search for sunscreen. A stone’s throw from the wharf at Agios Nikolais, he had the closest thing around to a convenience store – but in an utterly homey Greek way. An old fan hummed in one corner. To one side of the fan a rack spilled over with English language paperbacks. We tried on sunglasses, testing them against the slanting sun, while he counted his day’s take at the central glass counter.

Outside, sunburnt tourists streamed past with towels and rolled up beach mats. On their afternoon trek back from the beach, they did dance steps with flip flopped feet to avoid the sprawling roots of trees that lined the sidewalks. Some paused to watch the commotion at the Australian woman’s fish and chips counter where red-faced men stood three deep. One, wearing a tank top sporting the cross of Saint Andrew, threw his beefy arm around his mate and roared out a football slogan. Another evening in Agios’s tourist district rumbled into life.

And then, when we went to pay for our lotion and cheap sunglasses, we saw what the Greek man was keeping beneath his glass-topped counter. Tyropeta, a tray of marinated octopus and this, the crowning glory: stuffed tomatoes, and a vegetarian version to boot! The salad queen clutched my arm.

Back at Pension Gregoris, the shower water was tepid, the backhoe was in place for our 7 a.m. wakeup call and our bath towels hadn’t dried because we’d closed our windows against the ever-present dust. But who were we to care? We had our tyropeta, a two-dollar bottle of thin Cretan wine, and a fabulous view of the evening sun sinking over the construction site across the road.

And this night, thanks to that sweet Greek shop owner, we had stuffed tomatoes with no meat – the perfect appetizer to galvanize us for our nightly attack on the restaurants down below. Mm, mmm! Kalí óreksi!

 

Yemistes Domates: Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes

Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes without lids

 

5 medium tomatoes, ripe but not soft

4 Tablespoons Greek olive oil, divided

6 ounces chopped sweet onion

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ cup Arborio rice

½ cup hot vegetable stock

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dry dill

¼ teaspoon dry thyme

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

3 Tablespoons chopped parsley

3 Tablespoons pine nuts

Pinch of cinnamon

½ cup hot water

3 ounces Feta cheese (optional)

 

Prepare the tomato shells: With a sharp fillet knife, cut a 2” inch circle straight down inside the sides of each tomato, being careful not to cut through the flesh at the bottom. Using a dessert spoon, lever this chunk of tomato out of its shell. Try not to break the side as you do this. Scoop out all the seeds and pulp to leave a tomato shell. Save the juice and pulp in a bowl.

Cut the top ½ inch off of the plug of tomato that came out of each shell and reserve. Chop the remaining pulp. Either put the pulp and juice through a food mill or sieve, or remove as many seeds as possible. In any case, try to keep just the juice and pulp and not many of the seeds for the next step.

Make the rice filling: In a 10” nonstick frying pan, sauté the onion in 3 Tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Now add the rice, stir to coat, and then add the pulp and juice from the tomatoes. When the mixture thickens, add the hot stock, and stir it in to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the salt, dill, thyme, and pepper. Once this cooks to almost dry (total time from when the rice went in should be about 12 minutes), remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley and pine nuts and dust with cinnamon.

Fill and bake: Preheat oven to 375º. Put 1 Tablespoon olive oil on the bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish, and arrange the tomato shells. Loosely fill the shells with the rice mixture. Pour hot water over the rice and put a small amount of hot water into the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Finish: After 20 minutes, check the rice. If it is dry (which will happen when using less ripe or out-of-season tomatoes), spoon a Tablespoon of hot water over the rice in each tomato. Top with the reserved tomato lids, return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes. Optional: If desired, put a slice of Feta cheese over the rice in each tomato before putting on the lids and baking.

Woodfired baking notes: I did bake a batch of these stuffed tomatoes in the woodfired oven that were pleasantly tinged with a smokiness that accented the flavor without overwhelming it. Bake in a moderate oven with all wood cooked down to coals and the fire pushed to one side. The tomato shells came out more cooked than the ones from the conventional oven, probably because of the heat of the oven floor. See Moderating Heat in a Woodfired Oven for details on keeping the temperature steady.

Serve with crusty bread, hummous, a green salad and Naoussa Boutari for a fine feast. Enjoy!

 

Pssst! Don’t let the Salad Queen hear me say this, but if you really want to, you can add lamb to the filling. Brown a half pound of ground lamb, remove as much fat as you can, crumble it up and add it to the sauteed onion and garlic. Then, add only 1/4 cup of rice and reduce the liquids by 1/3. As the mother on My Big Fat Greek Wedding says: ”It’s lamb – it’s not meat!”

 

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At Woodfiredkitchen.com, Sortachef takes you on adventures in the kitchen and beyond, with tales to suit. Many of his offerings are woodfired - a flaming good recipe for pizza, bread, or something different. All recipes are original and tasty. Enjoy!
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