IF IT’S HALLOWEEN, THEN STUFFED PEPPERS AND TOMATOES ARE IN THE OVEN

YEMISTA

                        YEMISTA

Like most families, there are certain events we look forward to year after year. In our family, any deviation from what has become one of our traditions is not an option. As we enter the holiday season this fact will become crystal clear as I share my stories.

Each year on Halloween, I would make stuffed peppers and tomatoes for dinner. Afterwards, my husband and my brother-in-law would take our children out to trick-or-treat in the dark, and then come back home to the smell of warm apple crisp and hot cocoa. The “kids” now range from 20 to 29, yet we continue to do this. Let me clarify. Their dads don’t take them out in the dark to trick or treat, but I still cook the yemista. (Greek for stuffed peppers or tomatoes)

But now, we have a new generation in our family. Sophia and Ryan look forward to coming to Aunt Effie’s house to trick or treat. The older cousins take them through the neighborhood and they love all the attention thrown their way.

So why does it have to be stuffed peppers? It was actually a practical decision. I needed to prepare a meal ahead of time. When the children were young, I would rush home from work to take the kids around the neighborhood. Cooking at that point would have been impossible. I would prepare them the night before, and then pop them in the oven while we knocked on doors for candy. During the fall, I can find peppers and tomatoes that are very large and perfect for stuffing. It’s the perfect dish for a chilly night.

For years, I observed as my mother made stuffed peppers. It was one of my favorite dinners. I cannot recall one time where she pulled out a measuring cup or spoon. I learned what to do from watching her—no recipe needed. So please, don’t get caught up in measurements. A few years back, a neighbor stopped by to chat. I was engrossed in her conversation and she was engrossed in my culinary activity. I wasn’t even aware that she was paying attention to what I was doing as she’d often mentioned that she didn’t cook. Two days later she called me to review everything she’d observed while she was seated at my kitchen counter. I was stunned that she’d remembered every detail of what I’d done. Without a written recipe, this friend who claimed to never cook, made the peppers for dinner. The next day, she called me, feeling quite accomplished that her meal had come out delicious!

Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

4 peppers

4 tomatoes

2 lbs. lean chopped meat

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 large chopped onion

1 cup white wine

1 ½ cup water

Salt, pepper, parsley

½ rice

8 ounces tomato paste

1 large can crushed tomatoes

Breadcrumbs (seasoned)

Potatoes (optional)

In a large roasting pan, coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Prepare the peppers by cutting the tops and removing the seeds and membranes. For the tomatoes, cut the tops and hollow out the middle. Find the largest tomatoes available. Use any peppers you enjoy. I like a mixture of red, yellow and orange. I find green peppers very strong and overpowering, so I don’t use them. Arrange the peppers and tomatoes in the roasting pan. In a large, deep skillet add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic for one minute. Add the chopped meat. When the meat is fully browned, add the wine, water, salt, pepper, parsley, tomato paste and the rice and crushed tomatoes. My mom always added the rice by feel. I pour about two handfuls in the skillet, just as she did. I’ve estimated that to be ½ cup. Let the mixture simmer for about fifteen minutes on medium heat. That will give the rice a chance to begin to cook. If you feel you need more fluid, add a little more water. If the reverse is the case, let the mixture simmer a little longer. Remove from heat. Fill the peppers and tomatoes. Sprinkle breadcrumbs generously on top and drizzle with olive oil. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Place the potatoes between the peppers and tomatoes. The potatoes help to support the tomatoes and peppers, but they serve as a nice side dish as well. Don’t forget to season them. Bake for 1½ hours at 375°. After the tops have browned (about 45min.), you may want to lay a sheet of tin foil over pan. Do not cover tightly or seal. You want to bake the peppers, not steam them. I usually double this recipe. I like finding the leftovers in my fridge on a busy day. They heat up in the microwave easily without compromising the taste, or you can eat them the way I like them—cold.

* Try this meatless alternative

Vegetarian/Vegan Stuffed peppers

6 peppers

2 celery hearts, sliced thin

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine

½ cup pignoli nuts

1 cup rice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Oregano

Parsley

Grated cheese

1 cup bread crumbs (seasoned)

Cut the tops off the peppers and take seed and membranes out. Arrange in a baking dish. Heat a large skillet and sauté celery, onions and garlic with ¼ cup of olive oil until soft and tender. At the same time, boil 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of water for 10-12 minutes. Drain the rice and set aside. Add salt, pepper, oregano and parsley to the celery mixture. Add wine and cook on high heat to burn off liquid. If making a vegan version, use vegetable broth or coconut water. Remove from heat. Add the rice, breadcrumbs and pignoli nuts, and stir well. Fill the peppers. Generously sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. (Vegans can skip the cheese and add a little more seasoning) Bake at 350º for 45 minutes.

2 thoughts on “IF IT’S HALLOWEEN, THEN STUFFED PEPPERS AND TOMATOES ARE IN THE OVEN

  1. Your blog is so beautiful. I actually shared your pastichio recipe through a link on my post today.
    We have made stuffed tomatoes and peppers for as long as I can remember.They are one of my favorites! My mom makes them the best, with homemade mashed potatoes of course.
    Happy Halloween!
    Joanne

    Like

  2. Thanks for the compliment. I love the stuffed peppers and tomatoes, also. My mom always put potatoes in between the peppers to support them, but the mashed potatoes sound yummy. I hope you enjoyed your Halloween. We made 180 bags of candy and we only have 5 left!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s