Gemista: Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes
- 1⁄2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for baking dish
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup long-grain brown rice
- 2 1⁄4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 1⁄4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- 4 large bell peppers of various colors (green, red, yellow, or orange)
- 2 large tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste diluted in 1 cup water
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
- 1⁄4 cup water, plus more as needed
- VEGAN OPTION BELOW
- Replace 1-pound lean ground beef with-
- 3⁄4 pound sliced cremini or white button mushrooms
- 1⁄4 pound zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds
1) Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the brown rice and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the vegetable broth and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then remove lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and set aside.
2) Meanwhile, lightly oil a deep casserole dish large enough to hold all the peppers and tomatoes snugly so that they remain upright during baking.
3) Slice off and reserve the top stem ends of the bell peppers. Hollow out the peppers, removing the seeds and white pith with a small spoon or grapefruit spoon and discarding. Slice off and reserve the top stem ends of the tomatoes. Gently squeeze the tomatoes to remove most of the seeds, then scoop the pulp into a small bowl, leaving a thin layer of tomato (about 1⁄4 inch) next to the skin. Stir the diluted tomato paste into the tomato pulp and set aside. Transfer the hollowed- out tomatoes and peppers to the prepared casserole dish. Set aside.
4) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5) Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium- high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the edges start to brown and they release their liquid, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add the zucchini slices and sauté until wilted and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Season with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and the pepper. Stir in the reserved tomato mixture and the cooked onion and rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes just to let the flavors come together. At this point, the mixture should be moist but not soupy. If it is too loose, simmer it a little longer to evaporate a bit more of the liquid, being careful not to overcook the rice. Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley and the mint. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
6) Generously stuff the tomatoes and bell peppers with the rice mixture. Replace the pepper and tomato tops. The stuffing will peek out a bit. Drizzle with remaining 1⁄4 cup of olive oil and carefully pour the water into the bottom of the casserole. Bake, adding a little more water if necessary, for 1 to 1 1⁄4 hours or until the vegetables are tender and the tops are brown. The tomatoes and peppers should be soft enough to pierce easily with a fork. Serve immediately.
*The classic version of this dish is made with lean ground beef. My vegan version makes a savory, light supper with no saturated fat. If you do want to try it the traditional way, replace the mushrooms and zucchini with 1 pound of lean ground beef or turkey.
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