Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Yemista (Γεμιστά κι'αγέμιστα)

I thought I wasn't going to post today - I've already posted before about yemista. But today, when I informed my other half what was on the menu (I think I don't know anyone else who doesn't like yemista), and there were no leftovers from yesterday's lentils, he asked me (as if it was his one last wish) to cook the yemista in the pot instead of the oven. My yemista blog is for oven-cooked yemista. But there is another way to make them, which I do actually use when I'm running out of time, or I've just cleaned the oven (and can't be bothered getting it dirty again). This is perfect for the winter, when I use up frozen shelled vegetables from our deep-freeze to make yemista, or when I don't want to make too many - it seems a waste to heat the oven up for only four small servings of yemista; usually, an oven pan fits enough for 8 servings (ie 2 meals for a family of 4 members). And it was another simple meal; it took me an hour from start to finish.

I'm really against buying non-seasonal hothouse products when I know I can buy winter-season fresh produce grown in the field. But I still have some summer season harvests in my deep-freeze, so I was easily able to make this meal in winter. In fact, when hubby came home for lunch, he asked me where the aubergine and green peppers came form to make this meal. "Why, you planted them in the summer, don't you remember?" "Oh, is that why they taste so good?" The summer flavour was trapped in the frozen vegetables, as they had been picked and frozen on the same day. And the eggplant had retained its texture and colour.

I used a large pot to make sure that the vegetable shells (aubergine, green bell pepper and tomato) would all get a place on the bottom of the saucepan. I didn't want to stack them on top of one another, because of course, they won't cook so evenly, and I'd need to add a lot of liquid in the pot; the bottom layer will become soggy, while the upper layer will be too dry, or not as well oiled. I took the shells out of the freezer - they do NOT need defrosting - and placed them in the pot. If you defrost the shells, they go limp and become utterly unappealing. Once they are filled, they retain their shape when cooked.

After I had worked out how many shells were going to fit into the pot, I counted out the rice that I would need to fill them with. In this way, you can make sure not to waste any unwanted rice mixture. However, thanks to my friend Hrysa, whose mother made ayemista, I know what to do with any excess rice mixture. If any rice mixture is left over, you don't have to throw it away. You can cook it up as a rissotto with a little water in a pot: use 2 cups of water per 1 cup of leftover rice mixture. Remember that it will already contain tomato and oil, so it doesn't need the standard three cups of liquid per cup of rice to cook in. Yemista = stuffed, ayemista = unstuffed, hence the pun. Hrysa's mother made it up. Don't get it? Lost in translation... If you're feeling very energetic, you can boil up some whole cabbage leaves (to soften them), and roll up some rice mixture to make cabbage rolls.

Once you get the shells sorted out, make up the rice mixture. Whatever the amount of rice you use, you will still need the standard ingredients for yemista: a large onion chopped small, salt, pepper and oregano. Place that in a bowl, and add 1 tablespoon of rice for every vegetable shell you are using. I had 14 shells, so I needed 14 tablespoons of rice. Can't get it wrong this way. Add 1/2-1 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and 1 cup of water to the rice, and mix everything well. We always use some fresh green herbs in yemista, so I went down to the garden and brought back a bunch of parsley which I chopped up into the bowl. The fresh mint that usually runs rampant in our garden has died out; I wouldn't even think of going to the supermarket just for that, so we did without.

I filled each shell with 2 tablsepoons of mixture. There was just enough mixture for all 14 (but I cheated a little by adding some plain rice to the last shell I filled, because I didn't have quite enough), so, no ayemista today. The pot was ready. You might wonder how the rice is going to stay in the shells once I pour water and oil over the yemista. Normally, we put the caps of the vegetables back on the shells to keep them closed, but since I didn't have them, I used another favorite vegetable for filling with rice: cabbage. Cabbage rolls (lahanodolmades) are made in the winter with the same rice mixture as for yemista, they are also cooked in a pot, and they are dressed in an egg-and-lemon sauce. Place a few large cabbage leaves on top of the stuffed vegetables. Then pour a cup of water and half a cup of olive oil over the cabbage leaves. To press all this down, place a large dinner plate (that will fit into the pot) over the cabbage leaves. The cabbage leaves and rice won't be going anywhere now. And do check out that plate: it's Crown Lynn, made in new Zealand!

Let the yemista cook for 40 minutes or so, on a low heat with the lid on the pot. After 30 minutes, check that there are enough liquids in the pot, as the yemista will stick to the bottom of the pan if there isn't enough liquid. To check this, tilt the pot to see how much liquid there is. Add some water little by little to ensure that you don't overdo it. Soggy rice is never desirable. When the yemista are done, remove the plate. Don't forget that it's now very hot! Have a pair of tongs and a kitchen glove to help you do this. Use a large spoon to ladle the yemista out of the pot. Place 1 eggplant, 1 tomato and 1 bell pepper on each plate. Don't the colours dazzle your socks off? Doesn't it look divine? We always have these with some Greek strained yoghurt (many people in the West use sour cream) and a salad. And I never throw away the cooked cabbage - when you taste it, you'll see why.

If you don't want to stuff vegetables, but prefer cabbage (or sorrel or silverbeet - Swiss chard - rolls instead), you can do this with the same mixture, but you won't call them yemista - you'll call them dolmades or dolmadakia, instead, depending on the size of the rolled up parcels.

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Simple pilafi rice for children

Dolmadakia - dolmades