Saturday, 18 August 2012

Yemista for the freezer (Γεμιστά για την κατάψυξη)

Yemista are a popular Greek dish in summer. They are a taverna favorite for vegetarians. Yemista consists mainly of rice, which has herbs and spices added (home cooks sometimes add mince, as an alternative to the basic recipe). This mixture is used as stuffing for summer vegetables: mainly tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Rice doesn't freeze well; although you can freeze it uncooked, the texture will be different to rice cooked freshly. The best way to do this is by preparing the stuffed vegetables and freezing them in the same baking vessel that they will be cooked in. This may take up a lot of space in the freezer.

Stuffed zucchini flowers - from the freezer straight to the oven.

As an alternative, I prefer to carve out the vegetable shells and freeze them empty. The shells are frozen upright, tightly sitting next to each other, in a baking tin, to keep their shape. Once they have frozen solid, they can be taken out of the baking tin and placed in bags, in free spaces in the freezer. The tops of the vegetables, which are used to cap the yemista after they have been stuffed, are also frozen for the same use in the dish.

Frozen pepper and tomato shells - I freeze them upright in a tray, then I place them in a bags.

The tomato juice and flesh can be chopped very finely (I always use a mini food-processor for this) and mixed with some finely chopped onion, parsley and mint. Some (but not all) of the eggplant flesh (again, finely chopped) can also be added to this mixture. To avoid the eggplant flesh browning, you need to work quickly. The quicker eggplant gets frozen after it's cut, the less browning will occur. This mixture is frozen altogether, in appropriate quantities, separately from the vegetable shells.

Frozen yemista mixture - only the rice, olive oil and seasonings need to be added.

When you want to make the yemista (which can be cooked either in the oven or in a pot on the element):
1. Take out the tomato mixture and defrost it.
2. When it has turned liquid, add the appropriate quantity of rice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Take out the vegetable shells from the freezer and place them in the (pyrex or metal) baking vessel.
4. Start filling the vegetable shells immediately, without waiting for them to defrost.
5. Cap each vegetable with its top and continue to prepare the yemista for cooking as for the 'fresh' recipe. 
Yemista made from frozen shells

Don't forget that the shelled vegetables should be of an even size, for best results, in order for them to cook evenly when the time comes to use them. I used a local heirloom variety that produces tennis ball sized round tomatoes.
All the timatoes in this bowl came from the plant on the left hand side.

The basic recipe for yemista can be found here. This recipe can be used for freezing (without the rice, olive oil and seasonings) if you have a large garden that produces excessively, or you like to buy fresh seasonal produce in bulk from a farmer's market, especially towards the end of the season, when the prices are cheaper.

This kind of freezer food makes cooking for the whole family in the winter very easy and painless. 

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