Alright, eater friends! Come with me, Bella, to visit my father Jim in Queens, NY.
My dad was born Dimitrios Katsarelis is the suburb of Korydallos in the city of Pireaus. Pireaus is a port region in Athens the capital of Greece. He was born to his dad, Nikodimos and his mom, Garyfalia.
When we asked my father what he wanted to cook with us he smiled and said “Yemista”.
“This was always my favorite meal. As a kid growing up, I used to love it when my mother made these things.” My dad continued, “After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 1980s, my mother went through one round of Chemo Therapy. She had a very hard time with side effects. She decided she was going to let it take it’s course and let whatever was going to happen, happen.”
My father came to Chicago in the fall of 1967 with his parents. His older sister Eleni stayed in Greece because she was in school.
They lived with another family while in Chicago. My father and his parents all slept in one bedroom until his dad was able to find an apartment for them, “I was miserable the entire time”, he said with a smirk on his face.
He explained that as a young child he had to stay very quite and couldn’t make too much noise. Which, for any 5 year old would present an issue. They stayed in Chicago until the summer of 1974.
At that point, my grandfather decided to move back to Greece. And he took his wife and my father with him.
They eventually moved back to Chicago again in 1976. My father was having problems adjusting socially in school. To make my father feel better, his mom would make him the Yemista.
My father spent almost every summer back in Greece with his parents, extended family, and childhood friends. “Those were the days I looked forward to,” he explained.
Eventually, after moving back and forth from Greece to America for a bit, his family moved to Astoria, Queens in New York City. There, he had made friends and one of them was his future wife and my mother, Nina. After they were married, his parent’s moved back to Greece.
When he spoke of how he met my mother, I remember him telling me, “I was invisible to her.” But he said it was such a confident look, a masked smile, and a glow in his almond shaped eyes. It wasn’t a pity statement. It was a proud one.
She fell for him eventually and THANK GOD, right? Because, I mean, what IS a world without yours truly yanno what I mean?!….crickets?….Moving on!
I’ve heard people ask before, “Can you recall you’re earliest childhood memory?” For me, I remember the day my dad left us in America to go back to Greece and visit his mom during her last days.
I was about 5 or 6 years old. My father stood in our small apartment hallway. He was wearing a suit, carrying a suitcase, and bent down to my eye level. He kissed me with his bushy bearded face and gave me a big hug. “Be back in a little while”, he said.
My dad continues, “So, I was on the phone with my mom on my way there and she asked, ‘What do you want me to make for you when you come!?’” My dad chuckled as he continued his memory, “You have to make me Yemista! I told her and she said OK. When I got there, there was this huge tray just filled with Yemista.”
My dad stayed silent for a minute after reliving his memory. His eyes were somewhere in his past, but he still kept the smile on his face.
So, let’s get to the good stuff!
The literal translation of “Yemista” is ‘stuffings’. Traditionally speaking, you stuff vegetables, specifically tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini.
- 3 Green peppers
- 3 Fat red tomatoes
- 1 Zucchini
- 10 tbsp of White Rice
- Yellow Onion (1 medium sized)
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- EVOO (for those keeping score, that’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil) to taste
- Fresh Parsley about 2 tbps
**Note – these measurements were for the amount we made. Remember this is an art not a science, don’t be afraid to shake it up a bit.
PREP AND COOK:
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Cut a small circle on an angle on the tops of the peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. This creates a little “cork” for the veggies after they’re stuffed so don’t throw them away
- Take out the insides of the tomatoes and zucchini and put it in a large bowl
- Remove all the tiny seeds inside the peppers and throw them out
- Dice up 1 medium sized yellow onion and add it to the tomato and zucchini bowl.
- Add in 10 tbsp of UNCOOKED white rice to the bowl
- Add salt, pepper, and chopped fresh parsley then stir it all together
- Use a tablespoon to scoop the contents of the bowl back into each vegetable
- After they are all stuffed, put their corresponding tops on
- Place them in an oiled large baking pan and cover with Aluminum Foil
- Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour depending on your oven.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
- If you stuff the veggies to the top, it’ll get really big when you cook it, if you stuff it about 2/3 of the way up, it’ll retain it’s shape. Neither way is the “right” way
- Check it after 45 minutes and see if the rice is fully cooked, if not stick it back in
- After the rice is fully cooked, you can spray the tops of the veggies with a little PAM and put it under the broiler uncovered for about 2-4 minutes, or until golden brown
- You can also add meat to this dish! Ground lamb is a wonderful choice, but you can also use ground beef or ground turkey
- And as always, don’t be afraid of the food! It doesn’t eat you, right?