Vegetarian stuffed vegetables (Yemista), is a favourite dish among many Greeks, especially at this time of year during the Lent period. Stuffed with rice and herbs, it is often referred to as the king dish of Greek Lenten fare. You can find recipes for my take on rice stuffed tomatoes and ricotta and mint stuffed banana peppers elsewhere on this blog.
Tonight I'd like to share with you another Greek stuffed vegetable dish which is the perfect blend of low carbohydrates, a healthy amount of protein, and a whole lot of yum.
It's day three of Meat Free Week, with my non-vegetarian partner Tony going meat free and myself being a vegetarian going carb free. You can read more about why we're doing this here.
Ever since my last failed attempt at stuffing a vegetable with ricotta, I've been wanting to create a non-exploding, ricotta-filled yemista that also has a point of difference. Last week when Tony and I were putting our heads together to come up with our menu plan for this week, I asked him "What's something crunchy that you think might go well mixed with ricotta?" and he just blurted out "Walnuts".
Oh ho ho did that open the flood gates of ideas in my head – nutty, cheesy, crunchy, bitter, sweet, what else can I mix with that, oh yeah, caramelised broccolini, yummo, and lots of garlic and parsley, oh yes, yes. I could already taste it. This would be delicious.
Traditionally, wedges of potatoes are used in the bottom of the baking dish to prop up the stuffed vegetables and make sure they remain upright during cooking time. I still had some turnip left over from Monday's Low-carb Moussaka – remember what a neat little potato alternative turnips turned out to be? Well take one guess what I ended up using it for tonight. These would make the perfect little helpers to support the capsicums, and we couldn't wait to see how they tasted cooked this way.
The turnips came out beautifully. Their texture was not as potato-like as they were in the moussaka – without the starch they are a little juicier and didn't crisp up as much as a roasted potato does – but they tasted awesome. I'm definitely going to get turnip savvy over the next few months!
But the star of tonight's meal really took the show, both visually and flavourwise. Our walnut–ricotta filling was a definite hit and I can't wait to try it in filo pastry or perhaps make cheese croquettes with it.
Am I struggling without carbs? You bet I am. But during meal times I am savouring every moment that I have these beautiful flavours in my mouth – I forget all about the carbs and I just enjoy the time that Tony and I are spending together in the kitchen and at the table. He's having a hard time with all the tofu, protein powder and eggs that he needs to consume to make up his protein component, but he says it's also made him appreciate that there are plenty of flavour combinations that work very well with these proteins and in just three days he's already been really impressed with what we've come up with so far.
We served our Yemista tonight with a beautiful Green Greek Salad of mixed leaves, cucumber, blanched green beans, fresh basil, avocado and olives.
Red Capsicum Stuffed with Ricotta, Caramelised Broccolini and Toasted Walnuts (Yemista)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 medium, squarish red capsicums
- 200g broccolini, finely chopped
- 30g walnuts, roughly crumbled
- 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
- 250g fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup of grated sharp cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 4cm pieces
- Fry broccolini on low–medium heat in a little oil until browned. Takes about 20 minutes. The volume of brocollini will reduce by almost half but don't be alarmed. The flavour is still all there!
- Add garlic and walnuts and fry for a couple of minutes.
- Place broccolini mixture, ricotta, sharp cheese and parsley in a medium bowl and combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add egg. Mix well.
- Cut tops off capsicums and discard. Remove seeds and membranes from inside of capsicums.
- Add oil to a small baking dish, roll capsicum shells in oil to coat and sit them upright in the dish.
- Arrange turnip pieces around capsicum shells to prevent the capsicums from tipping over. Use spray olive oil to coat the turnip pieces with oil.
- Fill capsicum shells with cheese stuffing and bake for 1 hour at 180 degrees celsius or until cheese filling begins to brown on top.