Monday, March 11, 2013

Yemista (Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes
topped with Bechamel Sauce)

Only one week to go for Meat Free Week! Are you taking the challenge? My non-vegetarian partner Tony is, and I will be joining him with a bit of a twist added to the challenge.

Since I'm already vegetarian, we figured a way that I could get more involved would be to also change my eating habits for the week. Tony is on an eating plan designed for diabetics (he's Type 1 diabetic) which means no bread, no rice, no pasta, no fruit, no sugar, pretty much no carbohydrates except what's found in vegetables (in addition to proteins and some fats).

In order for us to partake in Meat Free Week together, and to be able to cook together, I am taking on the challenge to go without carbs for the week. I love my carbs so this is going to be HARD for me. For Tony it means he'll just be replacing meat and fish with non-animal proteins which really won't be that hard at all.

So as you can imagine, our usual eating preferences mean we rarely get a chance to cook meals together. We are hoping that Meat Free Week will give us the opportunity to come up with some great food that we both enjoy.

And one more thing to tie this all together. All our evening meals will be Greek-inspired and I'll be blogging about them here! Imagine that. Greek, vegetarian, low-carb meals (is that actually possible?). We're gonna make this happen people!

I know I keep going on about this but it's for such a good cause and I would be thrilled to know that at least one other person reading this is also going on the challenge. It's not too late to sign up and funds raised from people sponsoring you go to animal protection organisation, Voiceless.

You can sponsor Tony for the Meat Free Week challenge by clicking here.

And now for today's classic Greek recipe for stuffed tomatoes. Yemista is the Greek word for "stuffed" and it is used to describe any of the stuffed vegetable dishes that you will find in many Greek recipe books and menus.

Sometimes they contain minced meat, but usually it's a simple rice and herb filling. Sometimes peppers or capsicums are used, sometimes zucchinis or eggplants. Sometimes pine nuts and currents are mixed in the filling. Sometimes topped with bechamel sauce, sometimes a herbed breadcrumb crust, sometimes just the lid of the vegetable. The variations are endless.

Today I am using tomatoes stuffed with brown rice, onions, almonds, parsley and garlic, finished with a thick layer of bechamel sauce on top and let me tell you, this little number served up as a tasty lunch treat really hits the spot.

Yemista (Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes topped with Bechamel Sauce)

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 2 cups of cooked brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of slivered almonds
For the bechamel sauce
  • 400ml milk
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fry the onions in oil on low heat until golden, takes around 30 minutes. In the final minute of cooking, add crushed garlic and stir while cooking. Remove onion mixture from heat and set aside.
  2. While the onions are cooking, carefully slice the tops off the tomatoes, removing a layer around 1cm thick.
  3. Remove the pulp from inside the tomatoes using a spoon, a paring knife or whatever implements work best for you, being careful not to pierce the skin. Reserve around 6 tablespoons of the tomato pulp.
  4. Dry fry the slivered almonds in a frying pan, tossing the almonds frequently, until they start to make a cracking noise and become golden and fragrant. Don't allow them to burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Prepare the bechamel sauce (see below). Cover and set aside.
  6. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cooked rice, onion mixture, reserved tomato pulp, parsley and almonds and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Fill the tomato shells with the rice stuffing, being careful not to pack too tightly as the rice will expand a little more. Leave room on top for the bechamel sauce (see Picture 1).
  8. Carefully spoon bechamel sauce on top of stuffed tomatoes and place in a high-sided baking dish (see Picture 2). Carefully pour cold water in the tray so that the tomatoes are sitting in around 2cm of liquid.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bechamel is just turning golden brown.

Bechamel sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
  3. Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
  4. Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
  5. Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. Cover until ready to use.

Picture 1: Leave enough room for the bechamel sauce to go on top.

Picture 2: Topped with bechamel sauce. (Don't you love this gorgeous little oven dish?)

I'm linking this post with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays. Go take a look for some more fantastic vegetarian recipe ideas.


  1. I enjoy all kinds of yemista (both veg and non veg). I love that you topped them with bechamel...I've never seen this before. Yumm!

    1. Yeah I'd never seen it before either until I saw a photo in one of those daggy magazine-type Greek recipe books from the 80s - it was a meat-filled yemista but I knew the bechamel would work with the vegetarian one because bechamel works with just about anything!!

  2. They look amazing! Next time I get some good sized tomatoes in my veggie box I am definitely giving them a try!
    I'm planning on doing a post about the meat free week challenge this week sometime so will do a shout-out to sponsor Tony if you'd like - considering my boyfriend and I are both vegetarian it's not much of a challenge to us!

    1. Thanks Liz, that would be great if you could give Tony a shout-out! It's great that so many people are getting on board with this. (I soooo envy you having an already-veg partner!!!!).

  3. Yemista is probably the first dish I tried when I was in Greece many years ago, along with Briam. There's a dish that would fit the criteria for Meatless/Carbless week.

    1. Hi Bellini! Yes, Briam would be perfect for our Meatless/Carbless week! And a big slab of feta on top will easily provide the protein component!!

  4. these look delicious! i can't wait to try them(without the bechamel sauce on top) ;)

    1. They are just as lovely without the bechamel. I've even seen yemista with an almond crust on top - coursely ground almonds mixed with some herbs and olive oil and pressed over the stuffing.

  5. I love that perfectly browned bechamel sauce on the top. :) I pinned this to remind myself to make it with tomatoes from the garden this summer!

    1. Yes I kept a perfectly close eye on the oven this time (with a broken seal it can be very temperamental!). I really didn't want a repeat result like the one I had with the dark brown moussaka a few weeks ago!

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Infact I'm glad you did, because I absolutely love your recipes. I don't hv any meditaranean recipes. I like many recipes I see here & would be trying them.

    1. And thank you Ami for visiting my blog! I'm glad we've found each other - your Sri Lankan recipes make a nice contrast to Greek food so it will be good to try some of your recipes when I need a break from Greek food!


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