Wednesday, August 31, 2011

greek style stuffed tomatoes

Oh my gawd. I made them. I finally succeeded in making them. THE tomatoes. My absolute most favourite Greek dish ever.

before cooking

The very first time I met Idle Husband's parents, we were offered something to eat. Just so you know, if you ever visit Greece, be prepared to eat. A lot.

Oh you just arrived and it's 9 p.m.? Have something to eat. Oh you ate 3 hours ago and you're insisting you're not hungry? No one's ever not hungry. Have something to eat. Here's your 5 o'clock dinner. Around 11 o'clock we'll be having actual dinner so be ready to eat again.

Among the huge variety of foods presented, stuffed tomatoes was one of them. Was I hungry? Absolutely not. It was around 9 p.m. and we had had something to eat on our way there. Did I end up eating my tomato and almost all of Idle Husband's? Yup.

And just like that, my fixation on stuffed tomatoes began. I had dreams about them after returning from Greece. I thought for sure I could recreate them myself at home. It's just a friggin' tomato stuffed with rice and meat. I mean, how hard could it be?

Apparently really hard. I just couldn't figure it out myself. I thought that I was missing something. Some secret ingredient. Some special Greek spice. But when I finally got the recipe, I realized it was really all in the method. There's nothing more than parsley, salt, and pepper in these. That's it. No dill. No oregano. No cinnamon. Nothing you'd pin down as a secret ingredient. Well huh.

But you know, that's a good thing because there's never going to be a reason why I can't make these. I'm never going to have to run to the store for that one secret ingredient. I'm always going to have everything on hand. Except extra ripe from-the-garden, off-the-vine tomatoes...

Oh man and winter is coming. And in the winter months, I treat tomatoes like gold. I might as well have a special tomato safe so I can effectively keep my tomato stash under control...

Oh well. I don't care! I'm just so excited I can make these that I want to make stuffed tomatoes at least once a week. Winter be damned!

from my Greek mother-in-law
for 4 tomatoes

4 tablespoons arborio rice (or other medium to short grain rice)
4 whole, ripe tomatoes medium to large in size
1 398 ml can of diced tomatoes or about 1/2-1 cup of tomato sauce
1 medium onion
2 ounces regular ground beef
2 heaping tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley (fresh or from your freezer stash!)
1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste
1/3 cup water (more or less)
1 tblsp olive oil

Measure the rice out into a fine mesh strainer and wash under cool water. Set aside.

Slice the top off of each tomato, but leave a little bit of it attached to the side. Kind of like a hinge (a little door to your tomato filling!) and carefully scoop out the insides into a bowl. Place the emptied tomatoes into a small baking dish.

Here's where it gets weird. Open the can of chopped tomatoes and strain out as much tomato juice as possible (do not use any of the chopped tomatoes from the can. Save them for some other meal). You can also substitute tomato sauce instead. Add the juice to the fresh tomato insides you just scooped out. You can do it the Greek way and grate the tomato insides on a box grater or you can do it my cheat way and use an immersion blender to blend the chunks up with the tomato juice. Either way works. (I tried being all traditional but abandoned it before I had even one tomato done. Sorry. Hand-grating tomato insides is a punishment reserved for those in hell.)

Finely mince the onion (just think about where you're going to be stuffing it. You want the pieces to be small enough to fit in there). Again, you can totally box grate it up. I prefer a knife. That's me. Saute the onion with some oil on medium high heat until translucent. Add ground beef and cook until the beef is fully done. If you want these to be less oily, you can strain out the beef fat, but they just won't taste the same. Besides, it's only like a pinch of meat. You'll be ok.

Add half of the blended tomato juice mixture to the onion and beef; add the parsley, rice, salt and pepper and water (more or less depending on how watery the mixture looks. This is just to help in cooking the rice. If you're really not sure, add less as you can always add a little more if it reduces before the rice has finished cooking). Keep this mixture at a low simmer until the rice is done but al dente (not mushy and over-cooked) and the mixture has thickened up considerably.

how they should look before baking

Remove from heat and stuff the rice mixture into each tomato. Be very generous. Pour the remaining tomato juice mixture over the tomatoes and drizzle with the tablespoon of olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

To serve, invert the tomato onto the dish with the cut side down. Cuz it looks prettier. They taste AH-MAZING alone, but they're CRAZY good with tzatziki. Enjoy!

{note} This recipe is adaptable depending on the number of tomatoes you want to prepare. The basic rule is 1 tablespoon of rice per tomato and adjust your liquids accordingly. There's apparently no need to increase the amount of meat. In fact, I think I added a little bit more than she originally did.

{noted} You can omit the meat and make this a vegetarian meal, too, but then you're only allowed to call them stuffed tomatoes. The Greek part would be pretty much useless at that point.


Torviewtoronto said...

delicious looking stuffed tomatoes beautifully done

Laeli said...

I want. They look like a perfect treat. I'm glad I've got you to introduce me to these lovely things:)

Laeli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Made these but just cooked tomato insides with everything instead of sauce, and added a dash of lemon at the end. Delicious. Thank you for sharing.