This article should be called “Cretan Filled Tomatoes”, but it just didn’t happen. With this memory of mine, that I can never remember nothing which I didn’t write down, spoken recipes are bound to die.
This is one reason I started with Peeping Tummy; so I can go back and find out how to cook again that delicious piece. This is my living cook book.
Almost Cretan Filled Tomatoes story starts a couple of years ago. A day on a summer end, Evie called. “I’m at the airport, coming to your place.” “But I’m not home, I’m working.” “No problem, we’ll pick you up.”
So I ended up leaving work early. In some half an hour time, with Evie and her giant guitar case, we arrived to my place.
From the case she took out 17 liters of virgin olive oil.
Every autumn she packs liters of olive oil made by her family in Crete from their olive gardens. Somehow, she manages to carry it via plane. And that is our olive oil source for that year. How could we survive the winters here otherwise?
She unloaded her load and said, “I came to cook you Gemista: Cretan style filled tomatoes”.
How nice of her, coming all the way from Crete to inland, to cook me heaven. I think I had a gastro-blackout after that sentence. How we get to market to shop, how we prepared the rice and filled the tomatoes, I remember nothing. Only the moment of closing my eyes with pleasure with the first bite. Such a taste! Happiness is oven baked tomatoes filled with rice and… And what?
Suddenly now, some years later after this memory, I had a great taste for filled tomatoes. But now Evie was somewhere between Romania-Bulgaria-Istanbul-Izmir-Crete. Not the best time to call and ask for a recipe. So somehow, I had to find it in the depth of my memory.
“She put a bunch of fresh parsley and a bunch of fresh mint. She didn’t cook the rice before, filled them in raw and baked the tomatoes in their own juice…” I was doing my best to remember it exactly, it didn’t work. I ended up making my own recipe out of what I had at home.
The result was extraordinary.
I cut the top of the tomatoes. I took out the insides with a spoon and blended them. Tomatoes should be cooked in their own juice, this is what I remember from Cretan style.
I didn’t feel like filling the rice raw. This is hundred years of Ottoman legacy, asking me to roast them before cooking. I washed and roasted them it a bit in the pan with olive oil, mint, new spice and black pepper.
I wanted to add roasted walnut inside, but I didn’t have it at home. But I found sunflower seeds. I said why not, added them inside the rice while in the pan.
I added the tomato juice in the rice, and cook a bit in low fire. The rice now looked delicious, I could eat it even like that!
I filled the tomatoes, closed the lids, in an oven tray I placed the tomatoes, rest of the tomato juice and olive oil on the top, put inside the oven. When they were roasted on the top, I took them out. When they’re in room temperature, I added fresh thyme in their juice.
I was sure to eat them with Greek yogurt, but suddenly an idea appeared. I removed the lids of the tomatoes, spread some yogurt on them and closed the lids again.
Result: Looking perfect tasting perfect tomato fills.
Sunflower seeds were such a good idea, now I cannot image them without. Everyone marked the result with five stars.
• 12 tomatoes
• middle size onion
• rice (1 tablespoon for each tomato)
• sunflower seeds (1 teaspoon for each tomatoes)
• new spice, black pepper, salt, dry mint
• olive oil
• fresh thyme leaves, Greek yogurt
Filled Tomatoes a la Olive Oil Recipe
I. Wash the rice. Put inside a bowl, fill with water, set aside.
II. Cut the tops of the tomatoes. With a spoon, remove the insides of the tomatoes without damaging them. Collect the tomato seeds and flesh in a bowl, blend them with a blender until juiced.
III. Cut the onion in small cubes. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, roast the onion until transparent. Push them in the pan as they would cover 1/3 of the pan. Strain the rice, put it on the other 1/3 of the pan. Put sunflower seeds in the reminding empty part of the pan. Cook them separately on small fire fir 5 minutes.
IV. After 5 minutes, mix them up. Add salt, spices and 5 tablespoons of blended tomato juice. Close the lid and let it cook until no juice left. After cook, set it aside and wait until it’s a bit colder.
V. Put the tomatoes in a baking tray, salt the inner parts. With a spoon, distribute the rice mixture in them. Close their lids. Put some olive oil on them and put the rest of the tomato juice inside the tray. Roast in an already warmed oven in 170degrees until roasted on the top.
VI. Remove from the oven and set aside. After cooled down, place fresh thyme leaves in the sauce.
VII. While serving, remove the lid, spread some Greek yogurt on and place the lid. Serve with its sauce and thyme leaves.