Yaya's Yemistes

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stuffed vegetables, also known as yemistes

I’m often amazed at how a food smell can create a memory that stays with you for years to come – one whiff and you are instantly transported back to that time or place.

For me fresh mint still reminds me of walking out of my yaya’s (my Greek grandmother) back door and getting a waft of the fresh mint growing in abundance in her backyard. The smell of sausage rolls still takes me back to sitting on the classroom floor as the lunch orders arrive and fresh passionfruit conjures memories of picking them from the trellis on my nana’s back fence and eating them with her in the backyard; the tangy juice dripping in our hands and running down our arms.

The photo pictured here is one of my very favourites showing my yaya as a young woman in Sparta and the the little girls hand she's holding is my mum.

Both of my grandmothers always loved to feed me and no matter what time of the day or night I turned up they would always whip up one of my favourites.

I have many favourite dishes that my yaya used to cook especially for me. Her thick cut homemade potato chips – crisp and golden on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. To this day, I long for them, as well as her yemistes (stuffed vegetables) and her ryzogalo (rice pudding).  I still remember my delight when I would enter the kitchen and see the warm cinnamon-dusted puddings waiting for me on her kitchen bench.

Unfortunately, I was too young to fully appreciate how special these recipes were and how much they would come to mean to me. It’s taken me years to find recipes that taste just like yaya used to make and this week I’m sharing them with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
If you have a special food memory I’d love you to share yours with us too.

Yemistes - Greek stuffed vegetables

3 large tomatoes
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 small zucchini
1 large eggplant
3/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion (grated)
2 ¼ cups medium-grain rice
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1/4 tsp allspice
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1- 2 cups (250-500ml) tomato juice
salt and pepper


  1. Slice off and reserve the tops of the tomatoes, peppers and zucchini.
  2. Scoop out the pulp from the tomatoes and zucchini with a spoon and seed the peppers without piercing the skin (I use a melon baller). 
  3. Sprinkle the interior of the vegetable ‘shells’ with a little salt and set aside. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out most of the flesh to form two shells. Blanch the eggplant and zucchini shells in boiling water for five minutes, then drain.
  4. Arrange all the vegetable shells in a large lightly greased ovenproof dish (you may need two dishes).
  5. Finely chop the scooped-out flesh from the tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.
  6. Heat half the oil in a pan over high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato, eggplant and zucchini flesh and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat, stir in the rice, mint, tomato paste, tomato ketchup and allspice, and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Preheat oven to 180˚C. Fill the vegetable shells three-quarters full with the mixture and replace the tops on the tomatos and peppers. Put the potato wedges between the stuffed vegetables, season with salt and pepper and pour over the tomato juice.
  9. Spoon the remaining oil over potatoes and vegetables. Bake about 2 hours or until lightly browned and cooked through. If the tops begin to brown too quickly, cover loosely with a sheet of baking paper, then foil.
  10. Check the vegetables every 30 minutes, basting them with the liquid in the pan as you do. You may need to add a little more tomato juice and oil to prevent sticking.
  11. Serve hot or at room temperature.

    Recipe from Vefa’s Kitchen

Ryzogalo - Greek rice pudding

1 litre of full cream milk
120 grams of washed long grain white rice
125 grams of sugar
1 tsp of good quality vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
zest of half a large lemon
2 tbsp cold milk
2 tbsp cornflour
2 egg yolks
cinnamon for dusting


  1. Place the milk in a saucepan and let it come to a simmer (about 10 mins).
  2. Add the rice, cinnamon stick and lemon zest and let it all cook for another 15-20 mins.
  3. In a separate saucepan, whisk together the two tablespoons of cold milk, cornflour and egg yolks and simmer over a low heat until thickened.
  4. Add the egg mixture together with the sugar and vanilla extract to the rice and milk.
  5. Increase your temperature to medium high and continue to stir everything until it becomes nice and thick.  (This may take anywhere between 5 and 10 mins.)
  6. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  7. Once cooled, remove the cinnamon stick and pour into four individual bowls or six medium-sized ramekins.
  8. Place in the fridge until ready to consume.
  9. Before serving, make sure to sprinkle a good helping of cinnamon on top.

    Recipe by ‘Souvlaki for the Soul’

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