July 16th, 2012
Stuffed vegetables are soul food. To me, at least.
I remember watching my grandmother make stuffed peppers and tomatoes, a staple meal in her house, and can even taste the tangy feta crisped on top and melted into orzo inside the hollowed vegetables. I remember noticing that the veggies looks even more appealing shriveled, crisped, and curled than they did fresh and glistening from the market. The beauty of cooking before me. I didn’t know it then, but it was a formative observation.
In all my years of serious cooking, I’ve made stuffed vegetables three times, stuffed peppers only once. I couldn’t bring myself to make something that would surely be inferior to my yiayia’s cooking. Her food is untouchable. Yet, this recipe from White on Rice Couple (which was inspired by one from Heidi Swanson‘s fabulous cookbook—one of my favorites lately—Super Natural Every Day) caught my eye. To my surprise, it inspired my very first stuffed tomatoes.
My yiayia’s cooking will always be better than mine, no matter how good I get, but maybe I’m finding my own voice in the kitchen. After eating these Quinoa and Lentil Stuffed Tomatoes, I can promise that I’ll be making stuffed tomatoes and peppers more often. Maybe these are the taste of me hitting a new plateau.
I hope so, because I want stuffed vegetables to be soul food for my boys, too. I want them to remember what my hands look like as I spoon a bright and earthy filling into hallowed out summer tomatoes, or to think of me when they visit Greece and order “yemista” off of a menu. No matter where they travel or what they eat, I want them to remember that simple, wholesome home cooking is where the heart is. I want to do for them—and for you—what my grandma and her stuffed vegetables did for me.
I want this dish to make you feel like you’re home.
The greatest thing about stuffed vegetables is that they are easy to adapt and make your own. Diane talks about this on White on Rice Couple in her adaptation of Heidi’s recipe. She used what she had available and I did the same. You can, too. This is a very simple and forgiving recipe.
Start with fresh tomatoes. They are about to get otherworldly, so this is a good time to experiment with stuffed tomatoes.
Hollow them using a serrated knife. Cut off the top; cut around the inside edge of the tomato, leaving a 1/2″-thick wall; and score around the core.
Using a spoon, scoop out the tomatoes over a large bowl. You’re going to use some of the juice and flesh in the filling.
Make a filling and fill the tomato.
Bake and eat.
Quinoa and Lentil Stuffed Tomatoes
(can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main
4 large, ripe tomatoes, hollowed out (see note/pictures above)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing and finishing tomatoes
1 cup of flesh and juice scooped from the tomatoes, combined
1 cup cooked lentils
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
1 medium shallot, minced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, plus more to finish
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 350º F. Butter a medium baking dish and place tomato “shells” inside. Tomatoes should, ideally, touch lightly. Lightly brush the outsides of the tomatoes with olive oil. Set aside.
2. Prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl, combine tomato flesh & juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, lentils, quinoa, feta, basil, shallot, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix to combine well.
3. Spoon stuffing into tomatoes until they are filled to the top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until quinoa is cooked and tomatoes are browned in spots. If the tomatoes over brown before the quinoa is cooked, cover the tomatoes with aluminum foil for the duration of the cooking time. (As you test the quinoa, keep in mind that the top layer will be crunchy.)
4. Remove from oven, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh basil and, if you like, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
*Note: This is wonderful dish to share with even very beginner eaters. Just remove the tomato skin and pulse a small portion in blender.