BEST stuffed tomatoes you will come across! This stuffed tomato recipe is prepared Greek-style with a hearty, flavor-packed stuffing mixture of ground meat, rice with onions, garlic, fragrant spices like cumin, oregano, and nutmeg, and fresh herbs. A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps these stuffed tomatoes as they bake to delicious, tender perfection.
The step-by-step tutorial here walks you through exactly how to make these! And yes, you can prepare stuffed tomatoes a bit in advance. Serve them as a stunning side dish, but they can totally stand on their own as a main. Lots of ideas below!
It is not possible to talk about tomatoes, Greek recipes, or the Mediterranean diet without mentioning gemista--Greek stuffed vegetables like stuffed peppers or stuffed tomatoes! And, if you haven't tried stuffed tomatoes the Greek way before, you are in for a treat.
Three secrets to this amazing stuffed tomato recipe: a hearty, flavor-packed stuffing; sufficient amount of good extra virgin olive oil; and baking until the tomatoes collapse to tender perfection and the stuffing mixture inside is fully cooked through. Greek yiayias will tell you, if the stuffed tomatoes look too perfect, they're probably not very tasty!
These delicious, perfectly baked stuffed tomatoes may be considered a side dish in some Greek households; maybe served next to some lamb. But to me, these are delicious and hearty enough to stand on their own
I know these can be just a bit of a labor of love, but they are not complicated to make (and you can prepare them a little bit ahead of time.)
What's in these Baked Stuffed Tomatoes?
There are so many variations of gemista (or yemista) Greek stuffed tomatoes. The variations are mostly in what makes up the stuffing. This stuffing is made of a mixture of ground meat (lean ground beef, lamb, or turkey will work), rice, with crushed tomatoes. It's a simple and hearty mixture with a few flavor makers--cumin, oregano, allspice, nutmeg and fresh herbs.
To non-Mediterranean standards, it may seem that this stuffed tomato recipe has a lot of extra virgin olive oil. I use a bit more than ⅓ cup of our Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil, but trust me, some recipes call for even more! Like my Greek green beans, this is another Lathera dish, meaning “ones with oil." It's a whole category of Greek dishes where vegetables are meant to literally swim in quality extra virgin olive oil. Mmm so good!
Good extra virgin olive oil here helps beyond your expectations. It's what really makes these stuffed tomatoes so deep with flavor and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Step-By-Step Tutorial for Gemista Greek Stuffed Tomatoes
- First, rinse the rice and soak it in water for about 15 to 20 minutes until you are able to easily break one grain of rice between your finger tips. Drain rice.
- Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add extra virgin olive oil (I use about ⅓ cup. Don't skimp, it makes a big difference in flavor). Add chopped onions and garlic, cook briefly (do not brown)Add the ground meat (beef, lamb or turkey will work), season with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, allspice and nutmeg (should smell like heaven). Cook meat until fully browned.
- Now, add drained rice, crushed tomatoes, white wine and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower heat and let simmer about 10 minutes or so (the simmering is optional, but it does help the rice to cook better in the oven.) Season with kosher salt to taste.
- Prepare tomatoes for stuffing. First, cut the tomato tops (about ½ inch from the top). Do not discard tops. To loosen the flesh, go around the tomato edges with a pairing knife.
- Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the tomato flesh
- Now, tomatoes are fully emptied and the tomato "shells" are ready for stuffing. Do not discard the beautiful flesh, chop it up for later use in the baking pan
- Prepare a 9" x 13" baking pan (this is the one I use here). Oil the bottom with some good extra virgin olive oil and add the chopped tomato flesh and sliced onions to make a bed for the stuffed tomatoes. A sprinkle of salt if you like.
- Spoon the saucy meat and rice mixture you prepared earlier into each tomato shell. Arrange them on the bed of tomatoes and onions in the baking dish. Cover tomatoes with their tomato tops (I left one without a top here in this picture just to show you the inside)
- From one of the corners of your baking dish, carefully pour about ¾ cup of water. Sprinkle some salt and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes
- Cover and bake in 375 degrees F heated oven for about 30 to 45 minutes, then uncover and bake another 45 minutes to an hour (a total of 1 ½ hours should do it or until the rice is fully cooked.) Check to see if a little water might be needed.
Turn these Stuffed Tomatoes into a Greek dinner!
If you're going for a big Greek feast, you can totally use these as a stunning side to grilled lamb leg or slow-cooked lamb, chicken souvlaki, lemon chicken, or even pan-seared trout...the possibilities are endless.
But, I often serve these stuffed tomatoes as the main course next to things like tzatziki sauce, traditional Greek salad, grilled zucchini salad or Greek green bean salad. If we're looking for more out of our little meal, I might even do some Greek bean soup to start.
Can I prepare these ahead of time?
Yes, you have a couple options for to prepare this stuffed tomato recipe ahead of time...
- You can fully prepare and cook the stuffed tomatoes one evening in advance. Take them out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for a bit, then add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pan. Cover and warm through in a medium-heated oven.
- You can prepare the tomatoes and stuff them but do not bake them. Cover and refrigerate in a refrigerator-safe dish. Take them out a bit before baking so they are not too cold. Assemble in the baking dish as instructed and bake accordingly.
- Leftover stuffed tomatoes will keep well in the fridge for about 3 to 4 days, if properly stored in tight-lid containers. Serve at room temperature.
Other stuffed vegetable recipes: Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini; Stuffed Peppers; and Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls....oh and breakfast stuffed peppers.
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BEST Greek Stuffed Tomatoes (Gemista)
- Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
- Yield: 6 stuffed tomatoes 1x
This stuffed tomato recipe is prepared Greek-style with a hearty, flavor-packed stuffing mixture of ground meat, rice with onions, garlic, fragrant spices like cumin, oregano, and nutmeg, and fresh herbs. A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps these stuffed tomatoes as they bake to delicious, tender perfection. Perfect as a main dish with Greek salad and Tzatziki sauce or as a stunning side next to lamb or lemon chicken.
- ½ cup long grain rice
- Extra virgin olive oil (I used Private Reserve Greek olive oil)
- 1 large red onion halved, mince ½ of the onion and slice the other
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ lb lean ground beef (you can use ground lamb or turkey)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¾ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp allspice
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup white wine
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup chopped fresh spearmint
- 6 large tomatoes
- Rinse the rice well, place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes until you are easily able to break one grain of rice between your fingertips. Drain.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. And begin working on the stuffing mixture.
- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil and heat until just shimmering but not smoking. Add chopped onions (but not the sliced onions) and garlic, toss briefly until fragrant (do not brown the onions and garlic.) Add the ground meat, season with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, allspice and nutmeg. Cook the meat for about 5 minutes or until fully browned and cooked through (use a wooden spoon to break the meat apart to avoid large chunks.)
- When meat is fully browned, add drained rice it to the meat mixture in the skillet. Add crushed tomatoes, white wine, and water (a pinch of salt if you like.) Bring the saucy mixture to a boil, turn the heat down and let simmer for for just 10 minutes or so (the simmering is an optional step, but it is helpful to get the rice cooking a little bit.) When ready, stir in the fresh herbs. Season with kosher salt to taste.
- Meanwhile, prepare tomatoes for stuffing. Cut tomato tops (about ½ inch from top). Set the tops aside (they will be used later). Take a small pairing knife and carefully go around the edges of the tomato to loosen/separate the flesh. Then using a spoon, carefully scoop out the tomato flesh. Chop the flesh into large pieces and set it aside of later use (see photo in the tutorial above).
- Prepare a 9 x 13 baking pan (this is the one I used). Oil the bottom of the baking pan with extra virgin olive oil. Spread chopped tomato flesh and sliced onion the bottom of the baking dish and add the chopped tomato flesh and sliced onion to make a bed for the stuffed tomatoes.
- Now, spoon the saucy meat and rice mixture into the empty tomato shells. Arrange the stuffed tomatoes in the prepared baking dish. Cover the stuffed tomatoes with the reserved tops. From one of the corners of your baking dish, carefully pour about ¾ cup of water. Add a little pinch of salt and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in heated oven for about 30 to 45 minutes, then uncover and cook for another 45 minutes to 1 hour or so (a total of 1 ½ hours or until the rice is fully cooked. The tomatoes will collapse well and become super tender.) Be sure to check during baking and add a little water if needed.
- Cook's Tip: The tomatoes are meant to lose their shape here, the important thing is that the rice in the stuffing is fully cooked.
- Cook's Tip: If you want to use brown rice, that is possible, but you will need to adjust the liquid and cooking time accordingly. Brown rice does take longer to cook through.
- Serving Tip: To serve these as a main course, allow 1 to 2 stuffed tomatoes per person (depending on what you serve along). To serve them as a side dish, ½ stuffed tomato per person works well.
- Prepare Ahead Options: You can fully prepare and cook the stuffed tomatoes the night before you need to serve them. Take them out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for a bit, then add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pan, cover and warm through in a medium-heated oven. OR you can prepare the tomatoes and stuff them but do not bake them. Cover and refrigerate in a refrigerator-safe dish. Take them out a bit before baking so they are not too cold. Assemble in the baking dish as instructed and bake accordingly.
- Leftovers will last about 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator in tight-lid containers.
- Recommended for this Recipe: Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil (from organically grown and processed Koroneiki olives) and from our spice collection: cumin, allspice, and nutmeg.
- Visit The Mediterranean Dish store to browse our olive oils, spices, and more!
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Category: Entree
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Greek
Keywords: Stuffed Tomatoes, Greek Stuffed Tomatoes, Gemista, Stuffed Tomato Recipe
Hi Suzy, I'm just wondering for your stuffed tomatoes can I cook rice before hand then place in tomatoes ?
Sure, Belinda! That should be just fine.
Do you think cauliflower rice ,instead of regular rice, would work with this recipe? Thanks!
It, might, Lulu, but I've never made that substitution myself. If you give it a try, I'd love to hear your feedback!
I grew up in Greece and have been cooking yemista for years, but never soaked the rice! I appreciate this tip!
Your recipe is delicious!
Just made the stuffed tomatoes ... added golden raisins...a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper for punch.... unbelievably delish!!!!!
Yum! Thanks, Barbara!
Love your recipes, Suzy! My Pinterest boards are full of them. I’ve tried so many and they’ve become family favourites. I love the idea of this Greek stuffed tomato dish, and was wondering about making it lighter for summer by making it vegetarian? Should I add cheese or different ingredients , still want to keep it traditional.
Your recipes here are simple, delicious and so popular with my family. Thank you!
Thank you, Fiona! You can make it vegetarian by using a combination of rice and herbs, and you may even add something like canned chickpeas, if you like.
You can increase the rice amount and add lightly roasted pine nuts and feta cheese to make a vegetarian version that is thoroughly Greek.
can i freeze the leftover meat/rice and thaw it later on to stuff tomatoes?
Hi Vivian. That's a possibility. What I have done in the past is actually cook the meat and rice fully and freeze it already cooked for quicker preparation the next time.
My second time following your recipe! Quadrupled the recipe as i have a few care packages to hand out 🙂 Thanjs for great, easy and yummy recipe!
My pleasure, Agatha! I hope everyone enjoys the tomatoes!
I'm making this tonight! it's amazing how this recipe differs from Greek to Greek LOL. Respectfully however I feel that your recipe is more complicated than it needs to be. For instance, I have found that you do not need to precook the ground meat and associated ingredients before stuffing your vegetables, be they tomatoes or peppers. I do my mixture: rice, raw ground meat and associated ingredients including spices and olive oil (I prefer to use pork or even ground turkey) mix everything together well, and then stuff the veggies prior to cooking.
Also, I use the guts of the tomato, chopped up finely and added to the same meat mixture for added moisture - it helps cook the rice and keeps the meat tender if you're using something leaner. I personally do not use strained tomatoes in my mixture as I find them too overpowering due to their concentration.
The length of time that they are in the oven more than cooks the meat through, and the rice plumps up nicely as well with the added moisture of the chopped, fresh tomato guts in the mixture. Lastly, I add some roast potatoes around the stuffed veggies and roast them at the same time. Just give them a quick toss in some salt and pepper, smoked paprika and olive oil and nestle them in between.
Recipes differ from one family to another. But thank you for sharing your version, although the star rating is not based on you actually trying this recipe 🙂
Suzy, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all of your recipes!!! Can I use brown rice in place of white for this recipe, stuffed peppers or really any of your recipes calling for rice? Thank you in advance!
Hey Carol, thank you so much. Brown rice takes quite a bit longer and more liquid to cook. You can use it in this recipe, but I might advice you to pre-cook the rice and then mix it in.
Sounds interesting. We make my Greek grandmothers recipe. I'm confused why you would use canned crushed tomatoes when you can have fresh crushed from hollowing out the tomatoes. This is how we do it. Just curious.
We use both often, Angleina.
I could use your help. I have followed your directions, to a tee, twice now and consider myself an intermediate level cook. I have soaked, just under 3/4 cup of long rice (not brown), for almost 25 minutes as I made eight (8) tomatoes and not six (6) as you directed. Before placing them in the oven, I simmer the rice with spices and lean ground beef for almost 15 minutes. I cooked the tomatoes covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for almost an hour. The rice is harder upon completion than when I soaked it in water. Why can't I get the rice to cook? Like another commenter, I have a lot of water in the baking pan so I know it isn't due to dryness.
Hmmm...this sounds like a lot of cooking time, I'm a bit perplexed myself. A couple of things I can think of: 1) Make sure you rinse the rice real well 2) Soak as long as you need to until you are able to very easily break one grain of rice between your hands. 3) If you want, go ahead and par-cook the rice for a longer time with the meat. Allow it to cook on higher heat for about 5 minutes, then lower heat and cover and cook for another 15 minutes or so...check at this point to see that the rice is nearly cooked, but not quite. I don't typically have to do this, but some rice brands are different and do require more work. So I feel, if you cook the rice a good part of the way, it should yield better results for you. All the best!
Hi! Do you have a suggestion for what to do with the leftover stuffing? I have so much left over - do you think it would freeze well? What do you do with it? Thank you!
Great question. You can cook the leftover rice stuffing in its own pot. Place it in a lightly oiled pot, add just enough water to cover the rice by say about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch or so, bring it to a boil till the water is well reduced, then turn heat to low and cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until fully cooked. This resembles hashweh rice with meat, so I would cook it similarly. You can see the Hashweh recipe here: https://www.themediterraneandish.com/lebanese-rice-hashweh-recipe/
My family and I got back from a Euro trip almost two weeks ago. Greece (Athens & Imerovigli, Santorini) was one of the countries we visited and we had so much good food there. After visiting the Acropolis, we stopped by a restaurant in Plaka and I ordered their Gemista and it was delicious. I loved it so much I just had to try and make them myself. I would rate my culinary skills somewhere along the lines of beginner. This recipe was easy to prep and cook and the end result was... well we were quiet while eating and enjoying the flavors. Plates were cleaned, bellies full, and happiness followed.
I ended up using four huge tomatoes I found that were the size of grapefruits. While in the oven, the tomatoes were sweating so much, it filled half the pan. I thought I might have ruined it or made a mistake somewhere but I ended up serving the tomatoes in a soup plate and spooned the left over juices. So delicious.
Maynard, thank you so much for your kind comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed these stuffed tomatoes. And honestly, if your tomatoes were more juicy and released a lot more liquid, that's not always a bad thing as you discovered! Thanks for sharing!
You have changed a setting in your website. I used to be able to copy and paste your recipes into Word. Now they past with a green background which makes the reciple unreadable.
Hi there, the recipes are available to print directly or save on pinterest. The two options are provided in the recipe card. Enjoy!
Gemista, or stuffed vegetables (particularly tomatoes) is a classic Greek dish, especially in summers. I love using freshly ripened tomatoes when we make this at home!