May it Please the Palate: 'Gemista Me Spanakorizo'

Continuing a trend of featuring dishes with unpronounceable names, today I am writing about Gemista me Spanakorizo. (Last two articles were Aloo Gobi and Imam Bayildi.) But today, I am back to my homeland. (OK. So I was born in Pittsburgh. Indulge me.)

Spanakorizo is essentially spinach with rice (spanako = spinach; rizo = rice). Gemista literally means "stuffed" and has come to refer to any stuffed food. Ergo,"Gemista me spanakorizo" is "things stuffed with spinach and rice," but sounds a bit more exotic.

The spanakorizo by itself is a Lenten staple served throughout Greece. It's relatively simple, with onions, a little tomato, and dill. We're going to gussy up that puppy by stuffing it inside multi-colored peppers and tomatoes. It's a pretty dish, easy to make, loaded with flavor, and purely vegan.

For a more complete meal, serve with roast potatoes, lemon wedges, and - if you desire the Cheese of the Gods - Greek feta.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup of olive oil (substitute another oil if "strictly fasting" during Lent)

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. fresh spinach, chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

2 TBS tomato paste

2 3/4 cups of vegetable broth (I used Better than Bouillon)

1 cup brown rice

salt and pepper

pinch of Aleppo or crushed red pepper

for stuffing: 3-4 large peppers, green, red, and yellow; or substitute 2 beefsteak tomatoes for a red pepper

(optional) 2 potatoes, cut into wedges, and then halved

(optional) 1/2 lb. sheep and/or goat milk Feta

(optional)1 lemon, cut in wedges

Preparation:

Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy bottomed pot to medium. Sauté the onions a few minutes until translucent.

Add the chopped dill and spinach and sauté a few minutes more, until the spinach is wilted.

Warm the broth in a small saucepan and add the tomato paste. Reserve 1/4 cup of this mixture, and add the remaining 2 1/2 cups to the pot containing the spinach and onion. Add salt, pepper, and hot pepper to taste.

Bring mixture to a boil, add the rice, stir, and cover.

Reduce heat and simmer according to the rice's package directions until barely tender, just a bit al dente.

You have just made spanakorizo! You can eat this "as is." But it really sings when baked in those colorful vegetables. Lipón ... (that's Greek for, "Shall we move on to the next thing?" Sometimes used after an awkward moment.)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

While the rice is simmering, wash the peppers, core them, slice off the tops, and cut out the ribs, seeds, and membrane. Slice the peppers lengthwise if large. Otherwise slice off just enough of the bottom so they stand up evenly.

Wash the tomatoes, slice off and reserve the tops, and core them (I use a grapefruit spoon).

Boil an inch or two of water in another large pot and parboil the peppers for about four or five minutes. If using potatoes, add them to the water as well.

Get a large roasting pan and coat the bottom with a little olive oil and the reserved 1/4 cup of broth.

Dry the water out of the vegetables and place them in this pan. Spoon the spinach-rice mixture into them, about 3/4 full.

If using potatoes, toss them with a little olive oil, lemon, and salt, and strew them around the vegetables. Cover the pan with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and remove the foil. Drizzle olive oil over the stuffed vegetables. If using Feta, crumble over the tops as well. Return to the turned-off oven for five minutes to set.

Serve with lemon wedges, and if you feel the dish is just a touch too ascetic, enjoy with a good Greek wine, such as Tsantalis Rapsani Reserve if you can find it, or any medium bodied red or full flavored white.

You'll be pronouncing these dishes like a Greek in no time.

Lipón .... !

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a law firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine. He can be reached at: nroumel @nachtlaw.com

Published: Thu, Mar 8, 2012

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