Do you love stuffed vegetables — gemista? Read on to learn how you can prepare this favorite Greek food in the most healthful way possible. Who’s got the best recipe?
Gemista (stuffed vegetables)
Gemista is a common traditional Greek dish often served in the summer months. Essentially, gemista is various vegetables (often tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and eggplants) stuffed with rice and/or meat, and plenty of herbs. Many prefer the vegan version and stuff them with rice alone. Additional ingredients may include pine nuts, raisins, cheese, and more. The recipe itself varies depending on which part of Greece it comes from – think regional herbs, etc. It’s a colorful and tasty plate, and while it’s typically a recipe made when the vegetables are in season, it can be prepared and enjoyed all year round.
Read on to see how you can supercharge your favorite gemista recipe so that you may benefit from its maximum nutrition.
While there are literally hundreds of different types of rice available, white rice is usually used for this dish. The most nutritionally dense way to cook rice (specifically long grain), is the absorption method: Simmer rice until it has absorbed all of its cooking water. Cook rice with this technique. It yields higher nutritional values than straining the water.
Note: Due to growing practices, certain types of rice are found to have high amounts of arsenic. If arsenic levels in rice concern you, skip the absorption method and instead boil rice like pasta and drain excess water once cooked. This technique removes much of the arsenic found in rice. Another way to remove arsenic is to rinse rice well before cooking. Keep in mind that arsenic levels are much higher in brown rice. Also, “white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S., on average, have half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.”
Replace cooking water with a high-quality bone and/or vegetable broth. Electrolytes found within bone broth include calcium, magnesium, and potassium (along with many other minerals), which support healthy circulation, bone density, nerve signaling functions, heart health, and digestive health. By cooking rice in broth, you benefit from these additional nutrients as well.
Add coconut oil
While cooking the rice, add a teaspoon of coconut oil. This reduces the number of calories you end up eating (if you’re counting calories) by 50%. Coconut oil increases the number of resistant starch levels found in the rice, which are non-digestible, ultimately allowing you to consume fewer calories. The trick? Take the extra time to cook rice the night before so that it can cool for at least 12 hours for this method to work. That’s food chemistry at its finest, and worth it!
PREBIOTIC BONUS: Another benefit of resistant starch is that it helps feed the good bacteria found in our gut (prebiotic), ultimately improving digestive health. Eat gemista cold – it’s the perfect way to receive these prebiotic benefits. Not only will your taste buds appreciate it — since many (including myself) find that gemista actually taste better cold– but your digestive system will as well.
Peppers and tomatoes
The two main vegetables most commonly used for this dish are peppers and tomatoes. Both contain high amounts of beta-carotene, which is what gives them their bright colors. The body converts Beta-carotene to vitamin A. This vitamin is needed for healthy eyes, skin, and immune support. It’s also is anti-aging. An additional characteristic of Vitamin A is that the body needs it to efficiently assimilate protein. Perfect if you’re adding in ground beef to stuffed peppers, since beta-carotene found in tomatoes and peppers will help your body optimally convert the beef’s protein.
Keep in mind that both tomatoes and peppers are found on The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) dirty dozen list, so use organic versions to make gemista. That way you can enjoy the health benefits AND avoid unnecessary toxins at that same time.
Saute ground beef with plenty of chopped fresh garlic and onions. The organosulfur compounds in these two vegetables help offset many of meats’ associated cancer causing agents. In addition, they add plenty of taste to the final product.
Tip: Using bone broth to cook your rice? Add in a bit while sautéing the meat to help your body assimilate the methionine found in the ground beef.
Methionine is an amino acid found in muscle meat (in the connective tissues). Overconsumption is believed to lead to excess levels of this amino acid in the body. Methionine converts to homocysteine, another amino acid. High amounts of homocysteine have been linked to a variety of diseases including cardiovascular disease, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
If you enjoy lots of meat, not only in gemista but overall, add supplemental glycine to your dish to help balance out excess methionine in your body. High-quality bone broth and/or gelatin contain large amounts of glycine. Even though our bodies can produce some glycine, due to the amount and type of meat people consume, unfortunately, the body can’t keep up. Obviously, the ancient, traditional practice of consuming the whole animal is not feasible for most and adding in bone broth and/or gelatin to ground beef, instead, may help to balance out methionine consumption.
As always, be sure to use grass-fed, rather than conventionally-raised ground beef. Grass-fed beef has higher levels of macro and micronutrients, and tastes better, too! You’ll also avoid many unwanted toxins.
Drizzle some ladi
Finally, drizzle plenty of extra virgin Greek olive oil on top of the final product. The plant-based fat allows for optimal absorption of all of the abundant beta-carotene (mentioned above), which in turn, leads to optimal nutritional assimilation.
Supercharge your gemista!
Next time you make gemista, follow these techniques. Not only will you enjoy your favorite traditional Greek dish, but you’ll also help your body fight off many modern-day health issues. Gemista is a perfect combination of traditional taste and relevant science for today’s modern day world.
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She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.