The Mother Sauces: Tomato Yemista with Béchamel

Yemista is simply hollowed out vegetables (or fruit) stuffed with a filling often consisting of rice, vegetables and/or meat. It can be taken in a variety of directions but this tomato yemista is the way to go. Ripe tomatoes are the perfect vessels for this vegetarian version of the traditional Greek dish. The tomatoes are filled with a delicious combination of rice, bell pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, and oregano that imparts a peppery pungent note that keeps you coming back. Roasting brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, the skins blister beautifully and develop a bit of texture while the layer of béchamel on top turns golden brown thus creating a delicate crust that encapsulates the warm rich sauce.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes


Serves 4
Tomato yemista
⦁ 1 cup white rice
⦁ 2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
⦁ 8 medium ripe tomatoes
⦁ Olive oil
⦁ 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
⦁ Sea salt and black pepper
⦁ ½ green bell pepper, diced
⦁ ½ large onion, chopped
⦁ 4 garlic cloves, minced
⦁ ¼ cup tomato sauce
⦁ 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
⦁ 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
⦁ Pinch of dried basil

⦁ 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee
⦁ 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
⦁ 1 cup milk, warmed
⦁ Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
⦁ Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


For the yemista:
1. Rinse the rice under cold water then drain several times until the water runs clear. This removes the excess starch.
2. Bring the broth to a boil then add the rice. Stir.
3. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender but still has some bite.
4. Meanwhile, remove the tops from the tomatoes then scoop out the pulp. Drizzle the tomatoes with oil then set aside.
5. Add butter to the cooked rice. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper before fluffing with a fork.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
7. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
8. Sauté the bell pepper, onion, and garlic for 4 minutes or until softened and fragrant.
9. Pour in the tomato sauce and stir.
10. Add the rice then stir to evenly distribute the tomato sauce throughout the rice. Add the herbs and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
11. Loosely fill each tomato with the rice mixture until it is two thirds full. There may be some filling left over.
12. Transfer the tomatoes to a high-sided baking sheet.

To make the béchamel:
1. Melt the butter or ghee in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the flour.
3. Stir frequently with a whisk or rubber spatula for about a minute or until the butter and flour form a thick paste and no raw flour remains.
4. Pour in ¼ cup milk and whisk until the mixture resembles a thick paste.
5. Whisk continuously as you slowly pour in the remaining milk.
6. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Whisk constantly.
7. Reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 1 minute.
8. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg then remove from the heat.
9. Top each tomato with about 2 tablespoons of béchamel. You can use a spoon or even a gravy boat for this step.
10. Fill the baking sheet with half an inch of water.
11. Roast uncovered for 45 minutes. The béchamel should be golden brown when the tomatoes are done.
12. Plate and serve.

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