Think fresh, delicious and healthy. Mediterranean cuisine is rich with flavors and spices. The abundance of fresh, seasonal produce makes preparing Mediterranean dishes simple and easy. Incorporating Mediterranean foods into the diet is not only delectable, but healthy. It offers a cornucopia of health benefits such as reducing inflammation, reducing depression and supporting the cardiovascular system.
Both Greek and Middle Eastern are considered Mediterranean diets and include plenty of vegetables, fish and whole grains — heart healthy diets. They include some meat and dairy, mostly in the form of cheese and yogurt and are eaten in moderation. The Greeks are renowned for their feta and yogurt while Middle Easterners make labneh, a soft, cream cheese made from strained yogurt and Halloumi, a cheese made from goat and sheep milk that can be grilled or fried.
In Mediterranean cuisine, vegetables are often cooked or roasted with olive oil. The diet also includes nuts, olives and olive oil. Hummus is eaten in both Greek and Middle Eastern cultures. There are many variations to this fabulous gluten-free dip made with chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, fresh parsley and olive oil. The Middle Eastern version adds cumin.
Hummus is served with pita bread or flat bread and a platter of vegetables such as carrots, celery, roasted vegetables and olives. A roasted vegetable hummus is a delicious variation on the traditional version. Herbs and spices such as Za’atar, harissa, turmeric, saffron, cumin and sumac are used in Middle Eastern cuisine, while herbs and spices such as oregano, rosemary and thyme are used in Greek cuisine.
Whole grains are a staple in Mediterranean cultures. Tabbouleh salad is a delectable whole-grain salad made with bulgur, parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes and lemon juice. Variations include green onion, red onion, red wine vinegar and cucumber. It’s the perfect dish to prepare for a potluck event.
Quinoa makes for a delicious gluten-free option. Couscous, a Middle Eastern grain, is an easy whole grain to prepare. There are three types of couscous: Moroccan couscous, which is the smallest of the couscous grains; Israeli couscous, also called pearl couscous which is larger and looks like a small pellet of pasta; and Lebanese couscous, also called Moghrabieh couscous, which is the biggest grain and takes a bit longer to cook. Any of these make a great side dish and are fabulous in a salad; add beets and feta cheese with diced vegetables such as celery, red peppers and red onion; olive oil and lemon juice and enjoy a healthy lunch or dinner. Special mention goes to farro an ancient grain that is a healthy side dish and goes great with chicken.
In the Middle East, the falafel reigns. This chickpea patty is generally fried but is equally delicious baked and served with a tahini dressing. Baba Ghanoush, a roasted eggplant and tahini dip goes well with pita bread. Shakshouka, a poached egg dish cooked in tomatoes and spices, is excellent for breakfast.
Stuffed grape leaves can be found on Greek, Lebanese and other Middle Eastern menus and are thought to have originated in Turkey or Armenia. They are unique and delicious stuffed with herbed rice or meat. Spanikopita, a Greek savory pastry made with phyllo dough has a traditional filling of chopped spinach, feta cheese, onions, egg and spices.
Lamb is the meat of choice and eaten in moderation. The lamb is vertically roasted and turns on a spit known as gyro (pronounced yee-ro). The Greek gyro is prepared with thin slices of meat placed in pita with onions, lettuce, tomatoes topped with Tzatziki dressing of yogurt, garlic, shredded cucumber, olive oil and fresh dill. The Middle Eastern version is the Shawarma.
If you’re looking for something different to serve this Labor Day Weekend, consider a Mediterranean spread. Make a Greek salad topped with feta cheese, cherry or heirloom tomatoes, olives and pepperoncini and a dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Roast or grill some fish and vegetables drizzled with a bit of olive oil and salt. Make hummus or Baba Ganoush. Serve a platter of fresh feta and olives and enjoy a simple and lovely Mediterranean meal.
Recipe courtesy Priya Hutner
3 medium eggplants
2 cloves garlic
¼ C lemon juice
¼ C tahini
¼ C olive oil
¼ C fresh parsley (put some aside for garnish)
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lay whole eggplants on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or on a silicon mat. Roast eggplant for 35 to 45 minutes. Make sure to rotate it a few times. When the eggplants are tender, remove from oven and let sit until cool.
Peel off skin and scoop out the meat of the eggplant. Blend ingredients in food processer. Cumin and paprika are lovely options. Serve with pita bread, pita chips or crudité.