The traditional eating habits of the Mediterranean people are based on the agricultural products of their region, which has a long growing season and a rather mild climate. The traditional diets of the Greeks, French, Italians, Spaniards and Middle Easterners reflect distinct cuisines and culinary practices, but they also have a great deal in common.
Certain foods, such as beef and butter, were never very popular in the Mediterranean region because the region did not support the expansive grazing lands required to raise large quantities of buffalo and steer. Most cheeses are made from sheep’s milk and are lower in cholesterol than those made from cow’s milk. The region’s climate is favorable to growing olive trees, so olive oil is abundant and used in cooking instead of butter. With its monounsaturated fat, olive oil is much healthier than butter.
The Mediterranean peoples consume fish, poultry, game and lamb rather than beef. The meat of sheep, goats and chickens contains some fat, of course, but Mediterraneans usually consume far less meat than their northern European neighbors. Wine, which has certain health benefits, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and regions like Italy and southern France have, historically, produced wine and wine is what is served with meals.
Research suggests that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern may be many: improved weight loss, better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels and reduced risk of depression, to name a few. Eating like a Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil and it features fish and poultry—lean sources of protein—over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts. Here are a few recipes that can get you started on eating like a Mediterranean.
Eggplant Souvlaki with Yogurt Sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for the grill
- Pinch each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 1 small eggplant, trimmed and cut into 20 1/2-inch-wide half-moon pieces
- 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
- 1 large yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/2 cup pitted black olives
- 1/2 cup diced red onion
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 6-inch whole-grain pitas
- 2 cups lightly packed trimmed baby spinach leaves
- 1/3 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 metal or wooden 12 inch skewers (soaked if using wooden) or 8 smaller skewers (6-8 inches)
In a large bowl, whisk together lemon zest, 1/4 cup lemon juice, garlic, oregano, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Transfer half of the dressing to a second large bowl. Add tomatoes and eggplant to the first large bowl, tossing to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes.
To prepare salad:
To the second large bowl, add cucumber, bell pepper, olives and onion; toss well with dressing and set aside.
Prepare the yogurt sauce:
In a small bowl, combine all yogurt sauce ingredients. Set aside in the refrigerator until serving.
Heat grill to medium-high and lightly oil the grate with cooking oil. If it is too cold to grill where you live, a stovetop grill or grill pan can be used.
On each skewer, thread tomatoes and eggplant, dividing ingredients evenly among the skewers. Mist skewers with cooking spray.
Place skewers on the grill; close lid and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender. On an indoor grill turn skewers often to cook evenly.
Mist pitas with cooking spray and grill, turning once, until lightly toasted and warm, about 1 minute. Cut into quarters and divide among 4 serving plates.
Add spinach to the salad and toss. Serve with souvlaki, yogurt sauce and pita bread.
Farro, Shrimp & Tomato Risotto
- 28 oz canned or boxed Italian diced tomatoes with juices
- 2 large leeks, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
- 1 large bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 cups farro, rinsed
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
In a large Dutch oven, add tomatoes, leeks, fennel, farro, broth, tomato paste and 1 1/2 cups water; stir to break up tomato paste. Cover, bring to boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes or until the farro is tender.
Remove lid, add shrimp and stir to combine. Replace lid and continue cooking until shrimp are pink and opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Divide among soup bowls and garnish with parsley.
Swiss Chard with Olives
- 2 bunches (about 1 1/4 pounds) Swiss chard, trimmed and washed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup pitted and roughly chopped Kalamata olives (about 16)
- 1/2 cup water
Separate leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard. Roughly chop leaves and set aside. Cut stems into 1-inch pieces.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper, and saute until onion is translucent about 6 minutes.
Add Swiss chard stems, olives and the water; cover and cook 3 minutes.
Stir in Swiss chard leaves; cover and continue cooking until stems and leaves are tender, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Lemon Chicken with Potatoes & Artichokes
- 6 small red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 6 – 5-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch
- 12 oz package frozen artichokes, thawed
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus additional for garnish
Season chicken with salt and black pepper. In a large skillet with a cover over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add chicken and cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side to quickly brown. Remove chicken pieces to a plate.
Reduce skillet heat to medium-low and add the remaining oil and garlic; cook for 1 minute, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the potatoes and peppers and cook for about 4 minutes, until the potatoes begin to brown.
In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, yogurt and arrowroot and whisk until smooth. Stir yogurt mixture into the skillet. Stir in artichokes and dill. Return chicken pieces to the skillet, nestling them on top of the vegetable mixture.
Cover the skillet and cook for 30 minutes, until the artichokesand potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened.
Serve chicken and vegetables with the sauce and garnish with additional dill.
Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus and, subsequently, gained popularity throughout the Middle East region. The cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella and has a salty flavor.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound homemade or store bought whole-wheat pizza dough at room temperature, recipe below
- 1 cup (4 ounces) haloumi or feta or ricotta salata cheese
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a pizza pan.
Place tomatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon oil in a food processor; season with salt and pepper. Pulse 3 to 4 times until ingredients are incorporated but chunky.
Place the dough in the pizza pan. Using your hands stretch the dough until it covers the surface of the pan.
Spread tomato sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with cheese and pine nuts; season with salt and pepper.
Bake until the crust is golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
Toss arugula with vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle arugula and olives over baked pizza. Cut into serving pieces.
Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
Makes 2 one pound loaves.
- 1/2 cup warm (115 degrees) water
- 2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
Place water in a large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.
In the bowl with the yeast, whisk in the sugar, oil and salt. Stir in flours with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to the oiled bowl; brush top of dough with oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands, knead until smooth, about 15 seconds; divide into two balls.
Use one ball of dough for the pizza above and freeze the second dough for another time.