The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the west and north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. I will be writing about the Mediterranean countries and their cuisines during the next year. I will start with Portugal on the west side and work around the map to include all the countries on the Mediterranean Sea.

This region is rich in a wide variety of ingredients and spices that give ordinary food lots of flavor. The food of the Mediterranean region is prepared with fresh, healthy ingredients that are actually good for you.

The concept of a Mediterranean diet was developed to reflect food patterns typical of Crete, Greece and southern Italy in the early 1960s. Although this diet was first publicized in 1975 by the American biologist, Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret Keys (his wife and collaborator), the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s. Objective data, showing that the Mediterranean diet is healthy, originated from results of studies in Naples and Madrid and later confirmed by the Seven Countries Study, with its first publication in 1970.

Olive Trees

The essentials of the Mediterranean kitchen include extra virgin olive oil, several different kinds of beans, both dried and canned, long-grain and short-grain rice, cornmeal for polenta and flour for bread, pasta in a variety of shapes, canned tomatoes and condiments like dried mushrooms and herbs.

 

For me the best source on how to switch to a Mediterranean style of eating is Nancy Harmon Jenkins, in her well-known book,

THE NEW MEDITERRANEAN DIET COOKBOOK: A DELICIOUS ALTERNATIVE FOR LIFELONG HEALTH

Nancy advises:

Use olive oil as your go to fat for cooking. Use more whole grains. Even though Mediterranean cooks seldom use whole wheat pasta or brown rice, they still get plenty of whole grains through dishes like tabbouleh and bulgur pilaf. Also bread throughout the Mediterranean is often made with unrefined wheat and barley flours.

Begin each meal with a salad. Make it from crisp greens and whatever vegetables are in season—tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, scallions, carrots, fennel, celery, chicory and beans. Add dark green leaf lettuces like oak leaf and romaine. Make your own salad dressing made with olive oil.

Every day try to get in at least one serving each of cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables—broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and mustard greens—and bright-colored vegetables and fruits that are rich in antioxidants. Also carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and yellow squash, as well as fruits, like apricots and cantaloupe. Experiment with different vegetables, ones that may not be familiar—artichokes, leeks, fava beans, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), celery root and a variety of greens.

Vegetables don’t have to be served separately—vegetable combinations, vegetables cooked in a sauce for pasta, vegetables served cut up in a soup, are all ways to increase the quantity consumed.

Cut down on the amount of meat consumed. One easy way to cut meat consumption is with stews that feature meat as an incidental to lots and lots of vegetables. Or make a hearty soup the main course, with bread, a little cheese and salad to accompany it.

Here are some basic dishes that are found across the Mediterranean table. They are great for tapas dishes, or on an antipasto, as a condiment or side dish.

 

Marinated Olives

Ingredients

1½ cups mixed black and green olives, a combination of Sicilian green olives, Greek Kalamata olives and Spanish green olives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary,
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, sliced thin

Directions

Remove the needles from the rosemary sprig. Discard the stem and chop the needles.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the olives from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving to allow them to come to room temperature. Store any leftover olives in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.

Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
15 oz canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)—rinsed and drained
½ cup tahini
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup jarred or homemade roasted red peppers, chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally. Pour into a serving bowl and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill or mint
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Scrape the seeds out of the cucumber halves using the pointy end of a teaspoon and discard.

Grate the cucumber flesh into a bowl then squeeze out any excess moisture using your hands,(a small handful at a time.

Place the grated cucumber into a large bowl and add the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, dill, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.

Place the tzatziki in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (and preferably overnight) to let the flavors blend.

All-Purpose Dressing

Ingredients

2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
½ clove garlic, grated
¼ teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Shake together all the ingredients in a jar until well combined.

Tapenade

Tapenade can be used to season grilled fish or chicken. It is also delicious spread on toasted baguette slices and topped with chopped tomatoes or simply serve it with crackers or crusty bread and vegetable crudités for dipping.

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon capers
2 anchovy fillets
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Serve at room temperature.

Peppers and Onions

Ingredients

6 bell peppers, a variety of colors
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
1 thinly sliced medium onion
1 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

To blister the peppers, place them on a hot grill or under the broiler. Turn on all sides until the skins are completely blackened.

Immediately transfer to a large resealable plastic bag or place in a large bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap to seal. Let sit for 30 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Working with one pepper at a time, transfer to a work surface. Remove the skin, stem, and seeds.

Cut the peppers into 2-inch strips.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan (over medium-high heat).

Add the sliced onions and sauté until the onions soften. Reduce heat to low heat and add the garlic and the sliced peppers. Add the salt and black pepper

Cover the pan and let the mixture stew together for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a storage bowl.

Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Toss with the olive oil, vinegar and parsley just before serving.

Sautéed Greens

Ingredients

3 lbs fresh greens, stems removed and washed in several changes of water
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

Directions

Place the greens with the washing water still clinging to the leaves in a large pot.Cook on low until completely wilted and tender, depending on the type of greens used.

Drain and cut the leaves into smaller pieces.

Place the olive oil, garlic and chili in the empty pot and heat over low until the garlic is tender but not brown.

Add the drained greens and cook just until hot. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in salt to taste and the lemon juice.

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