I recently wrote a series of Cooking Tips on Healthy Eating and Cooking. Although I did not use the term “Mediterranean”, much of what I wrote about is very consistent with eating a Mediterranean diet. Since this is a very healthy way to cook and eat, I thought I would write this Cooking Tip on that very subject.
The term “Mediterranean cuisine” is not synonymous with the term “Mediterranean diet”. The cuisine of the Mediterranean is of a great variety as there are twenty-one countries bordering the Mediterranean. When the Mediterranean diet is referenced, most are referring to how they eat in Italy, Spain, southern France, Greece, the isle of Crete and the Middle East. All of these have a focus on the following type of diet.
- Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, locally grown foods
- Abundant plant foods – vegetables, fruit, cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds
- Primary source of fat is olive oil
- Moderately high intake of fresh fish and low intake of poultry and meat
- Moderate amounts of dairy products, mostly cheese that is not high in fat as well as yogurt
- Garlic, nuts, herbs, spices all add flavor & interest
- Potatoes & rice are eaten in restraint
- Pasta is a side or first course, not a main course
- Dessert is usually fresh fruit or, in some cases, honey-based sweets
- Moderate alcohol consumption, preferably from wine and usually with meals
If you wish to start cooking and eating this way, start with stocking your pantry and refrigerator the Mediterranean way. Following is a list of common ingredients although it is far from complete.
- Olive oil, usually extra-virgin (For a more in-depth discussion of olive oil, see this Tip.)
- Herbs – common Mediterranean herbs are parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, fennel, bay, tarragon, lemon verbena and oregano. As much as possible, try to use fresh herbs. Oregano might be one exception.
- Spices – cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, anise, saffron, sumac, za’atar and Aleppo pepper.
- Dairy – cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk as well as yogurt.
- Beans and lentils
- Rice and grains, especially ones such as bulgur, farro, barley, wheat berries and quinoa. For more info, see this Tip.
- Vinegars – balsamic, red wine and white wine
- Pomegranate molasses – this is reduced pomegranate juice used especially in Middle Eastern and Persian cooking.
- Preserved lemons – lemons pickled in salt and their own juices. Common in North African dishes.
- Rose water – water that has been infused with the essence of rose and is often used in Middle Eastern, Indian and Persian cuisines.
- Harissa – a spicy, fruity chili paste.
- Tahini – ground sesame seed paste.
Once you have guidelines on ingredients and what to eat, cooking Mediterranean dishes is no different than any other cooking. Having decent knife skills, understanding the different types of cooking (sautéing, steaming, poaching, baking, roasting, etc.), knowing how to use herbs/spices and understanding what NOT to do in the kitchen are all skills that transcend cuisines. Check out my other Tips on these subjects. If you are in the Colorado area, consider booking a class to help you with any or all of these skills. For great ideas on how to cook Mediterranean, consider attending one of these upcoming classes.
- May 16 at the Lone Tree Rec Center
- May 27 at the Buck Community Center in Littleton
- July 11 at the PACE Center in Parker
Springtime is the perfect time to upgrade your eating and cooking habits to the wonderful Mediterranean way. I hope you give it a try!