The lure of the Mediterranean – blue sea, soft breezes, mystery, history, and romance. It is hard to visit the Mediterranean without the people, culture and food stealing a piece of your heart! Contrary to popular belief, Mediterranean cuisine is more than just olive oil and Greek salad! There are 21 nations in the Mediterranean Sea on three different continents – the vast cultural and socio-economic range of this region is what brings great variety to the cuisine. Many may think that that Mediterranean cuisine is a traditional, somewhat ancient collection of sumptuous feasts, but the culinary trend is a blend of many traditional and modern culinary practices.
With the Mediterranean diet now popular because of its wealth of heath benefits, ease of preparation, simple ingredients, and amazing flavors, knowing a few Mediterranean cuisine favorites is a good idea.
There’s little to argue about the culinary virtues of hummus. This simple little dish is a staple in the Mediterranean diet. Hummus is the Arabic word for “chickpea,” and that is exactly what it’s made of. In traditional cooking (we are not talking about store bought kind!), the recipe is simple – cooked and mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sesame tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Hummus can also be “infused” with different flavors to add richness like roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato, or artichoke. Traditionally served as an appetizer with hot, fresh pita bread, chips, or veggies, hummus is also an amazing spread for pita bread sandwiches to hold your favorite – lamb, pork, beef, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and sprouts. The possibilities are endless.
A feast to the eyes, nose, and palate, this little salad is deliciously light and a healthy start to a meal. Originally from the mountains of Syria and Lebanon, tabbouleh is considered the national dish of Lebanon and is the pride of Syrian cooks. Part of the pride is the actual labor it takes to make it. Parsley must be chopped by hand so it is not bruised, and it takes a lot of chopped parsley to make even one serving of tabbouleh. The salad (which doesn’t include lettuce!) is made from simple fresh ingredients, bulgur, chopped (by hand) parsley and mint, vine ripe tomato, and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil. It is a marvelous dish, simple and elegant, and when made using farm fresh ingredients, a total joy to the senses!
These seasoned little fritters are incredibly popular worldwide and are even sold by street vendors, state fairs, and even McDonald’s, where in some countries, they serve it as a McFalafel.
Falafel is a ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans and deep fried. Ok, yes deep fried, even Mediterranean food has an indulgence or two. When not served alone, falafel balls are commonly served in a pita with a variety of toppings including salads, pickled vegetables, and hot or tahini based sauces. Falafels are surprisingly healthy, high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber and low in fat and salt. They are a delicious part of any diet and an excellent finger food at parties and events.