Steeped in tradition and culture, Mediterranean cuisine always seems to brighten my spirits with its delicious and vibrant ingredients. Just imagining the coastal climate and sunshine helps me to stay more in tune with life and getting back to the basics with fresh and wholesome meals.
With the enticing aromas of French herbs, Spanish or Italian sauces, Greek olives, Moroccan spices and a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains and lean proteins like fish, there is much to be enjoyed. And, while a trip to these countries may not always be possible, delve deeper with me into the essence of Mediterranean cooking with a few different recipes that you can prepare at home.
Satiate your wanderlust in the kitchen by exploring the tastes of the Mediterranean with me and raise your culinary experience!
Often referred to as liquid gold, olive oil is key to Mediterranean cooking, however not all oil is created equally. First, the oil I’m referring to is Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is the highest quality you can find as it is unrefined and therefore maintains more of its natural benefits, taste, and aroma. I always look to ensure that my oil comes from Spain, Greece, or Italy, however, if you’re ever unsure, try different varieties and choose for yourself which you enjoy best.
Oil is a defining element of Mediterranean cooking and many would firmly state that meals should both begin and end with it. And, unlike specialty wines, olive oil does not increase in flavor over time, but rather the opposite. I try to never waste it, meaning I use it often and generously alongside bread, to cook and dress salads, or drizzle over an unlikely scoop of an ice cream for a gourmet blend of flavor.
One of my favorite dishes that truly brings out the flavor and fruitiness of extra virgin olive oil is this Layered Caprese Rice Salad. A simple salad of sliced tomatoes, with Mozzarella, fresh basil and Texmati® White Rice for a hearty touch that absorbs the flavors perfectly.
Tip: If you have limited extra virgin olive oil available, cook with regular olive oil and save the higher quality oil to enjoy without heating to really relish in the taste.
Key to the beginning of Western civilization, Mediterranean cuisine tends toward a more plant-based diet and is home to many ancient and modern grains like rice and wheat. These cereals include a wide variety of rice, couscous, orzo pasta, and many others or are still highly prevalent in some of the region's most common dishes like risotto or paella. I know that I can always rely on RiceSelect® to provide the grain or blend I need for any cuisine, including Mediterranean.
Common in many Italian meals like risotto, or arancini, RiceSelect® Arborio Rice is crafted perfectly for rich and creamy dishes such as a Sun-dried Tomato and Italian Sausage Risotto. Flavor is key to an incredible meal and learning how to cook arborio rice is essential as it is perfect for absorbing all kinds of delicious tastes.
As meals are often plant-based, many dishes combine both rice or other grains and beans to offer a hearty and filling touch such as chickpeas, lentils and bean varieties. This Moroccan Spiced Roast Chicken is accompanied by RiceSelect® Pearl Couscous and chickpeas while this Tuscany Rice and Beans Soup uses whole grain Texmati® Brown Rice and Great Northern Beans – two of my favorites when I’m craving true Mediterranean flavors.
Many fruits and vegetables flourish naturally along the Mediterranean making them a core part of both traditional and modern meals across the sea. As a foodie, I’m always looking for new and creative ways to incorporate fresh ingredients into my meals and the Mediterranean is a great place to delve into.
In the sharing spirit, quite commonly, a large salad is placed in the middle of the table including vegetables and olives with a bit of cheese like in this Greek Athenian Salad or a Couscous and Swiss Chard Tabbouleh with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon, and seasonings.
Aside from serving fresh, with the plentiful bounty of vegetables, vegetables are used in many ways such as pureed into a Spanish Gazpacho or an Italian Passata or stews like this French-inspired Red Wine Braised Duck served alongside onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, and RiceSelect® Royal Blend® Rice.
Taking full advantage of the sea, I look to Mediterranean cooking for expert advice on how to leverage fish and other seafood options to extract all of the delicious flavors I’m looking for.
Some of the most common I love to use include: clams, cockles, crab, eel, ﬂounder, lobster mackerel, mussels, octopus, oysters, salmon, sardines, sea bass, shrimp, squid, tilapia, and tuna.
Enjoy a blend of different options in a Seafood Risotto or start simple with just shrimp-like in this Simple and Easy Paella or a Shrimp Scampi with Pearl Couscous.
With the plethora of fresh herbs, seasonings and spices found in this region, I’m reminded to step out of my comfort zone in the kitchen and use a new combination or new ingredient entirely! Never stop experimenting and exploring new avenues of flavor to show off your creative culinary skills.
Take your dish to the next level with spices, aromatics or vegetables like in these recipes:
Herbs and Seasonings: This Moroccan-inspired Chicken and Olive Couscous Tagine uses a long list of seasonings to add delicious flavor.
Lemon zest: Season with lemon and zest quite common in Greek cuisine like in this Lemon and Chicken Orzo Soup.
Vegetables and meat: This Mushroom and Pancetta Quinoa Pizza uses earthy mushrooms and savory pancetta to steal the show.
One final, and essential part of Mediterranean food is savoring each moment. It always seems to encourage me to eat a bit slower and savor every bite of my meal. This idea helps me to stay in tune with my body and what it needs.
This is especially true for finishing off a meal with a fresh and juicy piece of fruit, a small glass of liquor, or something a bit more decadent like a Creme Brulee Rice Pudding. Whether you’re enjoying alone or with a group, make sure to stay in the present and truly appreciate each bite of your meal.
The only way to start creating an unforgettable experience, is by getting in the kitchen and exploring new cuisines. All of that is made possible for me and you with RiceSelect®, whether I’m curious about making sushi, fried rice, classic risotto or something closer to home like pizza.