The Mediterranean has many wonderful beaches and equally exquisite dive sites, but after a ‘hard day’ at the beach or beneath the water surface, you need to sit back at a restaurant and absorb your days activities. Considered healthful by doctors and dietitians alike the Mediterranean basin is full of delicious cuisine, including a vast array of seafood. Here are some of the best of Mediterranean Cuisine.
A world famous stew with humble origins, the bouillabaisse was initially a meal made out of what the fishermen could not sell. The result is a mixture of locally grown spices, vegetables, and seafood. The difference from more ordinary fish stews is that bouillabaisse follows a specific preparation method. It has now become popular in fancier restaurants throughout both Provence and the whole of France. Regional varieties are somewhat different, and yet there is much arguing over the “correct” recipe. A good bouillabaisse made in the traditional fashion requires several days of preparation and can cost upwards of $40 or more for those recipes using fresh fish.
Fried squid is popular in both Italy and Greece, where it is typically served with lemon wedges and parsley. Preparation for this meal involves cutting the squid into either ring or flat shaped pieces, which are then battered and fried. The squid is also occasionally fried whole. Some places will even sprinkle their calamari with parmesan cheese. Squid that is served stewed in its own ink is another common dish around the Mediterranean, sometimes with vegetables included and sometimes without them.
Perhaps it is not beloved of health professionals, but this honey drenched, nut-studded confection is popular throughout the Mediterranean basin. The treat was thought to have originated in Istanbul, Turkey. Different recipes and regional varieties abound, but the preparation manner is the same in any country. Once the nuts have been layered between the pastry sheets, these confections are then cut into shapes and drenched in syrup. After being baked, the dessert is usually topped with more nuts and eaten at room temperature.
Rumored to be brain food and fed to students prior to testing, this spice blend comes from an Israeli/Arab background. The mixture is composed mostly of oregano, thyme, and marjoram. There is debate over which herb species should be included, but those three herbs are typically the mixture’s basic ingredients. Sumac, salt, and/or sesame seeds are sometimes included in this blend. Other possible additions include: fennel, savory, cumin, and cilantro seed. Varieties that are sold in stores often contain flour, but some housewives still make their own from time honored recipes that have been handed down through generations. After all, this seasoning has been a staple in Arabic households since the Middle Ages. Traditionally eaten on pita bread, za’atar can also be used to season meat or enliven sandwiches.
Comprised of pureed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and garlic, hummus is popular as a condiment around the Mediterranean. In fact, the oldest recipes for this dish date back to the 13th century. Useful as both a spread and dipping sauce, hummus is quite rich in a variety of nutrients including vitamin C, iron, folate, and vitamin B16. Commonly pita chips or vegetables are served with hummus as part of a traditional meze, or Greek appetizer platter. Pine nuts and pesto sauce can sometimes be included in the recipe as well.
This dish originated in the Spanish province of Valencia and has been something of a Spanish national icon ever since. Early recipes contained ingredients such as eel, water voles, and butterbeans, but the recipes have since become far more appetizing. A wide variety of meats are used in the universally popular rice and saffron dish. However, the most common recipe is that which utilizes seafood. Historically, the shells were served with the food, but in modern times the paella is made without the shells being included. There is, of course, argument over which region’s recipe is the “correct” one.
Do you have any others to add to The Best of Mediterranean Cuisine list?