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Vegetables are an essential element of Mediterranean cooking, and form the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Whether you’ve planted a vegetable garden or are strolling through your local farmer’s market, you’ll be pleasantly overwhelmed by the colorful assortment of vegetables during the summer months. However, instead of treating vegetables as a side dish, make them the star of the plate as they do throughout the Mediterranean.

Eggplant, in its various shapes, forms, and pretty shades of purple (as well as white and green), is abundant throughout the Mediterranean and finds its way into a wide variety of dishes. It’s ‘meaty’ texture makes for a hearty vegetarian alternative. Caponata is a traditional Sicilian sweet and sour agrodolce preparation (agro means sour and dolce means sweet). Simply a combination of eggplant, onions, celery, tomatoes, capers, and olives seasoned with vinegar and sweetened with a bit of sugar. Some versions incorporate bell peppers, pine nuts, and/or raisins.

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Eggplant also lends itself well to dips. Of course, there’s baba ghanoush—smoky, roasted eggplant mashed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and spices. The Greek version, known as melitznosalata, features roasted eggplant mashed with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Sabih is a common Israeli street food consisting of fried eggplant slices and boiled egg topped with a crunchy chopped Mediterranean salad of cucumbers and tomato, and served with an array of sauces—usually zhoug (a spicy and herbaceous green chile condiment), amba (mango pickle) and tahini sauce. It all rests on a fluffy pita that you can fold up and eat with your hands. 

The ever-versatile eggplant can be stuffed, layered, and/or baked. There’s the Italian classic, eggplant parmesan; eggplant involtini, eggplant stuffed and rolled with ricotta and herbs; the Turkish eggplant casserole, imam bayild; and the Ikarian (Greek) eggplant-tomato casserole, soufico.

Sweet bell pepper and spicy chiles (e.g., Aleppo, Espellete, smoked paprika, pepperoncini) or chile/pepper-based condiments (e.g., harissa, romesco) are dotted throughout the Mediterranean. Escalavida is a common roasted eggplant and bell pepper preparation found in the Catalan region of Spain. Piperrade is a Basque stew of peppers, onions and tomatoes, often served with slices of ham, a poached egg, and grilled or roasted fish, particularly tuna or salt cod (bacalao). Peppers, which are an excellent source of vitamin C, can also be stuffed with a variety of fillings, often including meat, vegetables, cheese and/or rice. In Greece stuffed, baked peppers are known as yemista.

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Zucchini and summer squash are plentiful this time of year and find their way into the Provencal stewed vegetable dish, ratatouille, as well as Greek briam and Spanish pisto manchego. Or, swap out sheets of pasta with slices of zucchini and/or summer squash and make a no-noodle zucchini “lasagna” or slice zucchini into long strips and turn them into “spaghetti” tossed with your favorite pasta sauce.

Green beans (fasolakia) braised in a tomato and extra virgin olive oil sauce is a typical Greek summer dish. Similarly, you’ll find okra stewed with tomatoes and onions throughout Greece and the Middle East, where it goes by its Arabic name, bamyeh or bamyies. Both of these green vegetables provide fiber and vitamin C, along with other essential nutrients.

While perhaps not as flashy as some of its more vibrant cousins, don’t overlook summer greens (sorrel, kale, chard, dandelion), which can be incorporated into savory pies, tarts, flatbreads (such as Turkish gozleme) or layered between sheets of crispy, flaky phyllo (as in hortopita). As an alternative to traditional tomato and pepper-based shakshuka, make green shakshuka with an assortment of chopped greens. Dark green vegetables are particularly nutritious—low in calories and high in nutrients like vitamins A and K.

Take a cue from the French in preparing a savory tarte tatin with caramelized onions, shallot, leeks and/or mushrooms. A rich, chunky mushroom ragout is great served with everything from seared fish to creamy polenta and pasta. Or, cool off with a chilled cucumber soup thickened with Greek yogurt and lots of fresh herbs.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most adults eat between 2-4 cups of vegetables per day, although many Americans are falling short. Mediterranean vegetable dishes are a delicious way to add more color, flavor, and essential nutrients into your diet. Their diverse preparations—from salads, to fritters, to dips, to entrees—can be used to complement any dish.  For more ideas about how to prepare and serve the vegetables on display at your local farmers’ market, see the recipes below.  An Oldways recipe search can also lead you to new summer dishes, or, go to the Oldways store to find the cookbook 12 Ways to Use Vegetables.

READ MORE

Great Greens of the Mediterranean
Mediterranean Kitchen Herb Garden
Summer Vegetable Salads


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