We often associate the humble egg with breakfast and brunch, though Mediterranean countries enjoy eggs in various preparations morning, day, and night. Eggs are versatile and quick cooking. Moreover, the protein in eggs (7 grams of protein per egg) is high-quality and low cost.
While American eggs are often served in the company of salty, processed meats and butter, Mediterranean families use eggs as a vehicle for local, seasonal vegetables, thereby creating a more nutritionally-balanced meal. We’re all familiar with the classic omelet; however, iterations of the omelet can be found throughout the Mediterranean.
The Italian frittata is an egg dish traditionally started on the stove top, often in a cast-iron skillet, and ﬁnished in the oven until just set. The eggs can be whisked with any number of ingredients, from vegetables to cheese to meat, which is an ideal way to utilize odds and ends, or scraps that you might have in your refrigerator. Similarly, the Spanish tortilla or tortilla Española (or tortilla de patatas) is a tender, lightly runny omelet ﬁlled with olive oil-poached potatoes. It is served and enjoyed, either warm or at room temperature any time of day. In parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, you’ll ﬁnd eggah, an egg-based dish in Arab cuisine that is similar to a frittata.
Turkish eggs, cilbir, is a deliciously rich dish of poached eggs served over a thick garlic-herb-spiced yogurt, often topped with melted butter infused with Aleppo pepper. Just-set scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, chiles, and plenty of olive oil is another classic Turkish egg preparation referred to as menemen. The Greeks have a similar version known as strapatsatha. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, shakshuka is a popular one-skillet dish of eggs poached in a tomato-red pepper sauce spiced with cumin, paprika, and cayenne. The whites of the eggs should be set with the yolks a bit runny so when you cut in, the yolks meld and mingle with the sauce. Just make sure you have plenty of whole grain bread on hand to scoop it all up.
Beyond omelets, poached or scrambled, eggs act as binders and emulsiﬁers. Eggs add moisture to baked goods and give desserts their luscious mouthfeel (think of creamy gelato). When separated from their yolks, egg whites can be whipped to hold air bubbles, creating meringues and souﬄés when beaten to stiﬀ peaks. Egg yolks can help water and oil to bind, for instance, in a sauce or dressing such as aioli.
The ever-adaptable egg also ﬁnds its way into soups. Stracciatella, or Italian (Roman) egg drop soup is a time-friendly dish that calls for just a handful of ingredients — eggs are mixed with Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese, lemon zest, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. This mixture is then drizzled into boiling chicken broth while stirring to produce little shreds (“stracciatelle”) of cooked eggs. Avgolemono is a classic Greek sauce of chicken broth, egg yolks and lemon juice; the addition of a bit more chicken broth, rice and shredded chicken turns it into a hearty, satisfying, and budget-friendly meal.
Eggs can also add a boost of protein and essential nutrients to pasta dishes. Try whisking eggs with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to form a sauce, used in dishes like Pasta with Peas or pasta carbonara.
Mediterranean home cooks are a resourceful bunch, and eggs are one of their most versatile kitchen staples. Take a cue from the Mediterranean and use eggs to enhance your vegetable and whole grain dishes into hearty, wholesome meals. One of nature’s most nourishing and economical foods, eggs are the perfect vessel for any number of Mediterranean ingredients.
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