Falafel Panzanella Salad

The heart and soul of the Mediterranean Diet is whole plant foods, that is, an assortment of splendid, seasonal fruits and vegetables alongside pulses, grains, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, and olives, and olive oil. With such rich and flavorful plant foods at the ready, it may come as no surprise that many of the Mediterranean’s most acclaimed dishes are actually plant-based.

Greek salad.jpg
horiatiki-style salad we enjoyed on an Oldways culinary tour to Cyprus. 

Eating seasonally may be in vogue today. Historically, however, families had few other options, as family gardens and local farms supplied much of the available food. What makes the Mediterranean diet a true culinary masterpiece is how these accessible, inexpensive plant-based ingredients are prepared in ways that maximize flavor and highlight produce at its peak of season and freshness. For instance, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, squash, and zucchini can serve as the foundation for a plethora of salads and vegetable-focused main dishes. Mediterranean salads possess depth and flavor, such as tabbouleh (a vegetarian salad made of finely chopped parsley, with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice); fattoush (toasted/fried pieces of bread/pita referred to as khubz combined with mixed greens and other vegetables, such as cucumbers, radish, and tomatoes); Greek or horiatiki salata (a salad of feta, tomatoes and cucumbers); and the classic Italian tomato, mozzarella and basil Caprese salad.

The French Provencal ratatouille and Greek briam are the epitome of simple, flavorful, healthy Mediterranean cooking; common seasonal ingredients are used in ways that bring out their inherent sweetness and flavor. Throughout the Mediterranean, vegetables are consumed and celebrated in all their glorious forms. For instance, baba ganoush (a subtly smoky mash of cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice); punchy sweet and sour Sicilian caponata (chopped fried eggplant, celery and capers seasoned with sweetened vinegar); spanakopita (crispy phyllo triangles stuffed with spinach or other leafy greens); vegetable tortes and tarts filled with any number of vegetables (e.g., artichokes, fennel, leeks); and stuffed items (e.g., grape leaves, tomatoes, and bell peppers).

quinoa salad with cranberries, arugula, radishes, goat cheese, and kidney beans
This salad recipe is hearty enough for dinner thanks to beans and whole grains.

Dry beans and legumes—cannellini beans, chickpeas, fava beans, green beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas—may be among the humblest of ingredients, yet with just a little care and attention are readily transformed into some of the Mediterranean’s most flavorful creations. Further, legumes were an important source of shelf-stable plant protein, in a time when animal proteins were not always easy to come by. Classic, utterly smooth and creamy chickpea hummus; Greek fava (pureed yellow split peas); Greek gigandes plaki or baked giant white beans cooked in a tomato-based sauce; ful medames (a hearty Egyptian stew of warmed fava beans stirred with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic—usually enjoyed for breakfast); Italian pasta e ceci (or pasta and chickpeas) and pasta fagioli (a simple peasant soup composed of modest ingredients, including white cannellini beans, pasta, vegetables, and tomatoes) are just a handful of this region’s delightful legume-based dishes.

Nuts and seeds—almonds, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts—are essential members of the Mediterranean pantry. For example, ground sesame seeds are the main constituent of tahini and tahini-based sauces common to Israel and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Nuts and seeds find themselves into many Mediterranean dishes, from toasted pine nuts, a common addition to the classic Italian (i.e., basil-centric) pesto; Sicilian pesto alla Trapanese, an almond-based pesto served tossed with pasta and tomatoes; Spanish romesco, a mixture of roasted tomatoes and garlic, along with toasted almonds or hazelnuts, olive oil, and nyora peppers; and Catalan picada, a pounded paste of fried bread, nuts, typically almonds, garlic, and olive oil stirred into stews to add flavor, thickness, and texture.

Whole Wheat Flatbread Pizza
This whole wheat flatbread delivers a generous serving of seasonal vegetables. 

Whole grains—amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, freekeh, Einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut, and corn/polenta, rice—are the basis for Mediterranean breads, pastas, and porridges. While corn is commonly formed into porridge or polenta, other grains, for instance, farro, barley, and rice (risotto) make for tasty porridges. Farro, freekeh, spelt, and Kamut® can be combined with vegetables to form hearty and healthy grain-based salads. While Italy is the birthplace of pizza, vegetarian flatbreads topped with colorful vegetables can be found throughout the Mediterranean, such as onion flatbreads (pissaladiere in France); man’oushe, a Lebanese flatbread topped with a za’atar spice blend and olive oil; and Turkish pide filled with spinach and cheese or eggplant and tomatoes.

In order to improve the health of both people and the planet, nutrition and sustainability experts recommend eating more meatless meals. If you’re unsure how to venture into vegetarian territory, let the Mediterranean Diet be your guide. Between sweet, juicy tomatoes, smoky roasted eggplant, creamy winter squash, and fruity olive oil, you won’t even miss the meat.


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Comments

Sheila
Happy New Year!
Juanita
Can't wait to begin this healthy diet!
John
Let’s go
Dawn
The article here is titled MEDITERRANEAN VEGETARIAN RECIPES. Love giant white beans, but when I clicked on the recipe (cooked in a tomato based sauce) it calls for tuna, definitely not a vegetarian recipe. Love the Mediterranean way of eating tho! Yes, Happy New Year!
Hannah-Oldways
Hi Dawn, good point! That extra link is just one way to use white beans. As described in the article, they can be a great part of vegetarian meal! To search our strictly vegetarian recipes, click the "vegetarian" dietary preference on our recipes page here: https://oldwayspt.org/recipes Happy new year to you, too!
Patty
I’m looking for a healthy lifestyle. I have dejunked my house major time in the last few months. I have lost about 35 pounds in the last few months. Now I want to learn a healthy lifestyle . I want to feel good and enjoy life!
Arlene
Good for you Patty Any meal suggestions you can give me ...been on WW but weight us slow to get down
Julie Acker
Looking forward to the 4 week challenge. Good food good people
xczar6341@gmail.com
Looking forward to learning more!

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