Vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, keto, paleo…With all these diﬀerent philosophies of eating, knowing how and what to eat may seem increasingly confusing. However, the Mediterranean Diet is not diﬃcult to adopt; in fact, it’s not so much a diet per se, but a lifestyle that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
The Mediterranean Diet is largely a plant-based diet, that is, a diet consisting mostly of whole foods derived from plants—fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. A plant-based diet is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. The Mediterranean Diet is not restrictive, as people throughout the Mediterranean consume meat, dairy and/or ﬁsh, albeit in smaller quantities as garnishes or ﬂavorings to a dish.
There are many healthy Mediterranean products that are shelf stable and can ease with meal prep. Having a well-stocked pantry will allow you to prepare quick, healthy, aﬀordable, and delicious Mediterranean meals.
Keep a variety of dried and canned beans on hand, such as cannellini beans, chickpeas, fava beans, green beans, kidney beans, lentils, and split peas. Canned beans are great for busy days, and a quick rinse in the sink can remove up to 40% of the sodium. If you prefer the taste and texture of dried beans, low and slow in a large soup pot or Dutch oven is the way it’s been done in the Mediterranean for centuries. If you’re pressed for time (and who isn’t these days?), consider investing in a pressure cooker to speed up cooking times.
Tuscan farro and bean soup (zuppa de farro); ribollita, thick hearty stew of dark greens (kale), beans, lots of vegetables, olive oil, and thickened with day-old bread; and caldo Gallego, a white bean, vegetable soup, typically made with turnip greens (grillos) from Spain’s Galicia region, are just a few hearty, ﬁlling, and inﬁnitely nourishing plant-based bean stews that can feed a crowd. As an added bonus, these stews can be reheated and will taste even better the next day or the day after.
Whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oats, polenta, brown rice, and wheatberries (e.g., farro, spelt, einkorn) are an essential part of the Mediterranean Diet. Pack some reusable bags and load up on an assortment of whole grains in the bulk section of your grocery store. Store grains in air-tight jars or in the refrigerator to extend shelf life. Whole grains will keep for up to six months on a cool, dry pantry shelf or up to a year in the freezer. Try swapping farro for white rice for a nuttier and more nutrient-dense version of the Italian classic, risotto, or, in this case, farrotto.
Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds (tahini), and walnuts make for a wholesome snack. When toasted, they elevate your ordinary garden salad with pleasant crunch. While we’re most familiar with pesto made from basil and pine nuts, pesto can be made with any number of greens (e.g., kale, arugula) and any number of nuts, including almonds, which are featured in the Sicilian tomato pesto known as Trapanese pesto.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a hallmark of the Mediterranean Diet. However, they’re also extremely perishable. So, when it comes to fresh, shopping locally and seasonally and buying only what you’ll need for the week is best. That being said, canning, preserving, pickling, freezing and dehydrating are great ways to make highly perishable fruits and vegetables shelf-stable to be enjoyed all-year long.
Spice it up! Dried or fresh herbs and spices (such as oregano, basil, mint, and cumin) have the ability to transform humble ingredients into ﬂavorful dishes. As well, these powerful plant-derived compounds oﬀer a variety of disease-preventing and health-promoting properties, and are a great way to add ﬂavor and character to a recipe without leaning too heavily on the salt shaker. Store your dried herbs and spices in airtight containers, away from heat and light, to ensure maximum freshness. Herbs and spices that have been cut or powdered lose their ﬂavor more rapidly than whole herbs and spices. This is why chefs prefer to buy whole spices, rather than in powdered form, and grind it themselves when needed.
As for everyday cooking, make extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) your primary oil. Light, heat, water, and air are sworn enemies of cooking oils, meaning they should be kept tightly sealed in a cool, dark place to extend their shelf life. Despite its relatively low smoke point, olive oil is actually great for cooking, as it produces signiﬁcantly lower levels of harmful compounds when heated compared with other oils, and increases the antioxidant content of a dish. It makes smart sense to have two diﬀerent extra-virgin olive oils in your pantry—one for everyday, and then another that has more ﬂavor and taste for ﬁnishing dishes like ﬁsh or salads. A good quality vinegar or two—red wine, white wine, sherry, or Balsamic—can transform that olive oil into a simply delicious vinaigrette (no need to buy store-bought salad dressings).
With these plant-based staples at the ready, a delicious and nutritious Mediterranean meal is always at your ﬁngertips. Even if you choose to garnish your meals with artisanal cheese or lean cuts of meat, a plant-based foundation of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, and seeds can beneﬁt all types of eaters, vegetarian or not.
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