VIDEO: A truly satisfying soup? This key Mediterranean ingredient does the trick.
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It took me about 15 minutes plus half an hour of simmering to make a rustic lemon chickpea and spinach soup flavored with garlic and cumin for latecomers outsiders. Then he wasspicy stewtomatoes and fish, which I shared with my neighbors, tasted even better the next day.
And an entire farro salad starring beans, corn, and cherry tomatoes, tossed with a fragrant basil vinaigrette, convinced me to make this old-fashioned, nutty supergrain a pantry staple.
These are just a few of the dinner options I've added to my repertoire since I started collaborating with Suzy Karadsheh as a writer and recipe tester for her 2022 best-selling cookbook."Mediterranean Dish: 120 Bold and Healthy Recipes You'll Make Over and Over again."Karadsheh, who grew up in Egypt, is the creator of the popular website of the same name.
Every recipe I cooked reinforced my understanding of why, exceptevidence of its health benefits— enthusiasm for the Mediterranean way of eating never seems to wane.
Not only are the bold, bright flavors easy to love for anyone open to garlic and olive oil, but Mediterranean cuisine is also flexible, affordable, and adaptable to almost any situation.
Basic elements of Mediterranean cuisine
Fresh produce, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. But it's the "flavour makers," as Karadsheh calls them, that bring these healthy ingredients to life.
When you make them part of your daily cooking habit, you can prepare a delicious, healthy meal with less sodium and saturated fat, and with whatever protein, grains, or vegetables you have on hand. And with a bowl of sliced lemons and a bottle of antioxidant-rich olive oil on the table, you can skip the salt shaker and butter shaker without a second thought.
Using a "handful" of herbs
“Many people use fresh herbs as a garnish to give them a bit of color just before serving,” said Karadsheh. “That's not how we use herbs in Mediterranean cooking. We think in terms of cups and handfuls, not sprinkles.”
In fact, buy fresh herbs in bulk. "A lot of people think they won't be able to eat them before they go bad, but trust me, you'll use them all if you cook them Mediterranean."
This grain salad from Suzy Karadsheh's "Mediterranean Cookbook" features nut-flavored farro along with corn, cherry tomatoes, and a basil vinaigrette.
Parsley and coriander are herbs that he uses almost every day and in the largest quantities. In classic dishes such astabouli saladyzhoug (spicy coriander pesto)They are the stars of the show. It uses the tender parts of the stems as well as the leaves that contain the flavor and nutrients. To prolong the life of herbs, trim the ends after washing and drying them, place them in a cup or jar with a little water like a bouquet, and cover the leaves with a recycled bag.
Kept refrigerated this way, herbs can last for weeks, Karadsheh said, as long as you change the water every few days. This keeps the herbs easily visible so they're less likely to be crushed and forgotten at the bottom of the chip container, and they're also easily accessible for chopping and adding to rice, salads, eggs, or other dishes. . .
Other soft herbs such as mint, dill and oregano can also be cultivated this way. Keep your basil "bouquets" at room temperature on the counter, as the delicate leaves tend to wilt and darken quickly in cold temperatures.
For smaller amounts of hardy herbs like rosemary and thyme, wrap washed and dried sprigs in damp paper towels and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
You may already have these spices
Karadsheh's carefully selected spice rack is as essential to your culinary toolbox as parsley. The warm flavors of the spices balance the cool freshness of the herbs. But his arsenal is not as extensive as it might seem.
"I don't like to buy things that have only one purpose," said Karadsheh. "I don't want to encourage people to buy things they won't use regularly."
The spices you use most often are standard in every kitchen. "If you're making tacos or chili, you probably already have cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne," he said.
“If you add allspice or cinnamon to your banana bread, you might be surprised to learn that these spices you associate with sweet foods also have savory uses. For example, even a pinch of cinnamon can enhance a chicken dish.”
Garlic, onion and other flavorings
Garlic, Karadsheh said, is the "secret weapon" of the Mediterranean diet, both raw and cooked. She often peels the whole heads at a time and stores them in a jar in the fridge so they're easily accessible to make hummus or chop into a vinaigrette. or she canroasting pan full of garlic heads, turning the soft, smooth and nutty cloves to spread on crispy toast or add hummus or dips.
Karadsheh garlic and spinach chickpea soup with lemon and pecorino romano requires only 15 minutes of practical preparation.
Onions (red, yellow, white, green) are equally versatile. Chopped onions and garlic are often combined in a pan with tomatoes and peppers to make a "fried dish" or vegetable base, a flavorful base for countless sauces and stews.
Lemons and other acids
Lemons were a staple of Karadsheh's daily meals in Egypt, and today a bowl of lemon or lime slices is almost always on hand. That said, bottled juice is not a suitable substitute for fresh wine vinegar, but red or white works very well for most uses.
"You'd be surprised how much a bit of citrus or a dash of vinegar can do to give a stew the needed boost, rounding out the flavors and giving it a bit of brightness," said Karadsheh. "You don't necessarily notice it, but if you don't use it, you know it's missing something."
Before slicing the citrus, he offers the following advice: "Drive 'em till they're bald!" The green or yellow outer rind adds extra flavor, with or without juice, "and it's there, and it's free!"
Extra virgin olive oil
The ingredient Karadsheh uses most often in his cooking is extra virgin olive oil. Widely promoted bycountless health benefitsit's "my kind of food," he said. Not only is it the main fat you use in cooking, it's also the final flavor enhancer you pour over your salad, soup, bowl of hummus, or roast vegetable platter. Quality is paramount, and it offersextensive tipsselection and use of extra virgin olive oil for various purposes.
Get the flavor makers involved
Imagine you have a package of chicken breasts in the fridge, but you don't know what to do with them. Here's what Karadsheh suggests: "First, make a sauce of olive oil, a few chopped garlic cloves and lemon juice, then dip the chicken breasts in it and fry them in a pan. Then finish them off with chopped parsley or whatever herbs you have.
Karadsheh spices Mediterranean fish soup with cumin, coriander and turmeric, and finishes the dish with fresh parsley and mint.
Search the cupboards and fridge and you'll probably find other toppings: feta crumble, a few olives, a few slices of sun-dried tomato, a pinch of smoked paprika. "And now you have amazing chicken in the pan," he said. "It's not even a recipe. I'm just learning to think about what you can do with what you already have to take this simple piece of chicken to the next level."
Zuzanna PuckettHe is also the former editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the author of Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey Through the Soul of the South.