Many of our food and travel fantasies center around crystal seas, sunny days, and simple meals enjoyed while languishing on the coasts of Greece and Italy, those Mediterranean Shangri-Las whose residents seem to have mastered the art of living. And now, we have science to back us up.
Researchers have now proven that the Mediterranean diet—full of fish, olive oil, beans, nuts, and fresh produce—is ideal for our hearts and taste buds alike. In celebration, we've compiled a list of simple, flavorful recipes that feature healthy fats, fish, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. And in honor of Italy's passion for dessert, there's even olive oil gelato. Ciao, bella.
Sometimes you don't know a classic recipe like poached salmon is missing a crunchy element until you try showering it with crisp seasoned breadcrumbs. The tang of homemade rye and baguette breadcrumbs offsets the richness of the salmon, and a generous coating of chopped fresh herbs—a wonderful Mediterranean touch—adds extra color and flavor.
A warm bath of olive oil awaits the freshest fish or shellfish you can get your fins on. The result is succulent, flavor-packed, hard to overcook (an all-too-common folly in the fish-cooking world) and thoroughly Mediterranean. Add your favorite aromatics to the poaching oil, and watch your catch of the day transform from ordinary to other-worldly.
Beets and oranges are a natural match: tangy, juicy segments highlight beets' delicious earthiness and the combination bounces off the plate with color and flavor. The trick here is to toss them together in the salad just before serving to keep the beets from turning everything pink (for a minute or two, anyway).
Buy the best-quality lentils you can find for this deceptively simple recipe that's a mainstay of French homes and bistros. Don't give into the temptation to gussy it up, because there's a reason this tried-and-true technique doesn't need much attention. Come lunch or dinnertime, however, these lentils will get plenty of attention.
This stellar adaptation of NYC chef Michael Psilakis' Greek salad subs in crunchy shaved fennel for cucumbers and roasted peppers in addition to the salty-briny mainstays of kalamata and green olives, feta cheese, and crisp romaine lettuce. A homemade lemony dressing ties it all together for the acid-forward salad side your entree deserves.
This delicious brothy soup, packed with hearty vegetables and legumes and slow-simmered with the umami powerhouse of parmesan rinds, will carry you through the coldest, wettest winters, but is light enough to serve in any season. Use this blueprint to find a worthy home for any vegetables that need one, and don't forget the little snowstorm (or blizzard) of grated cheese on top.
The salty-savory duo of sardines *and* anchovies is oceanic nirvana in this pasta con sarde recipe. You read that right, two delightfully fishy fish in one powerfully flavorful dish. White wine, garlic, and chili flakes bring the sauce together for a balanced bite, and fennel seeds and currants add sweet notes that will keep you coming back to this beloved Mediterranean pasta.
The pairing of sweet potato and pomegranate is one for the ages. Something special happens when tart, juicy red fruit flavor hits the earthy, sweet-savoriness of roasted sweet potato. Toss with farro for heft and bite, and kale for color (and because everyone loves kale) and serve for a light lunch or satisfying dinner side dish.
Earthy mushrooms and sweet, herbal fennel pollen team up for a welcome update to the marinated mushrooms you get at the olive bar (or in a jar). Use the mushrooms you have on-hand and toss with capers, fresh herbs, and green onion to highlight that delicious forest floor flavor. Whatever you were thinking of serving it on is exactly what you should serve it on, in, with, around — eggs, crostini, sandwiches, pasta, the sky's the limit.
Preserved Lemons (a how-to!)
So many kinds of Mediterranean recipes benefit from the bright, salty punch of preserved lemons. Buy them at a Middle Eastern grocer or specialty market, or source them online, but truth be told, this age-old technique is too easy and fun to pass up. Find the juiciest, thinnest-skinned lemons you can, and prepare to exert very little effort for huge flavor gains.
The sweet-salty green olive flavor in this creamy gelato is smooth, seductive, and thoroughly satisfying. Forget everything you know about making gelato—this recipe requires its own roadmap owing to a generous dose of your best extra—and embark on a journey to silky frozen heaven.
This vibrant side is an easy, delicious way to use up that jar of grape leaves without having to stuff each individual one. Instead, all the elements of homemade stuffed grape leaves come together in one bowl. Deconstructed, un-stuffed, bowl-style, however you describe it, your fellow diners will enjoy the flavors of this beloved Mediterranean appetizers (crisped up nicely by sugar snap peas) without the extra effort on your part.
Whole fish are more economical than their portioned-out counterparts—all apologies to fillets and steaks—and when left intact, retain more moisture and flavor during cooking. Preparing whole fish doesn't take any more time than fillets or steaks and yields significantly more meat. Serve this simple fish with an equally simple side of garlic rosemary potatoes
You only need three ingredients to recreate this elegant dish at home: olive oil, good-quality eggs, and a handful of chopped fresh herbs (anything you have on hand works great). This pared-down technique relies on the nature of each of its elements: both eggs and herbs *want* to be fried in olive oil. We're just helping things fall into place...and making toast.
Bitter and sweet flavors are hallmarks of Mediterranean cuisine. The balance of dark greens (or in this case, pinks and purples) with the natural sugars in roasted carrots is sublime, perked up with the sweet, fruity acidity of fig balsamic vinaigrette. Fresh or dried figs both work beautifully in this application, but don't miss the complexity they bring to this eye-catching dish.
As quick and easy to make as it is to shop for, this shrimp recipe will become a mainstay of weeknight cooking and special occasion dishes alike. Use plenty of all the ingredients called for, because when it comes to flavoring shellfish with lemon, garlic, and parsley, more is definitely merrier. Just remember: the more sauce you make, the more crusty bread you'll need for sopping it all up.
Mint grows abundantly throughout the Mediterranean, and is used in sweet and savory dishes of all kinds. Its lightly sweet freshness perks up earthy eggplant in this warm salad recipe that needs little more than a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice to let each ingredient strut its stuff.
If you have 10 minutes and a craving for a creamy soup that calls for no dairy whatsoever, this velvety soup will be the star of the evening (although it's delicious a little chunky, too). Flash-seared squid doesn't have time to toughen up, leaving it as a tender topping for this buttery-textured soup.
Do with wheat berries what you would do with pasta, and the result will be rib-sticking, toothsome, and only too glad to take on the flavors of anything it's cooked with. Savory-salty pistachio pesto clings to this delicious whole grain in a way that convinces the diner these two were meant to be together.
What could be more Mediterranean than vegetables stuffed with other vegetables? Nothing, is what. Two summer produce staples come together in this recipe for a colorful, savory dish studded with nuts and sprinkled with fresh herbs. They're delicious hot out of the oven, at room temperature, or chilled for a picnic. Adjust the spice level to taste, but be forewarned: these are fire regardless.
One of the most delicious things you can do to a piece of fish is to cook it for just enough time in a flavorful liquid and pair it with vegetables. Follow Martha Rose Shulman's time-tested technique for foolproof perfectly quick-braised halibut and savor the resulting delicate fish broth.
Vegetables and olive oil are a natural match, and vegetables that crisp up as perfectly as tender baby artichokes practically require a quick-fry in liquid gold. No batter or coating needed, just a quick double-fry at two temperatures to ensure the result is as tender inside as it is crunchy outside. Top with a squeeze of lemon and enjoy this seasonal vegetable in all its magnificent simplicity.
This vibrant party dip calls on the flavors of Polish cwikła, usually served at Easter. Zingy fresh horseradish (or jarred if you can't find fresh) adds freshness and heat to creamy Greek yogurt. Serve it with an assortment of raw vegetables, but just know that guests will dip anything into it they can find.
Looking to make your diet a little more Mediterranean? Start with these 10 fish recipes.