September is Mediterranean Month!

Oia, Santorini, Greece (c) Michelle Kenneth
Oia, Santorini, Greece (c) 2009 Michelle Kenneth

We’re switching gears now for the month of September.  This month, we’ll be diving into the Mediterranean culture.  No, we’re not just talking Greek, here.  We’re going to be exploring several countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea.

The countries bordering the sea all lend their own hand in what has developed into the Mediterranean cuisine.  But keep in mind that there are many cultures that sit along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.  Each one has its own unique cuisine, but many of them share in the development of various dishes and culture around the Mediterranean.

For instance, couscous (Morocco) finds itself in various cuisines across Spain, Greece, African/Arab countries, and France.  The Moroccan chicken citron tagine can even be found in variations in Greece and Italy.  The point is that no one single country can put a claim to the cuisine of the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s all shared and shared alike.

Lately, the Mediterranean diet has been purported as being the best and healthiest diet out there.  But what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

 

From Pinterest.  Originally from the Cleveland Clinic.
From Pinterest. SOURCE: ClevelandClinic.org

Looks simple enough, right?  The most important part of this diet is how it makes you feel.  Believe me when I say that a simple dish can make you feel lighter and healthier.

Here are a few things I started off with this month: feta and lemon dip, tzatziki, flat bread pizzas and lentil soup.

Feta and Lemon Dip/Flat Bread Pizzas

Feta & Lemon Dip
Feta & Lemon Dip

If you make only one thing this month, let it be this.

This is a very simple recipe to make.  No cooking is involved.  You just throw the ingredients into a blender.  You only need five ingredients to make it: a lemon (you’ll use the peel and the juice), olive oil, 7 oz. of feta cheese, 1 garlic clove, and red pepper flakes.

What’s great about this dip is that it’s good as a dip for crudites and crackers, but also good as a base for flat bread pizzas.  Did I mention how good this was?  [It was soooo good.]

Flat bread pizzas are a wonder in itself.  You can use so many different toppings from hummus to fresh veggies, artichoke hearts, olives, etc.  You can also use flat bread or pita bread for the crust.  It also makes for a light version of pizza on a weeknight when you just need to throw something together.  You can microwave it, bake it, or just eat it cold.  You can come up with a variety of ways to create your own flat bread pizza using ingredients popular in the Mediterranean.

Try these on for size:

Mediterranean Tacos

Mediterranean Hummus Pizza

Mediterranean Vegetable Flat bread with Goat’s Cheese

[Photo: West Elm textured dipping bowl, salad plate from Marshall’s]

Tzatziki Sauce

Tzatziki Sauce.
Tzatziki Sauce.

Another staple I like to make is Tzatziki sauce.  I am a bit of a cheat when it comes to this, because I have all of the spices pre-mixed.  Granted, this was the spice I picked up while I was in Santorini, Greece a few years ago.  It was the best thing I brought back with me (besides the honey).

But since I don’t expect you to have this special batch of ingredients direct from Greece, here’s how you make it from scratch.

I forgot to add the dill when I made my batch, but it turned out just as good, dipped with flat bread.  It really made for a nice afternoon snack.  I was going to save some for a Greek sandwich, but it didn’t make it that far because it was just so good.

What else can you do with Tzatziki sauce?  Serve it up on a lamb burger, on the side of a grilled chicken dish, use as a marinade for kebabs, or use it in chicken salad (instead of mayo)…I mean the list goes on and on.

What makes this such a great, healthy condiment is that it uses fresh cucumber, dill, lemon, garlic and Greek yogurt…all ingredients that are healthy for you.  So skip the barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and ketchup and try this on for size.  It will definitely add a zing to your meal.

[PHOTO: Japanese dipping bowl was a gift, salad plate from Marshall’s]

Lentil Soup

Another base to the Mediterranean diet are lentils.  You can find a variety of ways to prepare lentils from one country to the next.  I made this Halal recipe of Mediterranean lentil soup in the crock pot over the weekend.  In her recipe, everything is stove top, requiring you to soak the beans overnight.  If you don’t have the patience, just make the soup in a crock pot.

In order to do this, the only thing I did on the stove was sauté the garlic and onions with olive oil.  Everything else, I put into the crock pot.  After the onions/garlic were ready, I added them into the crock pot, stirred, put the crock pot on high and left it alone, occasionally stirring the batch once an hour.

On high, it can take 4-5 hours to cook.  If you set it on low, it will take 6-8 hours to cook.  You can set it depending on your schedule and when you want it to be done.

After four and a half hours, my soup was ready.  I served up a bowl with some bread on the side.  It was definitely good.

Since the beans soak up the majority of the liquid, you’ll need to add water (or broth) if you want to continue to eat it as a soup during the week.  Or don’t add water and use it as a side dish.

What I like about this Halal recipe is that it is very flavorful, and not boring at all (like beans usually are).  If you’ve never tried a Halal recipe, you are missing out.  Halal food is very flavorful and is always pleasing to the tongue.

***

So that’s it for this past weekend’s recipes.  These recipes are what I started with as a base for the week as I continue to make Mediterranean recipes throughout the month.  What I like is that everything is fresh, simple and easy to make.  The food is also rich with flavor, and always feels light, and not heavy.

This month, I’ll also have a few guest contributions as we make our way through the countries of the Mediterranean.  These guests have been dying to share their recipes and knowledge since I told them I was going to do a Mediterranean month. Of course, they’ve known about this since June!

 

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth has been a member of the NHL credentialed media covering the New Jersey Devils since 2008 for Inside Hockey. She is the owner or PerfectionistWannabe.com.