by Nancy Sweet, Director, LLCC Culinary Program and Operations
We often hear of the benefits of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, but I think sometimes people might by a bit mystified by exactly where it comes from and what it includes. First, the Mediterranean diet encompasses foods from lands that touch the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, but also Turkey, Egypt and Israel, which makes for a very diverse diet. And naturally, with the sea so accessible, fresh fish and seafood certainly make up a large portion of the diet.
In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables plus whole grains, legumes such as lentils, beans and peas, along with nuts and seeds are very prominent. Olive oil is also abundant and often used in place of butter. The diet also uses very liberally a variety of herbs and spices to flavor their foods which allows for less salt to be used. Poultry and dairy are used in moderation, but red meat is usually limited to a couple times a month. And my favorite part? A glass of wine is often encouraged!
Now that spring really finally seems to be here, it is a great time to start incorporating many more fruits, vegetables and herbs into Mediterranean-influenced recipes.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Hummus is great as a dip with crackers, bread or veggies and can also be used as a spread in sandwiches and wraps.
Serves 6 – 8 for an appetizer
*One 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
*2 whole roasted red peppers (can use jarred)
*1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons tahini
*2 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
*2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1/2 a lemon)
*2 clove of garlic
*1 teaspoons salt, or to taste
*1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Add all ingredients into a food processor or high-powered blender. Pulse until everything is combined and then add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the hummus is a smooth, thick and spreadable consistency. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice, oil, or spice if necessary.
Tzatziki is a yogurt-based spread that is excellent with grilled meat and seafood but can also be a nice addition to any appetizer platter as a dip. Feel free to add diced red onion, too.
Serves 6 – 8 for an appetizer
*1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
*1 cup sour cream
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*Juice from one lemon
*2 cloves minced garlic
*1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
*1 tablespoon olive oil
*1 seedless cucumber, diced
*Salt and Pepper
Combine all ingredients. Let sit to allow flavors to combine. Serve chilled or at room temp.
Grilled Shrimp and Scallops with Salsa Verde
Though Salsa Verde conjures up images of Central or South American cuisines, it simply translates as “green sauce” and Italy and France and Spain have their own versions of it too. It’s a very versatile sauce full of herbs and olive oil. It’s the perfect finish for grilled fish or seafood.
Serves 4 – 6
*1 pound large shrimp
*1 pound large sea scallops
*Skewers (If using wooden, soak in water for 10 minutes before skewering to prevent burning)
*Juice of 1 lemon
*3 tablespoons Olive oil
*Salt and pepper to taste
*2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
*4 cups fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, stems removed (from about 2 large bunches)
*1 garlic clove
*3 anchovy fillets
*1 tablespoon drained capers
*2 tsp Dijon mustard
*1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
For skewers, toss shrimp and scallops with 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Skewer onto skewers and set aside. Heat grill to high.
For salsa verde, add vinegar, parsley, garlic, anchovy fillets, capers and mustard to food processor. Process until fairly broke down. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while processor is running. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour; re-whisk before using.
Once sauce is made, grill skewers on hot grill 2-3 minute per side until cooked through. Serve with sauce and the below Orzo salad.
Orzo Salad with Piquillo Peppers, Spinach, and Almonds
Orzo is a traditional pasta that is shaped almost the same as rice, but is cooked like typical pasta. Piquillo peppers are a traditional Spanish pepper that is roasted and has a sweet, smoky flavor. If you cannot find piquillo peppers, regular roasted red peppers are fine to substitute.
Serves 4 – 5
*2 cups orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
*2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
*3/4 cup piquillo peppers, diced
*1 ½ cup baby spinach
*¼ cup sliced almonds
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*Juice of 1 lemon
*2 teaspoons paprika
*Salt and Pepper
Add spinach to a medium bowl. Add warm orzo over spinach to “wilt” it some. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Just before serving, stir again and taste. Add olive oil if dry or more salt and pepper if needed.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Panna cotta has the rich feel of a pudding, but it is lightened up by the elimination of eggs and then thickened with gelatin. It’s very easy to adjust the recipe to add different flavorings such as lemon, coffee or a favorite liqueur.
*4 cups heavy cream or half and half
*½ cup sugar
*2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
*2 packets gelatin (about 4 ½ teaspoons)
*6 tablespoons cold water
Heat the heavy cream (or half and half) with sugar over medium heat in a pan. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and add vanilla.
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a medium bowl and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the very warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Divide mixture evenly between cups (or ramekins). Chill, covered, at least 2 -4 hours.(Can be made the day before). Serve with macerated berries.
For me, the best way to enjoy these meals is with a nice glass of wine. Below are a couple quick and easy Sangria recipes to enjoy wines with these meals on even the hottest summer days.
*1 bottle dry white wine
*2 cups lemon lime soda
*1 cup raspberry vodka
*¼ cup brandy
*1 cup sliced strawberries
*1 cup blueberries
*1 cup raspberries
In a pitcher, combine wine, soda vodka, and brandy. Put a few strawberries and raspberries in the bottom of each glass and muddle. Fill glass with ice, then top with sangria and a few blueberries. Stir.
*1 bottle dry red wine
*1 cup brandy
*1 cup orange liquor (such as Triple Sec)
*2 oranges, halved, sliced, and quartered
*2 limes, halves and sliced
*1 apple, cored and sliced thin
*2 cups seltzer
Mix wine, brandy, orange liquor and fruit in a pitcher and let sit for at least one hour. Add seltzer water just before serving and serve over ice.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management and academic credit certificates in culinary arts and baking/pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit LLCC Hospitality and Culinary Arts.