Mediterranean cuisine is characterized by its flexibility, its range of ingredients and its many regional variations. The terrain has tended to favor the raising of goats and sheep.
Fish dishes are also common, although today much of the fish is imported since the fisheries of the Mediterranean Sea are weak. Seafood is still prominent in many of the standard recipes.
Olive oil and garlic are widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. It is widely believed that Mediterranean cuisine is particularly healthful.
Grilled meats, pita bread, hummus, and falafel are very popular forms of the eastern type of the cuisine.
Couscous is one of the staple foods of the Maghrib (western North Africa). Couscous is made from two different sizes of the husked and crushed, but unground, semolina of hard wheat using water to bind them. Semolina is the hard part of the grain of hard wheat that resisted the grinding of the relatively primitive medieval millstone. When hard wheat is ground, the endosperm—the floury part of the grain—is cracked into its two parts, the surrounding aleurone with its proteins and mineral salts and the central floury mass, also called the endosperm, which contains the gluten protein that gives hard wheat its unique properties for making couscous and pasta--that is, pasta secca or dried pasta, also called generically macaroni. Couscous is also the name for all of the prepared dishes made from hard wheat or other grains such as barley, millet, sorghum, rice, or maize.
*Walnut & Pistachio Baklava*
- 2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup honey (preferably Greek)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 cups walnuts (10 to 11 ounces)
- 3 cups natural raw unsalted pistachios (13 to 14 ounces)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup finely diced dried apple rings (1 1/2 ounces)
- 20 17 x 12-inch sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- For syrup:
Combine all ingredients and 1 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and boil until syrup is reduced to generous 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.For baklava:
Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread walnuts on large rimmed baking sheet. Spread pistachios on another large rimmed baking sheet. Place nuts in oven and toast 5 minutes. Cool nuts. Transfer nuts to processor. Add 3/4 cup sugar, lemon peel, and ground cinnamon. Using on/off turns, blend until nuts are ground to medium-fine texture. Transfer nut mixture to large bowl; mix in dried apples.Place phyllo sheet stack on work surface; cover with sheet of plastic wrap, then damp kitchen towel. Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan with some melted butter. Arrange 1 phyllo sheet in pan with half of phyllo sheet hanging over 1 long side. Brush phyllo in pan with some melted butter. Fold overhang over to make two 12 x 8 1/2-inch layers. Brush with some melted butter. Repeat stacking and buttering with 4 more phyllo sheets, making 10 layers total. Spread 1/3 of nut mixture (generous 2 cups) over phyllo in pan to within 1/2 inch of edge. Repeat layering 2 more times with 5 phyllo sheets and 1/3 of remaining nut mixture each time. Top with 5 more folded phyllo sheets. Using sharp knife, cut through top phyllo layers lengthwise (do not cut through to bottom of pan) to make 4 strips, then cut phyllo crosswise to make 16 rectangles. Bake until phyllo is golden, about 45 minutes.Gradually spoon cold syrup over hot baklava. Cool to room temperature. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature.
Cut each baklava rectangle crosswise in half for total of 32 pieces. Transfer baklava to platter and serve.
Baba ghanoush is a Lebanese dish of aubergine (eggplant) mashed and mixed with Virgin Olive Oil and various seasonings. A popular preparation method is for the eggplant to be baked or broiled over an open flame before peeling, so that the pulp is soft and has a smoky taste. Often, it is eaten as a dip with pita bread, and is sometimes added to other dishes. It is usually of an earthy light-brown color.
- 1 eggplant
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
- Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. Roast it for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. Remove from oven, and place into a large bowl of cold water. Remove from water, and peel skin off.
- Place eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, sesame seeds, and garlic in an electric blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer eggplant mixture to a medium size mixing bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil. Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.
- 1 1/4 ounce envelope active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for brushing
- 5 cups (or more) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1 tablespoon Tabil Spice Blend
- (This is the most popular Tunisian spice mixture and is used to season meat or poultry, stuffings and vegetables. To make the mixture, combine 2 1/2 tsp. each finely chopped garlic, ground caraway seeds, crushed hot red pepper flakes and ground coriander seeds. The mixture may be made as hot or mild as one likes by varying the amount of hot pepper flakes used. Tabil may be stored nearly indefinitely in a well-sealed jar.)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pour 2 cups warm water (105°-115°) into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Sprinkle yeast over. Let sit until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes. Mix in 1 tablespoon oil. Add 5 cups flour and 1 tablespoon salt; beat until dough forms, about 1 minute.
Transfer dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth, adding more flour by spoonfuls as needed for soft but still slightly sticky dough, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll into balls; space 2" apart. Cover with a kitchen towel; let rest 15 minutes.
Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Lightly brush 4 baking sheets with oil. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, roll out into 9" round. Place 2 dough rounds on each prepared sheet. Brush lightly with oil; season with spice blend, salt, and pepper.
Brush grill rack with oil. Working in batches, place flatbreads spice side down on rack. Brush with oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill until lightly charred in spots and cooked through, 1–1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a work surface. Cut into wedges.
(Greek Sausage & Peppers)
*Yogurt Marinated Leg of Lamb*
- 2 cups whole-milk yogurt, divided
- 1 teaspoon plus 3 1/2 tablespoons Tabil Spice Blend
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced, divided
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more for seasoning
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 4–5 pound butterflied leg of lamb, opened like a book
- 4 lemons, halved
Mix 1 cup yogurt, 1 teaspoon Tabil Spice Blend, and 1 minced garlic clove in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. Whisk remaining 1 cup yogurt, remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons Tabil Spice Blend, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp. salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, oil, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add lamb; turn to coat. Cover and chill overnight, turning occasionally.
Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and pepper. Grill until meat is cooked to desired doneness, 10–15 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grill lemon halves, cut side down, until charred, about 5 minutes. Thinly slice lamb against the grain and arrange on a platter; garnish with lemons. Serve with reserved yogurt sauce.
*Tunisian Vegetable Salsa*
- 4 large unpeeled garlic cloves
- 4 plum tomatoes (about 12 ounces total)
- 2 small whole unpeeled onions (1/2 pound total)
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 large poblano chile
- 1 Japanese eggplant (about 5 ounces)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Fresh lemon juice, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. thread garlic cloves onto a metal skewer. Put garlic skewer, tomatoes, onions, peppers, chile, and eggplant on grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred all over, 6-7 minutes for garlic and tomatoes; 10 minutes for eggplant; 15 minutes for peppers and chile; 20 minutes for onions. Place peppers and chile in a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop peppers and chile. coarsely chop tomatoes and eggplant. Peel and coarsely chop onions. Pulse all vegetables in a food processor, along with oil, until puréed to desired consistency. transfer to a large bowl. season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
*Polenta w/ Tomato-Basil Sauce*
- 8 cups water
- 5 tablespoons (or more) olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)*
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
- 2 14 1/2- to 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
- 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- Fresh basil sprigs (for garnish; optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish on rimmed baking sheet. Combine 8 cups water, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons salt in dish. Gradually mix in polenta.Place baking sheet with polenta in oven. Bake polenta 1 hour. Add pepper and stir to blend. Bake 20 minutes. Stir again and spread evenly. Bake until polenta is very thick, about 20 minutes longer. Cool polenta to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours (polenta will become firm). Using metal spatula, press polenta all over to even thickness. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; chill.Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut polenta lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 6 squares. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add polenta squares. Sauté until crisp and beginning to color, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer polenta to small baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining polenta, adding oil to skillet as needed.Divide polenta among plates. Top with warm Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce. Garnish with fresh basil sprigs, if desired.
*Grilled Lemon-Yogurt Chicken*
Ingredients: 1 big chicken 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt 1/2 lemon, juiced 1 tbsp olive oil 4 cloves garlic 1 tbsp paprika 1 tsp Herbs from Provence (or any dried Italian, or Greek herb blend - rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.) 1 tsp salt 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper For the Sauce: 1/2 cup yogurt 1 tbsp lemon juice 1 tsp harissa or other hot sauce salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste (optional)