The Mediterranean- the region of European, Asian, and African lands surrounding the Mediterranean sea- is known for its beautiful climate and cuisine. Because this region spans a wide variety of cultures, when thinking about Mediterranean cuisine, our mind is filled with visions of olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seafood… not to mention all the fine wine.
Most of the cuisines born out of this region share dishes including the core ingredients mentioned above. For example, vegetable stews like piste, popular in Spanish cuisine, are almost the same as the well-known Provençal dish, ratatouille (made famous by Disney). However, even with these similarities, there are many variations of delicious dishes made up of the core ingredients, and especially the North African region’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the use of exotic spices.
It is important to note that the dishes and cooking of the Mediterranean region are not to be confused with the popularized Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is an eating regime that is inspired by the region, drawing on the eating habits of the countries in the Mediterranean. The diet is focused on high consumption of olive oils, legumes, cereals, fruits, and vegetables and low consumption of meat products. The diet has been associated with the reduction of cardiovascular diseases and the promotion of overall better health through the increased intake of antioxidants available in the core ingredients.
The recipes put together on this list are based on the cuisine of the region and not the diet. However, some of the recipes do maintain the principles of the diet.
This breakfast hailing from Northern Africa is an easy and tasty addition to your cooking repertoire. Eggs are poached in a thick, rich spiced tomato sauce, served with feta, yogurt, and herbs, and can be eaten with toasted bread or alone. It is an excellent breakfast option for when you are cooking for large groups as you can fit a lot of eggs into the sauce.
The humble potato is the star of the show here, combined with olive oil and onion to make a perfect omelet. The potato slices are stewed in olive oil giving them a creamy texture to the omelet. This can be served as a breakfast or brunch dish but is also a perfect addition to an appetizer menu.
Ham and Swiss Quiche
Quiches are a classic French crusted, egg casserole that can take many shapes and forms as you can put together any combination of ingredients together to make a quiche. Some traditional quiches include Quiche Lorraine which is made up of cubed bacon pieces and gruyere cheese. This version is a nod to that using ham and Swiss cheese but what makes this recipe even nicer is that it is crustless so you won’t have to worry about creating a pastry.
Gambas al Ajillo
Our first appetizer on the list is a nod to a classical Spanish garlic shrimp or Gambas al Ajillo. It is a traditional appetizer or tapas served in Spain that is similar to garlic butter shrimp. It is made lighter by the replacement of butter with olive oil and a splash of sherry to make a delightful dipping liquid. It is served with good bread or with a pipirrana salad (see below for recipe).
Espinacas con Garbanzos
Tapas is the name of the game with this vegetarian tapas of spinach with garbanzo beans. It can be made meatier with the addition of bacon but the core of this dish is plump garbanzo beans and loads of fresh spinach, raisins, and spices like cumin and smoked paprika. Espinacas con Garbanzos are traditionally served with some bread or can be incorporated into a pasta dish.
Olives and capers are the heroes in this appetizer hailing from the south of France and the form can vary from a fine paste that is perfect to spread over toasted crostini to a more coarse version that can be served as a flavor enhancer. Many of the variations to the recipes call for interesting additions such as anchovies, nuts, and fresh or sundried tomatoes.
What could be better than buttery layers of phyllo pastry stuffed with a mixture of spiced spinach and feta cheese? Well, not much. This is a great make-ahead dish and is perfect as a party snack that can be served warm or cold and undoubtedly was served to the gods in ancient Greece.
Cucumber + garlicky, lemony yogurt + crackers + flatbreads + veggies = love. Tzatziki is so versatile it can be used as a dip, a sauce, or a spread and takes mere minutes to make- hence why it is so popular. It is cool and refreshing and can be served to counteract the heat present in spicy dishes.
A caponata is a recipe consisting of chopped eggplant, bell peppers, and a variety of other vegetables cooked down into a tender flavor-packed dish but the recipe varies from region to region and so you can be flexible in what you add to it.
Moutabal is similar to the well-known baba ganoush but really highlights the eggplant as it has less variety of competing vegetables. This dip is perfect with flatbreads or can be served with falafel; whatever you choose, it is a great addition to any Mediterranean meal.
The Egyptian culture is truly a wonder and we should all be grateful to the nation for inventing hummus. This no-fuss appetizer is a great addition to almost any meal but is great standalone or as part of a mezze platter. It is super easy to make from scratch and will taste a lot better than store-bought versions.
This white bean soup is a great vegetarian option and is absolutely drenched in olive oil and a multitude of fresh herbs, olives, feta, and, chili. You can use tinned beans which are already cooked for an easier option or you can use dried beans but this requires a bit more effort.
Italian Wedding Soup
It is called a wedding soup not because it is traditionally served at weddings but because the marriage of flavors used in this soup work so well together. This soup is a combination of meatballs, beans, pasts (of course), and veggies and can almost be passed off as a hearty stew that is perfect for any occasion.
Moroccan Lentil Soup
Combining Moroccan spices such as turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and paprika with any variety of dried lentils that you have lying around, you will not look back on this version of a lentil soup. It is creamy and spicy and a fresh update to what is usually considered to be a boring staple of a soup.
Originating from the island of Malta south of Sicily, this hearty bean soup makes use of white beans or fava beans, Israeli couscous, and ricotta cheese to give a creamy finish. It is a must-try for the winter months.
Mediterranean Fish with Tapenade
The first entry in the mains section is an easy seared fish recipe served with the French-inspired olive tapenade in the appetizer section. The end result is jazzed up with a combination of fresh herbs which takes this fish dish to the next level!
A classic recipe from the south of France, this chicken braised in white wine, capers, olives, fresh herbs, and lots and lots of garlic, is an easy one-pot meal to serve for any occasion.
Famed for their use of chili peppers to make Piri-Piri sauce, this Portuguese recipe for mussels draws on the heat from chili peppers combined with tomatoes, honey, and wine to create a scrumptious sauce for the mussels to steam in. Served with toasted bread, this recipe fails to disappoint every time.
These Greek meatballs in tomato sauce are a great alternative to your run-of-the-mill meatball recipe by using exotic spices and red wine to bring together a dish that is great served with crumbed feta, fresh herbs, and pine nuts in a pita or with flatbreads.
Souvlaki or kebabs go well in pita bread served with traditional tzatziki and these chicken and veggie kebabs pull out all the stops in terms of flavor that they will become a go-to meal for when you have guests over.
Mediterranean Zucchini Boats
This main takes under 20 minutes to make by grilling them on a hot griddle pan and is filled with mince beef flavored with Mediterranean spices. A simple take on a classic that you won’t go back on.
Packed with an amazing combination of spices and green olives, this braised chicken dish is really simple to make and is a good staple for family dinners and get-togethers, especially in the cooler months.
This traditional Greek baked fish dish is an easy midweek meal to add to your repertoire. Covered with plenty of vegetables, olive oil, and ingredients like tomatoes and olives, it is packed full of flavor and can make use of any white fish fillets you have at your disposal.
Pesto Bruschetta Chicken
Breathe new life into the ordinary chicken breast with the addition of pesto, mozzarella, and tomatoes. Taking only a few minutes to prepare, this low-effort dish is a midweek-meal-must.
Originally from Valencia in Eastern Spain, paella is a perfect combination of surf and turf- utilizing the fresh seafood available at the coast and the beautiful chorizo found inland- and is for this reason that it is the most popularized Spanish dish.
Mediterranean Braised Chicken
Inspired by the French coq au vin, it is elevated by the addition of apricots and fresh herbs to give a France-meets-Morocco feel to the dish. Bonus: it is a one-pot wonder and once all the ingredients are in the pot, it takes very little effort on your part to create.
Italy, Greece, Portugal
This delicate, white Branzino or European sea bass is a perfect fish to barbeque in the hot summer months. Lathered in a preserved lemon gremolata, packed with herbs like parsley and cilantro, look no further than this recipe for an absolute crowd-pleaser.
Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers
Who doesn’t love stuffing vegetables with mincemeat and your favorite grain or couscous? These stuffed peppers are made in the Mediterranean with the addition of herbs, spices, olives, and feta. This is a great standalone dish or can be served as part of a mezze platter.
A chickeny twist on the traditional lamb kebabs, marinated in a spiced yogurt mixture gives you the most tender chicken that can be served in wraps or pita bread with a wide variety of accompaniments.
Greek Steak Salad Bowl
A welcome addition to the traditional Greek salad, this steak version is a must-try for the summer months. Other additions include protein-rich garbanzo beans and farro (a grain popular in the region).
Hailing from the Andalusian region of Spain, this dish originally regarded as a peasants dish is a popular side to any main and any combination of vegetables can be used to make it up but usually contains ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, and hard-boiled eggs.
Tortellini Pasta Salad
This fresh take on pasta salads using filled tortellini pasta as opposed to plain noodles will blow your mind. This version uses cheese tortellini paired with cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, and prosciutto but can be made with any flavor tortellini and any other ingredients.
A mix of bulgur wheat, fresh vegetables, herbs, and plenty of lemon and olive oil make up a standard Tabbouleh but the exact combinations of vegetables and herbs used are pretty flexible but usually contain parsley, cilantro and cucumber, and tomato.
Akin to Bombay potatoes from India, these popular hot and spicy potatoes can be used as part of a mezze or a side to the main meal. The potatoes undergo a four-step cooking process (which involves double frying and roasting) and are tossed in a spice mix before being served with a ton of fresh herbs. A beautiful twist to your usual potato salad accompaniment.
Cherry Tomato Gratin
This gratin makes use of cherry tomatoes and cubes of bread that become crispy, cheesy croutons. The recipe is flexible and any spices and herbs can be used in the gratin recipe depending on the day and what it is being served as a side.
Israeli Couscous Salad
Israeli, pearled, or giant couscous is used in this fresh, flavorsome salad that can be served alone or as a side to any chicken or fish dish. Flavored with fresh lemon, honey, parsley, and mustard dressing, the salad hits all the notes to make a perfect, well-rounded salad.
Greece, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon
Layers of thin phyllo pastry and a ground-up mixture of nuts and spices that is slathered in a hot honey syrup make up the delectable dessert baklava. Depending on the region from which it hails, there are recipe variations. If the baklava is made in or inspired by Greece, then it will commonly use walnuts and cinnamon as a filling. In Turkey, a mix of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios is used. In Iran, rose water is added to the syrup in which the baklava is soaked in, whereas in Lebanon the syrup contains orange blossom water.
Moroccan Orange Cake
Orange juice and Moroccan spices take your average vanilla sponge cake to the next level! Think Turkish delight meets orange blossom and if you can afford it, the rich color and earthiness of the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. The saffron can always be switched out for natural coloring or turmeric.
This fresh take on the classic coffee and chocolate tiramisu dessert is a must-make for the summer months. It is a layered cake using layers of sponge cake soaked in a berry syrup or fruited liqueur (such as orange or cherry) as opposed to coffee liqueur, layers of a ton of fresh berries, and mascarpone cheese. Yum!
A well-known and favorite accompaniment (and the main event for some dishes), you won’t find a more versatile sauce than Italian pesto. Traditionally made with basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, and pinenuts, pesto can be made with any combination of herb or nut (or seed variety) and it quite literally can be made in under five minutes with a food processor. Once made, it can be added to pasta, made with eggs, or as a condiment to pizza- there are seriously no limitations here.
Zaatar Spice Blend
Zaatar is a condiment whose recipe, in Morocco, was historically often kept secret and so the spice mixes vary a lot. Usually, it contains dried oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds, and salt but spices such as sumac are also often used. Some varieties also include spices such as cumin, cilantro, and fennel. Whatever the combination, this spice mix is super versatile and be used from avo on toasted sourdough to a spicy kick to your hummus. It can also be mixed in with olive oil to make a delicious marinade. There are endless possibilities to use this spice mix!
Greek seasoning is s blend of spices that are a quintessential part of Greek cuisine. The seasoning makes for a great rub for meats and can be used to sprinkle over focaccia or pizza. Greek seasonings can include salt, oregano, basil, rosemary, and lemon zest. The seasoning can be stored for up to 3 months in a small shaker or jar.
Preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Added to tagines and stews, they are the perfect bitter, salty, and sour kick to add to your dishes. They are made by bringing lemons with their skin, in salt water. They last up to 6 months in the refrigerator and are a great way of using up any excess lemons you have lying around in the house.
North African Chermoula
Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia
This herby and zingy marinade and relish is traditionally served with cured salted fish, and can be composed of many different ingredients but usually contains garlic, cumin, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, or preserved lemons as well as a multitude of other spices depending on the country in which it is made. Although mainly used for fish, it can also be used as a marinade for meats and vegetables or even as an accompaniment to a pasta dish (instead of a pesto) or as a relish for hot dogs or burgers. Chermoula is a quick and easy way to add different flavors to your dishes.