mediterranean diet

Some Real Mediterranean Gems Here

ALWAYS OPEN TO NEW RECIPE IDEAS, I took a look at this animated short by filmmaker Gary Leib: 101 Quick and Simple Dishes for Fall. You might want to, too; it includes a couple of real Mediterranean gems. Fusilli with elf, anyone? My favorite is the one with the whole fish. No, I won’t give away the punch line. 

Move Over, Turkey

MUCH AS I LIKE ROAST TURKEY at Thanksgiving, I’ve always liked the side dishes even more, especially when combined in a crazy spill-off-the-plate sort of way. Now Tara Parker-Pope has a great series going, over at her Well blog at NYTimes.com: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving. Vegetables (and fruit) are the stars in dozens of fabulous recipes, some homey, some knock-your-socks-off chef’s masterpieces. She’ll add new dishes daily until Thanksgiving. Lots for Mediterraneanista to like here. How about Martha Rose Shulman’s Orange-Scented Sweet Potato and Fruit Gratin or Tom Colicchio’s Caramelized Tomato Tarts? The recipes are all so tempting, I think Thanksgiving will have to be a month-long celebration this year. That’s OK— I do have quite a lot to be thankful for. What about you? 

 

Husbands Who Make Soup Are, Well, Just Wonderful

I DON’T KNOW HOW Mr. Mediterraneanista (or BC, as he prefers to be called) got to Food52. Maybe he saw it mentioned on politico/foodie Ezra Klein’s blog, but that’s beside the point. One day last week I was tapping away at my computer, vaguely aware of kitchen rustle in the distance. An hour or so later, voilà—I’m being invited for a beautiful bowl of sweet potato soup for lunch. Olive oil, infused with zaatar—an eastern Mediterranean spice blend of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac—is drizzled on top. When I dip my spoon in I find crumbled feta is in the mix, too. What a wonderful combination of sweet and aromatic flavors. And what style (must be that two-careers-ago design training).
 
I don’t mean to imply that having BC cook a meal is something like the 8th wonder of the world. It’s not. He went through a long bread-baking phase in the 90s when our boys were little, and then there was the madeleine making period (we all really liked that) and the ceviche-as-school-project-with-kids experiments. Plus he’s certainly done his share of better-get-dinner-on-the-table-the kids-are-cranky. For the last while, he’s been the go-to pizza maker in our house. Mediterraneanista especially likes that. And if I can ever take a photo of one that does it any justice, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, I’m just loving this surprise soup lunch development.
 
 

Best Med Diet Dish at...Maoz Vegetarian

HERE’S SOME FAST FOOD WITH MED CRED, available at five locations around the city—including high-traffic areas like Times Square and Union Square. Maybe one is near your office? A couple more branches are opening in the next few months, including one in Hoboken. 
 
My pick from the Maoz menu is the falafel whole-wheat pita sandwich ($5.25), with veggie toppings from the salad bar—roasted cauliflower, diced beets, tabouli salad, Moroccan-style marinated carrots, and so on, plus various sauces, including cilantro, garlic, tahini, chili. If you dine in, you can refill your pita as many times as you want from the salad bar, piling up those veggie servings with the greatest of ease.
 
 
Last time I was at Maoz, I bought an extra side order of falafel ($3.50, made from chickpeas) to take home, where I combined it with my own salad and tahini later. Yum. Maoz’s falafel made SeriousEats.com’s top 7 falafel sandwiches in New York City earlier this summer. The white pita lost it some points. I found the whole-wheat pita pretty tasty. 
 
The first Maoz restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 1991 and soon attracted local customers and travelers alike. The menu emphasizes fresh produce and, although it doesn’t use olive oil, the Med diet favorite, it does use zero trans fat vegetable oil. For only $1 extra, you can get freshly squeezed carrot, apple or orange juice instead of soda with the sandwich meal deal. If you’re interested in more nutrition details, check out the Maoz website.
 
Meatless Monday Deal:At Maoz Vegetarian, every day is meatless but on Mondays you get 10% off the Salad Meal Deal ($9.95)—a box of greens with falafel plus two add-ons (hummus, eggplant, etc.), salad-bar toppings and freshly squeezed juice.
 
Maoz Vegetarian
 
558 7th Ave (corner of 40 St)
New York, NY 10018
212.777.0820
 
59 East 8 St (between Broadway and University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
212.420.5999
 
38 Union Square East (between 16 and 17 St)
New York, NY  10003
212.260.1988
Order online
 
2047 Broadway (between 70 and 71 St)
New York, NY  10023
212.362.2622
 
2857 Broadway (between 110 and 111 St)
New York, NY  10025
212.222.6464
Order online
 
Opening Soon:
683 8th Ave (between 43 and 44 St)
New York, NY 10036
 
315 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ  07030 

RECIPE: Wild Mushroom Ragu with Bucatini

 
WITH MUSHROOMS POPPING UP IN THE WOODS and in markets, this seemed like the perfect Friday night dinner this week. I did some one-stop shopping for the ingredients at Eataly, where I found shitakes and chanterelles, along with Barilla dried bucatini and prosciutto. (This recipe is a perfect example of the Mediterranean meat-as-condiment idea.)
 
Serves 4
 
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3½ ounces prosciutto (sliced ⅛-inch-thick), cubed*
1¼ pound mixed wild mushrooms, such as shitake, chanterelle, trumpet or blue foot, trimmed and halved
¼ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup water
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound bucatini or spaghetti
½ cup heavy cream
 
*Although I didn't use it today, Citterio makes a 4 oz. package of cubed prosciutto (with no weird additives—ham and sea salt are the only two ingredients) that’s super convenient.
 
 
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and prosciutto; reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. Add mushrooms, broth, water and pinch salt and pepper; stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until mushrooms are very tender, about 30 minutes.
 
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. While pasta is cooking, warm cream to a simmer. Drain pasta, transfer to a large serving bowl, add hot cream and mushroom mixture, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
 
Adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana. 

Celebrating World Pasta Day

 
NOT THAT I NEED AN EXCUSE to enjoy pasta, but next Monday, October 25, is World Pasta Day (did you know?), and I thought I’d get a head start with tonight’s dinner. Which, of course, was an excuse for another visit to Eataly, the Batali/Bastianich Italian food hall that opened this summer at 5th and 23rd. There, I found everything I needed to make a wonderful wild mushroom ragù with bucatini. (More on that in a minute.)
 
Pasta took some knocks when low-carb diets were popular. But eaten in reasonable portions (1 to 1½ cups cooked, say), pasta is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet—and a much beloved food. The complex carbs provide energy, of course, as any cyclist will tell you. Whole-wheat pasta is the most nutrient-rich, with at least three times the fiber of refined pasta. It’s also pretty tasty, which wasn’t always the case. Pasta made from refined durum wheat flour or durum semolina often gets a nutritional boost from being enriched with iron, folic acid and other B-vitamins. We eat some of both in our household.
 
Then there’s the sauce: Pasta is often referred to as an “efficient delivery system” for other healthy foods. I hate to think of any food on my plate being merely a delivery system—sounds so clinical. If you buy high-quality pasta (dried or fresh) it’s delicious in and of itself. But I know what they mean. Sauces full of vegetables and legumes are an easy and delicious way to incorporate those hard-to-get daily recommended servings of vegetables into your meals. But drown your pasta in sauce?! How gauche. Well, here’s cookbook author Mark Bittman’s take on the sauce-to-pasta ratio question. 
 
One of my favorite companions to pasta is fresh tomato sauce with cannellini beans and herbs. But today, I’m going for something different. With mushrooms popping up in the woods and in markets everywhere, it’s the perfect season to make this dish.
 

 

 

 

 

Best Med Diet Dish at...Flex Mussels

WELL, YOU GUESSED IT, mussels—steamed in all sorts of flavored broths, some even quite distinctively Mediterranean, but all qualifying as a great Med diet seafood dinner made with fresh ingredients. How about San Daniele, with prosciutto, caramelized onions, white wine and garlic, or Spaniard, with chorizo, sweet peppers, Spanish olives, red wine and tomatoes? Yep, there’s even Mediterranean, with shrimp, kalamata olives, fennel, lemon, anise and oregano. The list goes on and on—there are more than 20 choices ($17-20)—so the only way to eventually make a decision and not drive your dinner companions crazy is to tell yourself you’ll be coming back another day—and another.
 
The menu has non-mussel Med choices, too, including arugula or bibb lettuce salads, a whole fish, even chicken with dandelion greens. We started the meal with raw oysters, incredibly fresh and tasty. (The owners started out in Prince Edward Island and know their seafood.) The crusty whole wheat bread is perfect for mopping up the broth. I hear executive pastry chef Zac Young (Top Chef) makes some amazing desserts. Next time! Good wine list (we had a nice Grüner Veltliner with our mussels) and an excellent selection of beers from around the world.
 
Plus a $20 deal every night from 5:30 to 7: If you don’t mind sitting at the counter or bar (and why should you—the chairs have backs, the design vibe is very cool), you can dine on all-you-can-eat Classic (white wine, herbs, garlic), Fra Diavolo (San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil) or PEI (lobster stock, drawn butter) mussels, plus fries and one draft beer for $20. (For the deal—no reservations accepted, no sharing.)
 
Flex Mussels
154 W. 13 St (between 7th and 6th)
New York, NY
212.229.0222
info@flexmussels.com 
 
Also at:
174 E. 82 Street (between 3rd and Lexington),
New York, NY 
212.717.7772     
 
 

At the Market This Week

JUST LIKE HAVING KIDS makes you feel the years pass in a particularly poignant way, so do weekly visits to the farmers’ market. I was feeling downright sad last week as the tomatoes dwindled and I had to face it, summer was over. But this Saturday, a visit to Union Square Greenmarket reminded me that fall has its pleasures, too. Not only did I find a few pounds of nice end-of-season San Marzano plum tomatoes at Cherry Lane Farms, but the whole market was a riot of color and productiveness. Peppers sweet and hot, winter squash, glorious specimens of savoy cabbage, carrots, beets, kale and collard greens, broccoli. It was hard to know where to start—or stop. 

RECIPE: Eggplant Slices, Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

THESE BAKED EGGPLANT SLICES are excellent on their own, but add the pomegranate vinaigrette and the cool yogurt sauce, with its tastes of garlic and tahini, and the dish has some of those big-flavor contrasts that make Mediterranean cooking so interesting. Pomegranate molasses is made by boiling down the juice into a syrup; it’s used in quite a few Eastern Mediterranean dishes to add depth and a tart-sweet flavor. This is the first recipe I’ve used it for—I look forward to trying others. I found it (and the tahini) quite easily by heading straight for Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Street in Manhattan. You should be able to find it at any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer. 

Serves 4-6, as appetizer or side dish
 
4 medium eggplants, cut into ½" rounds
1 tbs pomegranate molasses
1
 tbs red or white wine vinegar

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing eggplant 
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

(I use half Greek strained yogurt, half regular yogurt; either works fine)
1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbs tahini
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

 
Preheat oven to 475°F.
 
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and lightly salt them. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake, turning once, until they're tender and a little brown, about 30 minutes. Arrange on a large plate.
 
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar and 2 tbs olive oil.
 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, minced garlic and tahini. 
 
Brush the top of the cooked eggplant slices with the pomegranate vinaigrette, then spoon yogurt sauce over them and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
 
Adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon 

 

Meatless Monday: Eggplant Emergency

 
A FRIEND CALLED TO SAY that house guests had come laden with farmstand fare this weekend, and the whole crowd had eaten lovely meals from it. Trouble is, not enough lovely meals, because now Monday was here and she still had a small boatload of eggplants sitting on her kitchen counter. What to do?
 
Well, in case any of you have had a similar culinary challenge (haven’t we all?), here are some ideas:
 
Think Turkish. Turks love eggplant and have dozens of different ways to cook it, many involving olive oil and tomatoes. One of the most famous dishes is imam bayildi, or the imam fainted, which is eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions. Clifford Wright, author of The Mediterranean Feast, gives the scoop on the name—and a recipe—here. Perfect for Meatless Monday. Or any other day for that matter.
 
Another famous Turkish eggplant dish is karniyarik, also a stuffed eggplant. I’ve made it quite a few times recently but I’ll go into that more another day because there’s too much to talk about already and besides, one of its ingredients is lamb.
 
So, back to Meatless Monday. As the eggplant rush gathered force at the end of the summer, I began making a dish with pomegranate, yogurt and tahini. I found the recipe one day when I was in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, browsing through some of the many cookbooks I don’t own. They have quite a collection, and what a splendid setting it is for transporting yourself to other places. The Lebanese eggplant recipe is from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born cookbook writer who is credited with having revolutionized Western attitudes to Middle Eastern cooking with her classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in 1968. She’s a lively passionate writer, so I look forward to delving more deeply into all her books.
 

Today’s Meatless Monday treat at our house is this Algerian Eggplant Jam, from Joanne Weir’s From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the MediterraneanIt makes a delicious snack or appetizer on crostini (toasted baguette) or crusty bread.
 
Of course, one of Mediterraneanista’s enduring favorites when it comes to eggplant is ratatouille. I usually make a big pot, because there’s nothing tastier or easier for quick lunches or dinners, and you can always mix it up, so to speak, by serving it with grilled Italian sausage one day and couscous the next. Or you can try one of ratatouille’s many cousins, each with its own distinctive style.
 
Finally, you can never go wrong with Martha Rose Shulman’s suggestions in her Recipes for Health column at NYTimes.com. The recipes are conveniently organized by ingredient, and she often spends a week on different ways to prepare a single vegetable or grain. Here’s some of her eggplant repertoire to the rescue. 
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