Food Notes From...
More Than 250 Recipes for Pizzas, Pastas, Grains, Beans, Salads, and More from the editors of Vegetarian Times magazine, by Melissa Clark along with historical lore, dietary information, and detailed information on the many individual cuisines of the region.
- The foods of the Maghreb (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria), as well as that of neighboring Libya, tend to be colorful and spicy. There is a heavy reliance on such legumes as fava beans, chickpeas, and navy beans for use in protein-rich soups, stews. And main course dishes. Nuts, including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and pine nuts, are commonly used in desserts and some main courses, while sesame seeds find their way into many breads, pastries, and savory dishes.
- Couscous, a staple in Morocco, is traditionally prepared with seven vegetables and steamed over an intense bouillon. Heat-loving Tunisians flavor most dishes with fiery sauces like harissa, made from chiles, garlic, and tabil, which is a ground blend of coriander seed, caraway seed, red pepper flakes, and dehydrated garlic. A host in Algeria will usually begin a feast by offering kemia, a northern African appetizer in the style of the Spanish tapas or Greek mezze.
- The term Levant describes the coastal Mediterranean region that covers the countries Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Egypt. Garlic has been part of this area's cuisine since time immemorial, and was supposedly fed to Egyptian slaves to promote their strength when they were building the pyramids. Yogurt, another integral, age-old ingredient, is the local dairy product of choice; it is often transformed into minted sauces and spicy dips, spooned into soups, and eaten with honey and fruit.
- Eggplant is a key vegetable in even the fanciest of Turkish cooking. It may be dried, reconstituted, and stuffed, grilled, fried, made into jam, or mixed with other vegetables into a subtly spiced stew. Walking down a busy street in a Turkish town, you will pass many a vendor or shopkeeper whose stall or window has row upon row of colorful jars of homemade pickles. Like the Greeks, the Turks serve an appetizer course called mezze, which may be accompanied by raki, the anise-scented national alcoholic drink.
- The cuisine of Lebanon is more varied than that of some of its neighbors due to the influences of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, Persians, Ottomans, and, more recently, the French. Two unusual staples in the Lebanese kitchen are Quillaja saponaria, a dried tree bark used to make natef, a frothy, lightly sweet dessert mousse, and sahlab, a fine white powder extracted from dried orchid leaves and used as a thickening agent in milk puddings or ice creams.
- As in Lebanon, sesame seeds play an important role in the cooking of the Egyptians and Syrians. Raw or toasted sesame seeds are used to flavor breads, biscuits, falafel, or sweet candies; tahini, or sesame paste, is mixed into salads or made into a savory dressing; and sweet, candylike halvah is made from pounded sesame seeds. They also like sweet, sticky desserts and cool milk puddings.
- Israeli cuisine has experienced somewhat of a renaissance during the past decade, during which our notion of Israeli food has shifted from what might be considered typical of the diet of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe toward a more all-encompassing Mediterranean fusion.
- Spain is home to three distinct regional cuisines. In Catalonia, people eat seafood stews and other fish dishes on the coast and rabbit and other game stews in the mountains. Levante (or Valencia) is the heart of rice country and paella is prevalent. In Andalusia, an arid region best suited to the cultivation of grapevines and olive trees, the food is simple; gazpacho is native to the area.
- Mediterranean France is likewise divided into three distinct regions with divergent cuisines. Provençal cooks use plenty of garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs, including herbes de Provence, a blend that includes bay leaves, marjoram, and lavender flowers. On the Côte d'Azur, street vendors in Nice sell socca, a chickpea flour snack served warm in paper cones, and bagnat, halved bread rounds drizzled with olive oil and stuffed with tuna, olives, anchovies, tomatoes, and capers. Corsican cuisine combines Arabic couscous, hearty French stews and roasted meats, and Italian-style hard cheeses and sausages with its own version of pasta.
- From the southern islands of Sardinia and Sicily up to Naples, Rome, and Genoa, the foods of the Italian Mediterranean are as varied as they are similar. Pastas in all shapes and sizes are a unifying ingredient, and all Italians eat a diet abundant in vegetables, including wild mushrooms and an impressive variety of eggplant. There are even more varieties of cheese in Italy than in France; common ones include mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, pecorino from sheep's milk, mascarpone, and ricotta.
Vegetarian Times Cooks Mediterranean:
More Than 250 Recipes for Pizzas, Pastas,
Grains, Beans, Salads, and More
By The Editors of Vegetarian Times
William Morrow, January 2000
Information provided by the publisher.
Vegetarian Times Cooks Mediterranean
This page created March 2000