Sweet, ripe summer fruits are delicious all by themselves, for snacking or for dessert. However, there comes a point in the summer when abundance demands more creative uses. When we think of pairing fruit with other ingredients, often the first dishes that come to mind are sweet: peach cobbler, raspberry jam, or blueberry muffins, for example. The natural sugars in fruit don’t always have to be paired with other sweet ingredients though. Fruit can be savory too!
In Mediterranean cuisine, sweet fruits are routinely paired with savory ingredients. They balance out other flavors, and they add an unexpected contrast to salty, sour, and bitter ingredients.
Salty ingredients like cured meat, salted nuts, or traditional cheeses taste especially flavorful with fresh summer fruit: In Italy, melon is often paired with prosciutto and other cured meats. In Greece, you’ll find grilled peaches served with halloumi, a salty, fresh white cheese that’s great for grilling.
Sweet oranges are a popular fruit choice for savory dishes, perhaps because they grow all over the Mediterranean, or maybe because they have a special tang. Almost every region has its own version of orange and olive salad, for example. Sicilians add salt cod to the mix and Albanians add slivered onions. Served with fresh flatbread, a couple of oranges can become a delicious salty-sweet midday meal. Oranges are also often used in marinades for chicken or fish, in place of lemon.
Similarly, fruits can help take the edge off bitter ingredients like arugula, cauliflower, and eggplant, and counteract acidic flavors from ingredients like yogurt or tomatoes. In Greece, sliced melon and tomato are tossed with olives, feta cheese, and fruity olive oil to make a delectable salad. It may sound odd to combine sweet fruit with tomato, but the contrast between the sweet, acidic, and salty flavors is truly delicious.
Another great example of fruits balancing flavors is in the traditional Spanish soup called Ajo Blanco. It’s a refreshing, chilled summer soup made from stale bread, blanched almonds, vinegar, and garlic, topped with fresh grapes to balance the intensity of the other flavors.
Dried Fruits and Other Preservation Methods
Some of the most abundant Mediterranean fruits – grapes, figs, apricots, oranges – are dried so they can be enjoyed throughout the year in savory dishes. Dried fruits are mixed with meats and/or grains for stuffing vegetables like peppers and eggplant. They’re sprinkled on salads instead of adding honey to salad dressing, and baked into breads – in the form of juice or chopped dried fruit – in place of sugar.
In the eastern Mediterranean, raisins and dried mulberries are used frequently, along with nuts, to add texture and sweetness to rice and bulgur dishes. In Moroccan couscous dishes, raisins or sultanas (golden raisins) can be stirred in with the other seasonings, or made into a sweet sauce that’s poured on top.
Pomegranate, another abundant Mediterranean fruit, is preserved by reducing the juice from the seeds into a thick, tangy sauce called pomegranate molasses. Since pomegranates are in season during the colder months, you’ll see pomegranate molasses used more often in the summer in salads, dips, and grain dishes.
Next time you make a savory dish, try adding fruit to really make the flavors sing! Get started with the recipes below.
Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes.