Wine and spirits are essential parts of the Mediterranean Diet, adding both flavor and a cultural identity to meals. While you may cook regularly with wine, you may be less familiar with the idea of using spirits and liqueurs to bring out the unique flavors of dishes from countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey.
—among the most famous of Mediterranean spirits—are ready to pour out their secrets and rev up the flavor in your meals, while making spirits bright (!) for the holidays.
Many Mediterranean liqueurs fall into two categories: fruit liqueurs and spirits with the licorice-like flavor of anise. Chief among the fruit liqueurs is
a traditional Italian lemon liqueur made from lemon zest, alcohol, sugar, and water. It’s usually served in small, chilled glasses as an after-dinner
to calm your stomach down after multiple plates of food.
, another Italian liqueur, lends its orange flavor to cooking, while
, two French liqueurs, give raspberry and blackberry flavors, respectively, to dishes and drinks. Fruit liqueurs are often used in baking to bring a subtle yet deep fruit flavor to cakes, biscotti, and other treats.
Anise seeds are the base of many traditional Mediterranean spirits. They flavor
, the high-proof French spirit that was the muse of many famous writers, and
a liqueur popular throughout Mediterranean Europe and some Middle Eastern countries. Anise seeds also give their licorice/fennel flavor to
from Spain, and
Italian feast days begin as less formal dinners end, with short glasses of sweet
. The spirit is served neat, on the rocks, or with water or coffee, to which it can be added to create a
(or “correct coffee”). In the kitchen, you may find
added to a cream sauce served over shrimp or chicken, or added to a tomato sauce to give extra depth of flavor.
In Greece, family and friends gather at the
, for meals composed entirely of mezes (known as
the Greek version of tapas), always accompanied by cool
. Due to the strength of the drink, drinking ouzo without food
a practice known evocatively as
or "dry hammer"
is generally frowned upon. So why not put the ouzo
the food? You can use ouzo to flambé shrimp and vegetables, to marinate seafood, or even to add to salad dressing.
If a Mediterranean country touches the sea and its culture permits alcohol consumption, it boasts an anise spirit all its own. Turkey and Crete have their
, Lebanon its
and other Middle Eastern countries have similar spirits, sometimes spelled
. Along with
are distilled from the leftovers of winemaking
grape seeds, stems, and skins
then flavored with anise seeds. All of these anise spirits are interchangeable in recipes.
Water, and wine in moderation, are the typical beverages of the Mediterranean Diet. During the holidays, Mediterranean spirits make a great addition to meals. If you drink wine or spirits, enjoy moderate amounts: up to one glass per day for women and two for men, accompanied by plenty of water to keep well hydrated. Or even better, add small amounts of spirits to your recipes, as we’ve done in the special recipes below.
Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy holiday, from all of us at Oldways!
Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes.