December 8, 2017   - Vol. IX No. 25
Mediterranean Cookies
December is here, and we couldn’t be more ready to celebrate the holiday season. It’s the best time of the year to indulge in edible treats with a Mediterranean twist .

In the Mediterranean, every meal can be a special occasion. Regional cooks take pride in their fresh ingredients, their family recipes, and their local specialties. But holidays and other celebrations are cause for extra care, as well as a host of favorite dishes traditionally associated with those celebrations.

Mediterranean Christmas cookies are simple, time-honored sweets made with few ingredients, using spices and flavorful sweeteners like honey and dates to build flavor while keeping added sugar to a minimum. The key to healthier dessert choices is to add wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruitsand even vegetables, sometimes!

For instance, in the south of Spain one traditional treat is truchas, turnovers filled with sweet potato and ground almonds, delightful and not difficult to make. Throughout Italy biscotti are a classic, featuring nutty flavors and spices, while cuccidati are delicious Sicilian fig-stuffed cookies traditionally served at Christmas time. In Greece, festive Kourambiedes are almond cookies dusted in powdered sugar for a snowball effect and melomakaronas are made with walnuts, olive oil, honey, and spices.

Too often, holiday cookies and decadent pastries consist of little more than refined grains and sugar. Fortunately, most dessertsespecially cookiesthat contain refined grains can be made with whole grains instead , without sacrificing flavor or texture. Start swapping out all-purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour or whole white wheat flour in baked goods; either one will contribute a subtle nutty flavor and extra fiber, yet is lighter than regular whole wheat flourjust perfect for cookies.

In many cookie recipes you can also change out some or all of the butter for olive oil. Use these conversions to make the switch to olive oil in your favorite recipes:
Like other dishes in the Mediterranean, dessert is an expression of the season and local ingredients. Cookies and cakes made with ripe fruit such as apple sauce, bananas, figs, and pumpkin puree offer a natural source of sweetness.

Even when cookies are made with fruits, nuts, whole grains and other top-quality ingredients, though, they’re still cookies , to be eaten only occasionally. The Mediterranean Diet includes sweets just a few times a week—not every day.

And don’t forget another key “ingredient” for holiday meals: enjoying the pleasures of the table. Savor meals with family and friends, and make time to notice and appreciate the foods on the table. Take a small serving and savor its aroma, texture, and flavor. Being mindful of what we eat is especially important during those special times when we have reason to celebrate.

For more recipe inspiration, visit some of our favorite recipes.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes.

Think of these tahini cookies as grown-up peanut butter cookies. The tahini lends a creamy, earthy flavor. A great simple recipe that isn't too sweet, is very versatile and fast. Enjoy!

Recipe and photo courtesy of Al Wadi Al Akhdar ; an iStock photo.

You’ll be surprised at how smooth and creamy your cookie dough becomes when you make molasses cookies with whole grain sorghum flour.

An Oldways recipe and photo.

Make a batch of these delicious treats as a thank you gift. They’re delicious with coffee or tea.

Recipe and photo courtesy of California Avocado Commission.
Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.