June 9, 2017  -  Vol. IX No. 12
One-Dish Mediterranean Meals

Cooking at home has been linked with healthier eating and lower food costs, and it’s a big part of the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle. Home-cooked meals tend to have fewer highly-processed ingredients and less salt, sugar, and fat, yet they’re still satisfying and often the most memorable.

Keep things simple in the kitchen this summer with healthy one-dish Mediterranean meals. There are plenty of traditional examples of these kinds of dishes. It's no wonder the Mediterranean diet topped U.S. News’ list of the easiest diets to follow! Fewer dishes mean more time to relax while you're cooking and enjoy your meal at the table. You might even have some extra time to take advantage of the sunny summer weather.

Keep reading for our favorite one-dish Mediterranean meal ideas.

Big Salads
If you need dinner on the table fast, keep it simple with a big, seasonal salad. Seasonal vegetables taste incredible during the summer months, so always keep a few options on hand in case an impromptu salad is needed. Try a classic fattoush (Middle Eastern pita salad) made with torn whole wheat pita, romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint. Summer fruits add nice flavor to salads too. Try tossing berries and sliced peaches with summer greens and farro, for example. To make your salads more substantial, add:

  • Beans, chickpeas, or lentils
  • Canned tuna
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Shaved or crumbled cheese
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Leftover roasted chicken or fish

Rice Dishes
Paella, pilaf, risotto – these regional rice dishes are good options if you have a little more time. Each of them requires slightly different cooking techniques and different types of rice. Paella is made by first cooking aromatics, spices, vegetables, seafood, and the other main ingredients, and then adding the rice until it absorbs all of the flavors and starts to crisp at the bottom. Pilaf starts off the same way, but it ends in steaming the rice in a covered pot. Pilafs are also often made with the addition of fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts like pistachios or almonds. Risotto is stirred constantly to release the starches of the rice, resulting in a much creamier dish. Other grains, such as farro, steel cut oats, or orzo pasta, can be substituted and cooked using the same techniques.

Soups and Stews
Greeks are known for their ladera, an entire category of meals made from vegetables cooked in olive oil (ladi is the Greek word for olive oil) and tomatoes. The vegetables (beans, okra, eggplant, potatoes etc.) are slowly simmered until they melt in your mouth, perfect for sopping up with a piece of crusty bread. They are often enjoyed with a little cheese to make a more filling meal.

Similar stewed dishes are made around the Mediterranean. In Italy, they are part of the so-called cocina povera – “cooking of the poor” – made to stretch ingredients to satisfy many. Vegetable soups are often thickened with rice, chickpeas, bulgur or barley, or even yogurt and eggs. In Turkey, soups are eaten all day long, including for breakfast. 

Both soups and stews, served with bread and traditional cheese, are quintessential family meals, meant to be shared with a big group in a casual setting. They may be humble dishes, but great power lies in their flavor and healthfulness.

Egg Dishes
Frittatas (pictured above), omelettes, shakshouka – these egg-and-vegetable dishes are delicious for every meal of the day, not just for breakfast. They are ideal for the end of the week, when the food in your refrigerator is dwindling. A lot can be made from a few eggs! If you can, garnish them liberally with fresh herbs like chives, parsley, and basil to elevate their flavor and style. 

From spaghetti with fresh cherry tomatoes to penne with corn and zucchini, pasta is made for fresh summer produce. Few foods are as sustaining and quick to make. Aside from boiling water to cook the pasta, you don't even need to spend time at the stove to make a delicious meal. The heat from just-cooked pasta will soften raw herbs and vegetables, and when combined with cheese, nuts, beans, and/or extra virgin olive oil, the taste is hard to beat. 

For even more one-dish Mediterranean meal ideas, check out the recipes below.

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


Bulgur Salad with Green Lentils and Walnuts 

Celebrate summer by making this nourishing whole grain dish. Quick-cooking green lentils and bulgur team up with toasted walnuts to make a hearty salad with a distinctive Middle Eastern flair.

Recipe and photo courtesy of California Walnuts

Chicken Apricot Salad

The secret to this innovative salad is in the dressing, a bright combination of apricots, mustard, and lemon. Use leftovers as a pita or sandwich filling - yet another one-dish meal option! 

Oldways recipe and photo.

Chickpea Spinach Pasta Salad

This recipe can be made ahead and served chilled — or enjoyed as soon as it’s ready. All of the ingredients come together in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Oldways recipe and photo.

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.