- Following the Mediterranean diet helped me learn how to cook balanced, fresh meals.
- Some of my favorite ingredients to cook with are halloumi, feta, and marinated olives.
- Parma ham, chorizo, fresh herbs, zucchini, potatoes, and olive oil are must-haves in my kitchen.
Learning to cook can be a daunting experience, but discovering the Mediterranean diet during my first year at university was a game-changer.
This eating pattern, which emphasizes fresh vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, and eggs, taught me how to nourish myself without hating the food on my plate. I also learned balance, like how to pair less-healthy options, like cheese and smoked meats, with fresh produce and whole grains.
Following this diet even helped me learn how to cook. After a couple of months, I could spiralize zucchini, make hummus from scratch, and even debone a fish.
Four years later and I am still sustainably reaping the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which has been named the best diet for the fourth year in a row. I have more energy, clearer skin, and a better digestive system than I ever had before.
Read on for the ingredients I always have in my pantry and fridge to keep up with following this eating pattern.
My go-to dressing is a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and I think it’s important to buy a high-quality version of it. This often means spending a few extra dollars to get that signature Mediterranean taste.
I typically dispense my olive oil into a glass container and season it with a few sprigs of sage.
It pairs well with salad and for a simple appetizer, you can slice sourdough bread and top it with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper.
Feta is my secret weapon
If a dish is burnt, soggy, or tasteless just pop some feta on it and you’re good to go. It crumbles, bakes, melts, and looks appetizing, too.
One of my favorite ways to serve feta is by baking it. Lace a block of feta in the middle of a baking tray and surround it with sliced onions and peppers. If you enjoy a bit of spice, add a handful of chorizo for a smoky underlayer.
Drizzle with olive oil and add a few mixed herbs before baking it in the oven. It should take around 20 minutes to turn a golden brown. Pair it with some toasted slices of pita bread to dip in the creamy cheese.
Get used to cooking with tinned fish
Tinned fish pairs well with sourdough bread for a simple snack and it can also elevate homemade pizza.
Chickpeas are incredibly versatile
It’s a key ingredient in hummus but, in my experience, this can be time-consuming to make and you may want to save yourself some effort and buy it from the store.
On the other hand, it’s easy to make things like a light mixed-bean salad yourself.
In a bowl, combine a few cans of chickpeas and mixed beans, diced cucumber and tomatoes, olives, peppers, and a handful of walnuts. For the dressing, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, white wine vinegar, and fresh mint.
Zucchini is a great substitute for starchy potatoes
Stuffed zucchini is probably my favorite substitute for potatoes.
To make it, slice a few zucchinis down the middle to create a boat-like shape. Place them under the grill for a few minutes until they start to char. You can also do this in a frying pan if you don’t have a grill.
To make the filling, combine mozzarella and tomatoes with a sprinkling of oregano in a bowl. When the zucchini is done, hollow out the middle and start stuffing. Place back under the grill until the cheese is crisp.
Potatoes are also easy to enjoy on the Mediterranean diet
Good news: The Mediterranean diet does not eliminate carbs like potatoes.
One of my favorite ways to make them as a side dish is by soaking them in lemon juice and herbs.
To prepare, soak diced potatoes in chicken stock, lemon juice, and rosemary before placing them in the oven for 40 minutes to an hour.
Although these potatoes are not crispy, they’re incredibly fluffy, moist, and flavorful.
Halloumi is nice and dense
Fried halloumi, a type of semi-hard cheese, is a common feature in my diet. I often add it to salads and wraps, topped with beetroot, spinach, and peppers.
Halloumi is also an excellent way to enjoy a fried treat without straying too far from the Mediterranean eating pattern.
It’s also a great meat alternative because of its dense texture. To amp up the halloumi’s flavor, marinate your cheese overnight in a sweet chili sauce before adding it to your desired dish.
Cured meats are packed with flavor
Cured meats pair nicely with salads and sandwiches, and they’re also the flavorful star of any charcuterie board. Just pair them with sundried tomatoes, olives, and a bit of sourdough bread.
My favorites include chorizo, a type of pork sausage, and Parma ham, Italian dry-cured ham. They add a nice spice to any appetizer and can help add variety to your diet.
Swordfish is my seafood of choice
Fresh fish is another staple in my diet, and my favorite is swordfish.
I like to pair it with feta, spinach, and a lot of lemon juice. The lemon sharpens the taste while the feta and spinach give it a creamy finish. I typically partially slice the swordfish, stuff it, and fry until done.
I like to serve this with a portion of Mediterranean-style roasted veggies for a well-rounded meal.
Swordfish can be expensive, so those on a tighter budget can also try this preparation method with cod or chicken.
Marinated olives upgrade any salad
A Mediterranean-diet meal is not complete without a fresh, Greek-style salad.
My go-to recipe consists of diced tomatoes and cucumbers, chopped red onion, and olives. I like to use olives that have been marinated in oil and mixed herbs for added flavor. For extra protein, I add falafel and chickpeas to the mix.
Of course, I finish my salads with my signature 2-ingredient dressing mentioned above.
Fresh herbs are the perfect finishing touch
Mediterranean food is all about the finishing touches, and those typically include basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and mint.
Although dried herbs add flavor, fresh ones can truly elevate a recipe. For example, adding fresh mint to watermelon and feta salad greatly upgrades the taste.
I don’t have a full garden, but I’ve had luck buying fresh herbs online and growing them in my kitchen.