When it comes to wholesome, nutrient-dense cuisine, we don’t like to play favorites. Really, they’re all worth devouring. But Mediterranean food – oh, does it make us eat our words (among other delicious things). Just the mention of its variety of bold, rich and tangy flavors is enough to make mouths water and feet scramble to find the first boat to Mykonos. And we all know that the Mediterranean diet can have major health benefits. Win-win. Nom nom.
But incorporating a variety of healthful Mediterranean staples into our daily diets takes a little extra inspiration. Lucky for us, our dear friend Melissa Scott Clark, co‐owner of Luxury Farms Specialty Kitchen and Home Store, provides plenty of that. She recently visited with us and dished out a great big helping of inspiration for using a few of her favorite Mediterranean ingredients. And now we’re happy to get to share that with you!
You really can’t do Mediterranean without olive oil. And with its heart-healthy polyphenols and monounsaturated fats, it gives any dish a boost of rich flavor and healthfulness. But selecting and incorporating a good olive oil takes a little know-how. As Melissa says, never pick your olive oil simply by looking at the label. Just like with wine, the best way to choose an olive oil is to smell and taste it. As if we needed a good excuse to start sampling. The aroma of a good olive oil will remind you of fresh grass, olives, bananas or apples. And when it comes time to taste, pungency, bitterness and fruity tastes all signify a good olive oil.
Another time to smell your olive oil is just before use. Olive oil can go bad. And just like sour milk, spoiled olive oil has a distinct smell. Aromas of cardboard, vinegar, mud, hay or mustiness are all indications that the oil has turned. To ensure yours lasts as long as possible, store it in a cool, dark place. Heat, light and air can all break down the oil and take away its yumminess.
Just like wine, the best way to choose an olive oil is to smell and taste it.
As far as adding olive oil into our daily diets, all it takes is a little creativity and a few tasty ideas from Melissa, of course. She likes to add herbs, crushed red pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar to olive oil for a quick bread dip. And she suggests finishing most any pasta or vegetable dish with a drizzle of olive oil. You can also substitute olive oil in any recipe that calls for butter or vegetable oil. But because olive oil has a lower smoke point than refined oils, you should only cook with it at low or medium temperatures.
Salads are another quick and fresh way to mix in those polyphenols. And Melissa’s favorite salad dressing is super simple. Just combine equal parts olive oil with white wine or champagne vinegar, three tablespoons whole grain mustard, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and one squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yum!
Few things draw us in like the fresh aroma of this Mediterranean staple. But garlic doesn’t just have the smell our noses navigate toward and a taste that tickles our taste buds. It has properties that are good for the rest of our bodies, too. Its antioxidants give our immune systems a boost, and it could help lower high cholesterol and blood pressure. Of course, you could just enjoy it for its incredible ability to add flavor to any dish.
And that’s exactly why garlic is a staple in Melissa’s kitchen. She loves how it can be mild and sweet or bold and pungent, and the best part is, it’s up to us and how we prepare it. To bring out garlic’s robust side, Melissa recommends adding minced, pureed or smashed raw garlic to a dish. But to tone garlic’s flavor down a bit, you can also quickly sauté it.
To add the benefits of garlic to our meals, Melissa suggests preparing a quick garlic butter that can be added to or served alongside almost any dish. Just stir together smashed raw garlic with organically flavored sea salt and fresh rosemary to make a paste that can combine with butter to bring it brand new life.
Boy do chickpeas have our hearts. High in fiber AND protein, these little Mediterranean gems are deserving of their super-food status. With their heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention their yummy taste, we’re always looking to add a little more chickpea to our lives.
Melissa suggests cooking with dried chickpeas versus canned. Dried chickpeas are infinitely creamier, and they’re void of the extra preservatives and sodium you’ll find in canned chickpeas. For easier digestion, you should always begin by soaking chickpeas. Try Melissa’s quick-soak method to save some time: simply bring chickpeas to a boil for five minutes in a small saucepan, remove from heat and let the beans soak in the water for one hour. Drain the water and rinse before cooking.
And speaking of cooking, check out this Mediterranean-inspired recipe Melissa shared with us. Chickpeas and brown rice and avocado, oh my.
Melissa’s Favorite Brown Rice Bowl
- ½ cup fresh chickpeas (see steps below)
- 2 cups brown rice
- ½ avocado, sliced
- 1 (preferably farm-fresh) egg
- 1 tbsp Arbequina EVOO
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- ½ tsp Ghost Scream Hot Sauce (optional)
- Pepper and Maldon Sea Salt Flakes (to taste)
For the chickpeas:
Cover beans with water and discard any beans that float. Rinse beans well and place in a large pot. Cover with two to three inches of cold water and add bay leaves and salt, if you like. Place over high heat and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, until softened, about 1 ½ hours.
- Combine brown rice with chickpeas and rice vinegar.
- Fry the farm-fresh egg over-easy in the olive oil.
- Place the egg on top of the rice mixture.
- Slice ½ an avocado and place on top of egg.
- Drizzle with olive oil and hot sauce (optional).
- Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.