Mediterranean Cuisine Offers a Fiesta of Regional Tastes

Say “Mediterranean cuisine” and many diners think automatically of Italian, coastal French or Spanish food. However, the regions around Mediterranean Sea also boast a wide range of ingredients used in many regional variations.

Two ingredients that are common to most regional Mediterranean cuisines are olive oil and garlic. Many countries that ring the Mediterranean have climates conducive to growing both olives and garlic, and people always use foods that are commonly grown where they live. Fish and seafood dishes are common, although over-fishing in the region has resulted in the need to import some stock.

The Mediterranean’s central role in civilization’s progress can be demonstrated through its varied cuisines. A good example of this is the cuisine of Croatia, one of the Balkan countries formed in the late 20th century by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. This one small country has what’s known as a cuisine of regions, especially between the coast and more inland areas. Dating back to ancient times, Croatia reflects the many cultures that have ruled it at one time or another.

For example, Croatian mainland cuisine shows more characteristics of Slavic history, overlaid with waves of Viennese, Hungarian and Turkish influences. Along the coast (always a high-traffic region for cultural exchange) the cuisine resembles Greek and Roman traditions, as well as modern-day Italian and French cooking. Croatian meals can include delicacies such as lamb garnished with oregano, mint, basil and other herbs; grilled veal steaks stuffed with ham and cheese; and game from Dalmatia including venison, pheasant, wild duck and goose. There are recipies for types of braten and wurst, blood sausages and even a Christmas dish from Zagreb called Purgerica Turkey stuffed with chestnuts, apples, lemons and bacon.

Along the Croatian coast, however, the menu changes drastically from inland fare. Squid, octopus and cuttlefish are all popular in soups, stews and salads, as well as the rich Italian rice dish called risotto. Catfish or carp are breaded and fried or grilled, while a popular shellfish delicacy, Buzara, is sautéed in garlic, olive oil, parsley and white wine.

Farther south along the Mediterranean, Greek cuisine is well known as a distinctive form of cooking, even though it shares many characteristics with Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Contemporary Greek cooking uses the Mediterranean staples of olive oil and olives broadly, along with bread and other grain foods, vegetables, herbs, cheese, wine, fish and poultry, pork and rabbit. Nuts and honey are main ingredients of many Greek desserts, especially the classic baklava.

To the west, the cuisine of the island nation of Malta bears the legacies of its past rulers, including Spanish, Moorish, Italian, British and Sicilian influences. Because it’s an island, Maltese cuisine is based on fresh seasonal locally available produce and seafood.

Winter or summer, the start of many Maltese meals is soup, a lighter broth-based concoction in warmer months and a hearty vegetable soup known as “minestra” when the weather turns cold. Traditionally minestra combines numerous fresh vegetables with one or more pulses, such as beans, chick peas and split peas. When accompanied by slices of the crusty Maltese bread called “hobza,” minestra makes a complete meal.
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Nostalgia Chick – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Originally posted Dec. 2012

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