Keep things simple in the kitchen this summer with healthy one-dish Mediterranean meals. Aside from a knife and cutting board, you only need one dish or pot to make them! There are plenty of traditional examples of these kinds of dishes in the Mediterranean, from paella to pasta. 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 and enjoy your meal, and a greater chance that you’ll gather the energy to cook. 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.
Here are some of our favorite one-dish Mediterranean meal ideas:
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
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.
Frittatas (pictured at top), 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.
Lara Bertoia, Oldways Mediterranean Foods Alliance Program Manager
This blog post was inspired by a recent Fresh Fridays, our bi-weekly Mediterranean Foods Alliance newsletter. Click here to sign up to receive our next Fresh Fridays newsletter and never miss delicious Mediterranean recipes and cooking tips again.