October 2, 2015
Vol. VII No. 20
In This Issue
Seasonal vegetables at a market in Buenos Aires. Oldways photo.

Happy Vegetarian Month!

It's October, and that means we're celebrating Mediterranean vegetarian dishes in honor of Vegetarian Month. Whether you are a vegetarian or not, the Mediterranean diet offers plenty of inspiration for meals sans meat, poultry, and fish. A plant-based diet is something to think about given recent health studies that show it may reduce the risk of developing cancer and inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve blood sugar control.

When we talk about traditional Mediterranean cuisine, we are usually referring to Mediterranean peasant cooking, a class of cooking tied to inexpensive ingredients with long shelf lives and seasonal, easy-to-grow vegetables. It also happens to be predominantly vegetarian. Mediterranean cooks without the means to afford animal protein learned to be extremely resourceful. They created a depth of flavor in their meals by using other powerful ingredients that were available to them such as herbs, spices, cheese and olive oil, and cooking techniques that maximized the flavor of their produce.

A few Mediterranean vegetarian staples that come to mind include horta (Greek braised greens) peperonata (Italian sautéed sweet peppers), and ful-medames (Egyptian fava bean stew). While these dishes are incredibly delicious, they don't make a filling meal by themselves. They are often eaten with bread, such as pita or injera, or another grain, such as polenta or bulgur. Pulses, "the meat of the poor," usually make it to the vegetarian table in some form.

There are several standard Mediterranean dishes that can be adapted based on ingredients on hand and easily satisfy for a vegetarian main meal. Pasta dishes are a prime example, with classics like mushroom ravioli and spinach lasagna we all know and love. Here are a few more adaptable main dishes to try:

Frittata is a savory egg custard dish that is cooked on the stove and finished in the oven. It can take on a variety of vegetables - leeks, mushrooms, broccoli and greens are especially delicious. 

Couscous is made from rolling semolina flour and water into small pellets. It is a staple food in North Africa, Sicily, and the Middle East because, like pasta, it can transform simply cooked vegetables or a lentil stew into a full-fledged meal. Look for whole grain options.

Dolma are traditional Middle Eastern stuffed vegetables. Although we commonly think of dolma as stuffed grape leaves, really any vegetable that will keep its shape can be stuffed with grains (usually rice or bulgur) and vegetables and baked in the oven or steamed on the stove. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, zucchini, and eggplant are popular choices.

Pilafs are baked or steamed rice dishes flavored by plenty of spices and herbs, and often finely chopped vegetables and pulses. They can be served with plant-based stews for double the vegetables. 

Pizza dough is a blank canvas for all kinds of vegetable combinations. Traditional Italians keep it simple with a few ingredients - classic Neapolitan pizza is made with just tomatoes and mozzarella - but these days mushrooms, artichokes, and even zucchini flowers are popular toppings. 

The next time you have vegetables to cook or leftovers to use up, look to one of these traditional dishes. Their flexibility allows you to experiment with different flavor combinations and create personalized, healthy, plant-based meals. For more vegetarian cooking inspiration, look to the recipes below. 

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe. 
Lentil Lasagna

Lentils are a plant-based diet pantry staple. They are packed with fiber, antioxidants, calcium, iron, and protein, and they come in a variety of colors. In this lasagna recipe, lentils add body to the tomato sauce filling for a satisfying vegetarian meal.

Recipe and photo courtesy of American Pulse Association

Date Pesto Pasta

For an alternative to traditional pesto, try date pesto with walnuts and feta cheese. Dates are high in potassium and fiber, and they add a natural sweet flavor that compliments savory spinach pasta.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Bard Valley Natural Delights.

Red Pepper Peanut Dip

This muhammara-inspired dip combines roasted red peppers and peanuts instead of traditional walnuts. Serve it with pita, spread it on toast, or use it as a sauce for kebabs, grilled meat, fish, or vegetables.

Recipe and photo courtesy of The Peanut Institute.

Pumpkin Kibbeh

Kibbeh are traditionally made with ground meat and fried in oil. This healthier, vegetarian recipe uses a chickpea and spinach filling and a delicious pumpkin and bulgur dough. The balls are also baked instead of fried. Enjoy them as an appetizer or mezze, with yogurt sauce and pita.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Al Wadi Al Akhdar

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. 

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:     

 Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)        





Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being.




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Your input matters for the future of cheese
The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking
by Martha Rose Shulman
In The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking, legendary New York Times columnist Martha Rose Shulman offers a simple method for creating delicious plant-based meals every day, regardless of season or vegetable availability. 

The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
by Deborah Madison
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a fully revised and expanded edition of the most comprehensive vegetarian cookbook ever published. A treasure from a truly exceptional culinary voice, it's for everyone interested in learning how to cook vegetables creatively, healthfully, and passionately. 

by Yotam Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi's food inspiration comes from his Mediterranean background and his unapologetic love of ingredients. His approach to vegetable dishes is wholly original and innovative, based on freshness and seasonality, and drawn from the diverse food cultures represented in London. Essential for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike!