June 24, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 13
Cooking with Fire
Summer is finally here, and it's time to fire up the grill, Mediterranean-style. What could be more Mediterranean than cooking al fresco? Offering fresh air, a slower pace, and the company of friends, grilling is a relaxing and convivial way of cooking. Although it's likely the oldest and most straightforward cooking technique, grilling is an art, and it requires knowing your equipment, understanding the food you're cooking, and using your instinct to harness the heat of dynamic fire.

Grilling is usually associated with festivities in the Mediterranean - Easter lamb in Greece, mangal grilling in Israel - but it's also an everyday occurrence. Classic Mediterranean comfort foods like pita bread, pizza, seafood, and fresh vegetables can all be deliciously prepared on the grill with simple ingredients. 

Aromatic ingredients like garlic, onions, and herbs are especially fit for the grill; they can be used more liberally because grilled foods can stand up to their strong flavors. Hardy herbs - marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano - do well in marinades before grilling, and delicate herbs - basil, parsley, mint, tarragon - add just the right amount of flavor as food comes off the grill. 

Here are a few more ideas for simple grilled meals, inspired by the Mediterranean:
  1. Hearty grilled salad. Much like roasting in a hot oven, grilling is a delicious way to bring out the flavor of vegetables. Artichokes and eggplants, charred to perfection, are probably the most popular in the Mediterranean. Most other vegetables, and many fruits too, can be tossed on the grill, from zucchini and peppers, to peaches and figs. Tougher lettuces like romaine and radicchio can be halved or quartered, brushed with olive oil, and placed directly on the grill as well. Toss everything together with mozzarella or feta cheese and some quick homemade dressing for a delicious salad. Add some Mediterranean whole grains like bulgur or farro and serve with grilled whole wheat pita bread for a more substantial meal.
  2. Quick pasta. Cook pasta in boiling water inside while you grill your favorite pasta meal ingredients outside. Try grilling some fennel and tomatoes, chop them when they're tender, and toss with the pasta and plenty of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and capers. Cast iron skillets and other heavy, oven-proof pans can even be placed directly on the grill to heat garlic, olive oil, and other sauce ingredients for the pasta while you grill the other foods. Cooking the ingredients separately, then tossing together right before eating, allows them to maintain their individual character and flavor.
  3. Skewers and sauce. Even after thousands of years, skewering food and roasting it over open fire has never lost its appeal. There are different names for the technique around the Mediterranean (souvlaki in Greece, kebab in Turkey and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, and spedini in Italy), but they all refer to pretty much the same thing. It's especially useful for grilling small foods, like shrimp, scallops, mushrooms or cherry tomatoes, and it's a great way to cook many different foods at the same time. Experiment with different foods on the same skewer, cut to the same size, and serve with an easy homemade grilling condiment
  4. Savory packets. Sealing food in a heat proof wrapping - traditionally banana leaves, palm fronds, and grape leaves, but these days more often in tin foil - and placing directly on heated coals has been done for thousands of years, and it's a very forgiving method of cooking. The sealed packet essentially steams the food, and creates a powerful combination of flavor. Try fish on a bed of thinly sliced vegetables, and add fresh herbs, lemon juice and garlic. 
Note: A charcoal grill, using man-made fire, is the traditional instrument used for grilling, and it is considered the best because of the flavor it imparts on food. Gas grills are the next best thing, available for more spontaneous cooking (no careful preparation of coals required), followed by stovetop grill pans if cooking outside is not an option. All three methods of grilling can accommodate most grilling recipes and techniques; make the most with what you have. 

Look to the recipes below for your next Mediterranean cookout. And don't forget to oil the grill!

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

Although tacos are a distinctly Latin American traditional food, there are equivalents in the Mediterranean region, such as pizza and Greek gyros. Whole grains are vehicles for delicious and healthful fish and vegetables in both traditional diets. In this recipe, a scrumptious Greek yogurt sauce is paired with griddled shrimp and crunchy slaw on warm whole grain corn tortillas.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the National Fisheries Institute

Once you choose your favorite pickled vegetable - okra, carrots, snap peas, etc. - this relish only takes about five minutes to come together. The saltiness and crunch of relish complement smoky grilled meat, poultry, and vegetables perfectly. It's a great way to add more vegetables to your summer meals.

Recipe and photo courtesy of FOODMatch

Ring in grilling season with this delicious spin on kabobs, featuring the mild and nutty flavor of walnuts. Yogurt-marinated chicken kabobs are seared to perfection and then drizzled with a tasty red pepper and walnut puree. Marinating chicken or meat in yogurt helps tenderize it, and it adds plenty of moisture and flavor as well. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of California Walnuts.

Enjoy these juicy Greek-style burgers with a green salad or grilled vegetables. Rolled oats give the burgers extra structure, and if you serve them on whole wheat buns, you'll get double the whole grains!

Recipe and photo courtesy of Mooney Farms.

Books We Recommend

Mediterranean Grilling
by Diane Kochilas

From Turkish kebabs and Spanish-style grilled artichokes, Diane Kochilas takes the familiar and much-loved cooking method of grilling and pairs it with the cuisines of the Mediterranean.

by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby

Schlesinger and Willoughby burst on the culinary scene a dozen years ago with the genre-defining Thrill of the Grill; now they're back to show once again that cooking your food is as much fun as eating it.
by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

The recipes in Ottolenghi reflect the authors' upbringings in Jerusalem yet also incorporate culinary traditions from California, Italy, and North Africa, among others.

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: