Okay, I admit it. Growing up, I was a disaster in the kitchen. Let’s be honest: I was rarely ever in the kitchen, unless it was to get processed food or put something in the microwave. I was bad.
But I didn’t stay that way. In my late teens, cooking became a real novelty to me. But that was a problem, too: it was a novelty. I would find archaic French recipes which took two days to prepare – and which I had neither the ability nor the tools to execute. Then, there was my canning phase (I once made an amazing blueberry apple butter; but I was giving it away in bathtubs, and still couldn’t find the end of it. I never wanted to see a blueberry again). When everyone in my high school cooking class chose easy, modest recipes for the big test, I decided to bake a calzone – with homemade dough, of course. It came out okay (somehow), but really – what was I trying to prove?
All I accomplished was to exhaust myself, and to decide that cooking is too hard. Eventually, I swore off cooking altogether, and gave in again: to the deceitful, alluring call of frozen pizzas and canned soups.
Fast forward: Me, of all people, falls in love with a chef – and ends up working with him in a kitchen. (Doesn’t life just have a great sense of humour?)
I learned so much from the experience, but mostly – I learned about myself. I learned to re-train my brain to simplify the mental process of preparing food. I learned my palette – which ingredients appealed so strongly to me, that even including a small amount in a dish would excite me. (You’ll see what a few of those are below.) I learned that food was beautiful, and simple, and obvious; and I learned how much better it tasted when you made it yourself, plated it properly, and felt proud of it.
The recipes below aren’t mine. They are a few of my favourites that look gorgeous, taste amazing, and incorporate some of my most-craved components (pomegranate, balsamic vinegar, rich soft cheese). They might not all be strictly Mediterranean, but they have a definite Med flair. They take from 15 to 40 minutes, so you can choose them as they suit you. I’ve reworked the recipes to simplify them or suggest possible substitutes – I don’t speak cookbook, so it’s more helpful for me to translate into realistic terms. (Speaking of cookbook, two of these bloggers have published cookbooks that are 4.5 – 5 star bestsellers that you should probably own. I’ll link them here, and again at the end. They are beautiful, and they’re all on sale.)
When you take interest in your meals and love the way they look, it can transform your relationship with food – I am living proof.
Takes 30 minutes – vegetarian
Basic ingredients: roasting veggie (beets, peppers, tomatoes…) // olive oil // thyme // pasta // butter // mushrooms // garlic (if you like it) // balsamic vinegar // honey // crushed red pepper or cayenne // crumbled goats cheese // topping of choice (pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, raspberries, cranberries…)
Preheat your oven to 425 f / 220 c. // Original recipe uses beets, but this works just as well with bell peppers or tomatoes. Chop your chosen veggie into medium-large pieces, toss them in a little olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper, and bake for 20-30 minutes – until they’re soft. // While your veggie of choice cooks, make your pasta. (You know how to make pasta.) // Put a big spoon of butter and a good drizzle of olive oil into a skillet on high. Cook some sliced mushrooms (whichever are your favourites, I love portobellas) until they begin looking done, then add some minced garlic (if you like it). Cook just long enough to soften the garlic, then put the mushrooms aside. // Pour a healthy amount of balsamic vinegar (this will be your sauce base), a few spoonfuls of honey, and some crushed red pepper (or even a sprinkle of cayenne) into your skillet. Let it bubble softly for 5-10 minutes, until it’s thick and a little sticky. // Mix your sticky sauce with your mushrooms and pasta. If it’s not saucy enough, add water to thin it. Serve it with your roasted vegetable, and add crumbled goats cheese. Pomegranate seeds are a pretty touch, but you can also experiment with using crunchy pine nuts, raspberries, or dried cranberries.
Takes 25 minutes
Basic ingredients: apple cider vinegar // powdered sugar or sweetener // red onion // olive oil // minced garlic // sweet syrup (pomegranate molasses, cranberry juice concentrate, grenadine) // cumin // Greek yogurt // mayonnaise // lemon juice // capers (optional) // dill // mint (optional)
Preheat your oven to 450 f / 230 c. // Put some apple cider vinegar in a bowl with a big spoonful of powdered sugar (it dissolves a lot easier – but you are welcome to sweeten it however you like). Mix it well, then drop in your sliced red onion. Cover and let it soak in the fridge. // Mix a few big spoons of olive oil with a few more big spoons of minced garlic. Add a few spoons of something sweet and syrupy (original recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, but you can try cranberry juice concentrate, or a touch of grenadine). Add a moderate sprinkling of cumin. // Put your salmon on baking paper, on a baking tray. Coat with your sweet cumin mixture. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until it’s done. // While that’s cooking, mix a small bowl of Greek yogurt with a few big scoops of mayonnaise and a big spoon of lemon juice. Mix in some capers (if you like them), a healthy amount of dill (dried works fine, just don’t use too much), mint (if you like), and salt / pepper. // Serve the salmon with the onions on top and the dill-yogurt dressing.
Takes 30 minutes
Basic ingredients: peaches (fresh or canned) // balsamic vinegar // honey (maybe) // olive oil // basil // oregano // chicken // prosciutto or bacon // arugula or spinach // cherry tomatoes // crumbled cheese (whichever kind you like) // mozzarella // avocado (optional) // seeds (sunflower or pumpkin, optional) // dijon mustard
Cover some chopped peaches with balsamic vinegar and a generous drizzle of honey – or, use canned but skip the honey. // Coat some chicken in olive oil, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. // Put a skillet on medium-high heat, and cook your peach pieces for 5 minutes. (Save the sweet balsamic for your dressing!) // Cook your chicken and some prosciutto (or bacon) in the skillet until done. Then, slice your chicken, and crumble your crispy prosciutto (or bacon). // In your salad bowl, mix arugula or spinach with some cherry tomatoes, and top with some crumbled cheese (blue cheese, feta cheese, goats cheese…). Mix in your peaches, chicken, some mozzarella (shredded is easiest), and avocado slices (if you like). Sprinkle with some seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) if desired. // For a dressing, mix your leftover sweet balsamic with olive oil, basil, and a tiny touch of dijon mustard.
Takes 15 minutes – vegetarian
Basic ingredients: berries (recipe used blackberries, but blueberries or thawed frozen berries would work fine) // a little bit of chopped fresh basil // thick hearty bread (or whichever kind you like) // sliced cheese (fontina, provolone, gouda, gruyere…) // olive oil
Mash your berries with a fork, then mix in chopped basil (fresh is best). // Heat skillet over medium-low heat. // Put a slice of cheese on your bread, then spread with your berry mixture. // Add a dab of olive oil to your skillet, then lay bread in skillet. Lay other slice of bread on top. Cook 5 minutes or until toasted. // Flip sandwich carefully and toast other side, adding a drizzle more oil if needed.
Takes 40 minutes – vegetarian
Basic ingredients: chopped squash (acorn, butternut) // butter // honey // brown sugar (or white, if that’s all you have) // crushed red pepper flakes (or cayenne) // mozzarella (or burrata) // olive oil // sage or rosemary // hazelnuts or almonds (optional) // pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 f / 220 c. // Coat chopped squash with a mix of: a hefty portion of melted butter, some big spoons of honey, a big spoon of brown sugar (you can use white if you have to), a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes (or cayenne: something to add a kick), and salt and pepper. // Cook for 20 minutes, flip, cook another 15 minutes or until done. // Sprinkle with a good bit of mozzarella – or add crumbled mozzarella balls (original recipe calls for burrata, but mozzarella will do the trick). Drizzle gently with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and sage (or rosemary). If desired, top with lightly toasted chopped hazelnuts (or more moderately priced almonds) – pomegranate seeds (remember, dried cranberries also work here) – and a drizzle of honey.
Links to their cookbooks again, if you love their photography and recipes as much as I do:
What ingredients send you drooling?
Tell me in the comments – happy cooking!GET TO KNOW US: