The Fiji Times » Mediterranean cuisine

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As many people think of diet and immunity as an added defense and healing force against COVID-19, there are increasing suggestions to include herbal medicine and fresh produce in the daily diet.

Vevedu juice apparently has a beneficial effect on those recovering from an illness and on those who want to boost their immunity with traditional herbs.

However, like most traditional medicines, they are not a cure for serious illnesses like COVID-19, but they can help relieve pain and speed recovery.

Strengthening your body’s immunity and defenses with traditional medicines and more fresh products is now highly recommended for everyone.

There is an abundance of fresh food in the markets, but sometimes we need to come up with new cooking methods to keep the boredom at bay.

We all love and enjoy our local food, but every now and then the family wants to try something different.

Asian, Indian, and Fijian cuisine are household staples, but another ancient culture gives us a glimpse of how to transform local ingredients into entirely new dishes. Unlike many other ethnic cuisines, Mediterranean cuisine is not the product of any particular ethnic group, country or culture.

Instead, it’s a label that refers to the culinary trends shared by a variety of peoples living in the region surrounding the Mediterranean.

This body of water was an important route for merchants and travelers in ancient times as it facilitated trade and cultural exchange between emerging peoples of the region.

Where is the Mediterranean Sea?

Several ancient civilizations resided on its shores; Therefore, it had a great impact on these cultures. It provided avenues for trade, colonization, and war, and provided sustenance for numerous communities over the centuries.

This inland sea borders Europe to the north, Asia to the east and Africa to the south.

The countries around the Mediterranean Sea clockwise are Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Malta and Cyprus are island nations at sea, with the Gaza Strip and the British Overseas Territories of Gibraltar and Akrotiri and Dhekelia having sea coasts.

Traders distribute ingredients

The typically Mediterranean climate is hot, with dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The most important crops in the region include olives, grapes, oranges and tangerines.

The world’s earliest civilizations bordered the Mediterranean Sea, their development encouraged by the fertile soil and temperate climate that allowed agricultural production to thrive.

Traders exchanged cultural goods such as spices and other foods, which led to the widespread use of certain ingredients in the kitchens of these different peoples.

Through this form of cultural interaction, certain fundamental elements of Mediterranean cuisine became popular throughout the region.

Conquest was another factor in shaping Mediterranean cuisine.

The diverse cultures of the Mediterranean came into direct contact through the imperial building efforts of different civilizations.

After one civilization overthrew the government of another, they often imposed their own cultural practices on the conquered society.

As societies within the empire blended, culinary practices adapted and adapted, eventually leading to people across the region adopting the current culinary identifiers of Mediterranean cuisine.

Freshest produce and herbs

The most used and widespread ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine is olive oil.

Olive trees are widespread throughout the region and the distinctive oil is a major export of many Mediterranean countries. Fresh vegetables dominate Mediterranean cuisine, with a wide variety taking center stage throughout the region.

Although there are some cultural differences, eggplant, artichokes, squash, tomatoes, legumes, onions, mushrooms, okra, cucumbers, and a variety of vegetables and salads thrive and are commonly used in this region.

Meat is generally used sparingly in Mediterranean cuisine and tends to be grilled in most Mediterranean countries.

The rocky terrain of the Mediterranean cannot typically support larger herd animals like cows, limiting meat options to smaller domestic animals like goats, sheep, pigs and chickens, as well as some wildlife. Goat and sheep’s milk are also used in a variety of Mediterranean dishes, mainly in the form of yoghurt and cheese.

As in the Pacific, seafood is a more commonly used source of protein, found in a variety of dishes.

But one of the biggest contrasts compared to traditional Fijian cuisine is the predominant use of herbs to flavor dishes.

Mediterranean recipes use basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, parsley, dill, mint, garlic, tarragon, fennel, coriander and saffron.

These herbs imparted not only flavor but also herbal medicine.

Three different regions

Although there are common elements that unite Mediterranean cuisines, there are some significant regional and cultural differences.

The Mediterranean can be divided into three culinary regions: Eastern Mediterranean, Southern Europe and North Africa.

Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, which includes some Middle Eastern cuisine, describes the culinary traditions of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt.

Yogurt and cream cheeses like feta, haloumi, and lebanah are prominent in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine.

Flavors of parsley, sumac, mint and lemon juice dominate the palate of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, while pomegranates and nuts are regular ingredients in sauces and spreads.

Southern European cuisine, found in Italy, southern France and Spain, contains specific ingredients that set it apart from the rest of European cooking traditions and other Mediterranean countries.

Unlike other Mediterranean cuisines, wine is a prominent element of southern European cuisine, both as a flavor enhancer in cooked dishes and on its own.

Pork is also consumed more in these countries than in the rest of the Mediterranean and is more common than goat, mutton or lamb.

Tomatoes, garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard, anise and pine nuts are used in a variety of combinations to flavor southern European dishes. A variety of different grains are consumed: sourdough bread, pasta, and rice
are staples.

North African cuisine is characterized by a rich use of spices. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya all regularly use cumin, coriander, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, chilies, saffron and paprika in their cooking traditions.

Harissa and Rasel Hanout are two Fery spice blends that are used primarily in Moroccan cuisine and add a distinctive spiciness to stews and sauces.

Dried fruits such as dates, apricots and raisins are common in North African cuisine, both on their own and in cooked dishes.

Preserved lemons impart a characteristic salty spiciness in brine to North African dishes. Couscous, a grainy semolina that has the appearance of bulgur wheat with a rice-like texture, is a popular North African grain that goes well with a variety of stews and meat dishes.

Lamb, mutton and goat are the dominant proteins in North African dishes, although chicken and even beef make regular culinary appearances.

A slow-cooked stew of meat, vegetables and gravy prepared in a conical-shaped ceramic pot, the Moroccan tagine is perhaps the most well-known and popular North African dish: a flavorful, hearty and balanced dish.

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, with fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices dominating the food pyramid.

Ironically, the Mediterranean food pyramid is upside down compared to how many Fijians eat, with meat and sweets being eaten in very small amounts. Learning to use more herbs in your cooking can make dishes tastier without adding excessive amounts of salt, and combined with consuming more fresh produce, Mediterranean cooking offers fresh new ways to eat healthily.

  • Lance Seeto is the host of FBC-TV’s Exotic Delights and owner of KANU Restaurant in Nadi.
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