Mediterranean cuisine often brings to mind foods such as hummus, pita, and olive oil. However, most people don’t realize just how diverse Mediterranean cuisine is due to its influence from a variety of cultures and regions.
This delicious cuisine originates as far back as Ancient Egypt between the third and fourth centuries A.D. Yet, the concept of Mediterranean cuisine as we know it today is actually relatively new, only dating back to 1950 and a book titled A Book of Mediterranean Food.
Today we will look at the origins of Mediterranean cuisine and some of the most common similarities and distinctions that make this type of cooking so popular and well accepted across the globe. Additionally, we will reference some of the most popular menu options your favorite Dulles, VA Mediterranean restaurant offers so that the next time you need your fix of fresh Mediterranean cuisine, you know just where to go.
Common Elements of Mediterranean Cuisine
The concept of Mediterranean cuisine has its roots in an area near the Mediterranean Sea that grows the olive tree in abundance. Here, the most well-recognized and popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil, is produced, distributed, and even exported worldwide for use in traditional Mediterranean dishes. At Cafesano, fresh salads are made to order and served with olive oil-based homemade dressings.
The three core ingredients that make up Mediterranean cuisine, regardless of region of influence, are olives, wheat, and grapes.
Since the Mediterranean region has so many olive trees, it makes sense that the people there consume the highest amounts of olive oil when compared to every other country. How nice of them to share with the rest of the world, right?
Olive trees produce a bitter fruit that is ideal for making the healthiest and most delicious olive oils for cooking. Olive oil works great as an added dressing in all kinds of foods, adding a bold and distinct flavor to everything from appetizers and salads to pasta and other main dishes.
Free of hydrogenated oils (aka unhealthy trans fats) and full of flavor, the olive oil used in Mediterranean dishes, and found in many of the menu selections at Cafesano, offers diners a healthful and tasty dose of what people near the Mediterranean Sea eat on a daily basis.
Wheat is seen in fields across all regions of the Mediterranean and is considered one of the staples in Mediterranean cuisine. Pasta and couscous are just some of the ways wheat is incorporated into Mediterranean cuisine.
Cafesano offers flavorful dishes that use this Mediterranean staple in many ways. For instance, nosh on some yummy whole grain ciabatta Paninis filled with your favorite meats, veggies, and cheeses. Or, choose from any of our flavorful pasta dishes such as Lasagna Emiliana, Baked Ziti, or even the more traditional Chicken Alfredo. And if you want a side of healthy Basmati Brown Rice to accompany your dinner, Cafesano has that too.
Grapes can be used in Mediterranean cuisine to make wine, dried as raisins for extra flavor in salads or bread, or even as a simple fruit to munch on pre-dinner. Producing some of the world’s largest grape harvests, the Mediterranean produces grapes with a wide range of exquisite flavor profiles.
Other Widely Used Ingredients
In addition to the three main staples of Mediterranean cuisine, other commonly used ingredients that round out a traditional Mediterranean meal include:
- Fresh Vegetables. Roasted, sautéed, grilled, pureed, and served fresh in salads, you can bet your local Dulles, VA Mediterranean restaurant will have plenty of vegetables available throughout their menu. Eggplant, artichoke, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, lettuce, and onions are served up daily at Cafesano in salads, sandwiches, pasta and pizza.
- Meat & Seafood. Meats such as chicken, beef and pork are typically grilled and served as kabobs or skewers. Additionally, seafood is regularly included in a Mediterranean meal. At Cafesano, all of the above proteins are offered as kabobs or skewers.
- Spices. Fresh herbs dominate Mediterranean cuisine giving it the unique and fresh flavor that everyone has come to know and love. The Mediterranean region is known for growing herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary, to name a few, making it only natural to add these tasty, flavor-boosting herbs to Mediterranean dishes.
But What about the Mediterranean Diet?
Though often used interchangeably, Mediterranean cuisine is not always meant to mean the same thing as the popular Mediterranean Diet that people refer to for a healthy eating diet. In fact, many chefs that create one-of-a-kind Mediterranean dishes are only concentrating on the ingredients, not whether the food offers a health benefit.
That being said, lots of Mediterranean cuisine is healthy and can be attributed to the ingredients that are used in most Mediterranean style foods and make up the basis of the Mediterranean diet. At Cafesano, a lot of thought is given to the ingredients used in each menu item and every effort is made to keep the overall menu as healthy as possible.
Common Distinctions of Mediterranean Cuisine
The Mediterranean can be divided into three specific regions, all of which have a common Mediterranean cuisine foundation, but also have their own unique take on Mediterranean flavors.
This region includes Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. Foods here are often made with a lot of yogurts and cheeses. In addition, spices such as parsley, sumac, mint, and lemon juice dominate dishes in this region. The area is also known for its nuts, rice, pitas, chickpeas, and meat kabobs, all of which are familiar Mediterranean foods that can be found in many of Cafesano’s menu items.
This region is comprised of Italy, Southern France, and Spain. Wine is frequently used both for cooking and consumed on its own at most meals, setting this region’s Mediterranean cuisine apart from all other regions. Tomatoes, garlic, and pine nut combinations are used in a lot of dishes and a variety of grains are used in their breads and pasta.
The final region includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. A wide variety of spices are used in North Africa to add unique flavors to its very distinct Mediterranean cuisine. Some of the more common spices include cumin, coriander, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, chilies, saffron, and paprika. In addition, dried fruits, recognized for their sweetness, are used a lot and are characteristic of this region’s Mediterranean cuisine.
As noted above, Mediterranean cuisine, and the ingredients found in the Mediterranean Diet, are based on a wide variety of food items found in various regions of the Mediterranean. The combination of these food items and the many ways they’re prepared specific to the region they come from, is at the heart of what makes Mediterranean cuisine so very unique and flavorful. An added bonus is that many Mediterranean items not only taste good, they’re good for you too!
If you’re in the Reston or Dulles, Virginia area and looking for a Mediterranean cuisine “fix,” be sure to visit Cafesano. Offering the best in both Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, you are sure to enjoy exactly what those living by the Mediterranean Sea experience every day ─ flavorful, fresh and healthy meals with bold and tasty flavor profiles that are guaranteed to prompt you to come back again and again.