Keep these common ingredients in your pantry for quick, simple Mediterranean-inspired meals.

By Lauren David
February 23, 2021
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Mediterranean food spans three continents—Africa, Asia. and Europe—with subtle and obvious variations from country to country and even region to region. Mediterranean cooking is inspired by the climate and land, by eating what is ripe and fresh each season. Although the Mediterranean diet is often a reference point for a healthy diet, for those who live in the Mediterranean—it's a lifestyle and an integral part of the culinary traditions.

Eating food at its peak is a way to savor and appreciate the delicious flavors, often using minimal ingredients. Canning food, such as tomatoes or fish, is a way to have delectable and nutritious options throughout the year, especially during the months when there is less abundance in the fields and seas.

Here is a quick look at a few key ingredients for a Mediterranean pantry.

Olive oil is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet because the climate is ideal for growing olives. Virgin or extra virgin olive oil is a staple on many tables and is used for a myriad of dishes. From sauteing vegetables, drizzling over salads, roasted vegetables, pasta, making dips or even for desserts, this golden yellow to light green hued oil adds depth and flavor to any meal. Try these top-rated recipes:

Tomatoes love warm and hot climates, so it's no surprise that these plump globes from the nightshade family are prominent in many dishes. Tomatoes are an essential staple. Freshly sliced tomato salads or chopped and mixed with other ingredients are a delight and refreshing during searing summers. Roasted tomatoes are turned into scrumptious sauces that are often canned to have them on hand throughout the year for pizzas, pastas or as a base for a sauce. Try these top-rated recipes:

Sugo di Pomodoro (Authentic Italian Tomato Sauce)
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Eggplants are prized in Mediterranean food. From Spain and Italy to Greece to Turkey, eggplants take the spotlight. These shiny fleshed purple, oval orbs are often oven-roasted, stuffed, grilled, fried, pureed or made into a delicious dip, such as Malidzano dip typical in Macedonia. Or even eaten as a base for a salad, such as the Melitzanosalata from Athens, Greece. Try these top-rated recipes:

Fish (canned or fresh). The Mediterranean sea provides an abundance of fish with well-known varieties such as tuna, sardines, anchovies, swordfish, hake, and sea bream. There are plenty of other distinct types unique to each region, too. Fish is often grilled, fried, or roasted in the oven. And is often prepared with few ingredients, such as a drizzle of olive oil, parsley or chopped and fried garlic, to showcase the freshness and flavor. Try these top-rated recipes:

Branzino Mediterranean
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Beans and Legumes (dried or canned) are grown throughout the Mediterranean and are a staple for making an array of meals. Hearty bean dishes vary from country to region, but one thing's for sure, each place has their favorite way to prepare them. Sometimes a plate of beans is cooked with a specific kind of stock, certain vegetables to complement the flavor or different types of meat. Lentils may be prepared as a soup, stew or base for a salad. Try these top-rated recipes:

Nuts grow well in the desert-esque climate of the Mediterranean. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and walnuts are some of the nuts that grow throughout this region. Nuts are often eaten as a snack, as an ingredient in dishes, or to make desserts with almond flour or pistachios in Baklava, or marzipan—an almond based treat. Try these top-rated recipes:

Rice is a common ingredient and grows in many areas of the Mediterranean. With many distinct varieties from short-grain, long-grain, Arborio and more, the type of rice depends on the dish and how it's prepared. Rice is often a centerpiece meal instead of a side. Consider the Valencian paella in Spanish cuisine or Italian risotto. Try these top-rated recipes:

Pasta and Bread. Wheat grows throughout this region and is a staple ingredient for making pasta and bread. Pasta is typically made from durum wheat, a hardy and durable wheat that is ideal for making pasta. Italy may be the focus for pasta but many other countries have their own pasta sauces and classic creations, too. Bread is a common centerpiece during a meal and for many a meal isn't quite complete if it's not accompanied by bread, ideally baked that morning from the local bakery. Try these top-rated recipes:

VIDEO: See How to Make Homemade Focaccia

Olives. Olive trees grow abundantly in the Mediterranean. Olive oil graces many kitchens, as do these delicious healthy bite-sized fats. Ranging in color from light green to black, olives can be stuffed with anchovies, peppers, garlic or more and are often marinated to amplify their flavor. Often eaten as a accompaniment with a glass of wine or beer before a meal, olives are often made into a tapenade, used as a topping on salads, pizzas, and pastas or to complement main dishes. Try these top-rated recipes:

Cheese. Long before there were refrigerators, cheese making was a way to save and preserve milk for later. There are endless possibilities for eating and using cheese in the Mediterranean diet. You can find it fresh, cream-style cheese, semi-cured, and cured and made with sheep, goat, cow, buffalo or a mixture. Cheese can be part of breakfast, lunch, or dinner or even for snack time with an array of ways to incorporate it. Thin slices of cheese are often accompanied by bread, as a topping for pizza or focaccia, in savory and sweet pastries, in salads, in pasta, and in an array of other dishes and desserts. Try these top-rated recipes:

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
| Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Herbs. Many herbs grow abundantly in the hot desert climate offering savory touches to many recipes. Bay leaf, basil, fennel, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage are a sampling of typical herbs grown throughout the Mediterranean and frequently used to brighten the flavor of a meal. Basil is a crucial herb in Italian cuisine with the famous Basil pesto or dried oregano dashed on pizzas or in sauces. Bay leaf is often tossed into stews or soups. Try these top-rated recipes:

Wine is an important part of the Mediterranean culture with vineyards spanning throughout the countryside. Thanks to an ideal climate and soil that caters to a variety of different grape types, each country has its own styles of wine that pair well with traditional dishes. Wine is an integral part of the culture and is a form of socializing and bringing people together and is usually affordable. In many Mediterranean countries, a glass of wine at the local bar may cost the same or less than a soda.

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