The current consumer love affair with Mediterranean cuisine provides an opportunity to cast vegetables and grains in a refreshing new light on your menu. Some 28% of Gen Xers (ages 41-52) say they love Greek/Mediterranean food, ranking the highest of all demographics according to a report by Datassential. For more than half of a century, scientists have intensely studied the Mediterranean diet and have found significant evidence of countless health benefits including longevity, improved brain function, and protection from chronic diseases. Its positive reputation makes it a must-have for your menu, and it is best served in the summer months when many fresh Mediterranean-profile vegetables are at their peak.
This global cuisine actually covers a geographic area larger than the European Mediterranean, often including flavors and spices of North Africa and the Middle East, also positioned along the Mediterranean. The result is an assortment of healthy produce bound together with spices and dried herbs like the common za’atar blend and sumac with its fruity astringent flavor, as well as sauces like tzatziki and tahini. Part of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet come from judicious use of nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, and sesame seeds as well as legumes like cannellini beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, and split peas. Many grains are also commonly used including bulgur, farro, millet, quinoa, polenta, couscous, and barley. Consider working some of these Mediterranean essentials into your menu to satisfy consumer interest in this multicultural style of food.
To your cost advantage, many of the common vegetables of Mediterranean dishes are in high supply for summer promotions and seasonal updates like artichokes, arugula, beets, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, okra, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini. The flavors and sensibilities fit on the menu for any daypart or dish type. For breakfast or brunch, any of these vegetables would enhance an omelet or get creative with options such as zucchini pancakes with aioli or deviled eggs with hummus, tomatoes, and kalamata olives.Flatbread is the perfect base for a bounty of fresh
Flatbread is the perfect base for a bounty of fresh vegetables and ideal for a lunch item or appetizer (traditionally called a mezze in the Mediterranean). Manaaeesh is a Lebanese name for a flatbread baked with generous amounts of olive oil, salt, and za’atar blend seasoning. Top it with whipped feta, shredded beets and celeriac, pickled turnips, and fresh parsley. Add tomatoes and olives to the same ingredients and roll them up for a flavorful wrap sandwich.
Many familiar authentic Mediterranean dishes are plant-based as well and will be enhanced by peak season produce this time of year. They can also be billed as vegetarian menu items. For example:
Fattoush is a salad made from toasted or fried pita bread combined with vegetables such as radishes, cucumbers, red onion, and tomatoes along with mixed greens tossed with a simple lemon-olive oil dressing and sumac.
Tabbouleh is a salad consisting primarily of finely chopped parsley along with tomatoes, onion, bulgur, and mint, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
Baba ghanoush is an appetizer that works well as a pita dip or sandwich spread made from peeled, charred eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil, garlic, and various seasonings. Cooking the eggplant over an open flame provides the characteristic smoky taste.
Pita bread is a major accompaniment to these dishes and Mediterranean cuisine in general. No need to bake it yourself, Maines offers several signature brands of pita bread available from Bakery de France and Brickfire Bakery that will complement these offerings. Pita bread is also the sidecar of hummus, one of the most versatile Mediterranean spreads. Consumers are seeing it more often on the menu, especially in limited-service eateries. While it’s only on 12.7% of those menus, that’s a 24% increase in the past four years, according to Datassential. Hummus is traditionally a blend of cooked and mashed chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, but it can easily be reimagined as a signature item with fresh ingredients like beets, avocado, or roasted eggplant.
Not only are ancient grains trending, they also offer a wealth of health benefits such as fiber and protein, and they’re also filling. It’s easy to cleverly incorporate grains into Mediterranean-inspired dishes to add unique flavor and heartiness to produce-based dishes. Quinoa can add texture and a slightly nutty taste to a chopped salad with grilled zucchini, bell peppers, onions, eggplant, and portobello mushrooms topped with a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Farro, a grain similar to barley, is also great in salads or use it to make risotto. It makes a great substitute for oats in sweet or savory breakfast bowls – top farro with za’atar, lemon tahini, avocado, beets, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, and other veggies topped with a sunny side up egg for a savory breakfast or brunch item.
Made out of stone-ground cornmeal, ranging from medium to coarse, polenta is known as “Italian grits.” Polenta is a blank canvas, taking on the flavors of its complementary ingredients and bringing sweet corn flavor and texture to the dish. Serve creamy polenta as a side dish or condiment with Mediterranean lamb shanks, or bake it and top it with peppers, olive tapenade, fresh ricotta cheese, and fresh herbs for a simple appetizer.
Bulgur is a whole wheat grain that is most often used for bulking up tabbouleh salad. Cracked wheat or quinoa can also be substituted in this application. Or, combine bulgur with lentils, diced red onions, fresh herbs, and lemon juice for a different take on rice pilaf. No matter how you use them, alternative grains are incredibly versatile, nutritious, and the ideal complement to veggie-packed Mediterranean food.
Prewashed Red Andean Quinoa – 1 / 12/12 oz.
• Has a delicate, neutral taste that provides an excellent canvas for bold flavor.
Prewashed Tricolor Quinoa – 2/5 lb.
• A natural source of fiber, iron, and protein, quinoa is a great product to merchandise as a healthy option.
Israeli Tricolor Couscous – 2/5 lb.
• Imported from Israel and toasted, extracting more flavor.
Whole Wheat Couscous – 1 / 12/12 oz.
• Made from pure semolina.
• Has a granular appearance with a mild, nutty flavor and airy texture.
What’s On Trend
Other common Mediterranean dishes with growing consumer appeal are falafel, shawarma, and kabobs. Menu mentions of falafel in limited service restaurants are up 40% in the past four years, according to Datassential. It is a traditional Middle Eastern food commonly served with pita that can be promoted as a vegetarian “meatball,” as it is a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans seasoned with the likes of cardamom, coriander, cumin, and garlic. Once you have your recipe down, consider the creative ways you can cross-utilize it on the menu… in sandwiches, as a red bell pepper stuffing, taco filling, or pizza topping. The sauces to top each are endless including hummus, tahini, or dill sauce.
Among meats, shawarma has become one of the most mainstream Mediterranean preparations. It consists of packed-down slices of marinated meat such as chicken, lamb, or goat. It can be prepared in a variety of ways but is often slowly roasted all day on a visually appealing vertical rotisserie and then shaved. The marinade includes ingredients such as bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, dried lime, cardamom, and vinegar. The toppings have equal play in the meat’s popularity with such items as tahini, tabbouleh, fattoush, and hummus. Shawarma can also be the filling for pita bread, but also works well in wraps and on top of salads with other vegetables including tomatoes, grilled eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and onions. A garlic mayonnaise sauce will round out any shawarma dish.
Kabobs are a great way to showcase marinated meats with vegetables and dipping sauces, all used in other Mediterranean promotional dishes. The likeability factor is high among consumers while the cost of goods is minimal to you. Use any combination of meats and vegetables from your Mediterranean ingredient
list. Consider dried apricots, bell peppers, onions, and zucchini among the ingredients. The creativity comes in the marinades and seasonings used in the meat preparations.
Try these combinations:
Beef: garlic, tomato, onion, mint, cilantro, black pepper, coriander, and olive oil
Chicken: cumin, saffron, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger, black pepper, yogurt, and garlic
Lamb: cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, fennel, allspice, cloves, mustard seeds, dried oregano, and dried mint marinated in garlic and herbs with tomato, pepper, and onion
Fish: onion, garlic, lemon, mint, turmeric, cumin seed, and coriander