How Living by the Mediterranean Changed How I Eat
Vegetables can have flavor, depth, and soul
As a child, the tray of orange baby carrots, red tomatoes, green broccoli, and stone white cauliflower, was how I knew vegetables. This tray was served at most parties, family gatherings, and events. Few people would eat it. Few would eat anything from it without first immersing the veg into the thick white dip in the middle of the tray. Vegetables were a side item, a suggestion of what I should be eating. They were dry, raw and bitter.
Along the Mediterranean, vegetables are celebrated. Eaten at every meal. Dressed. Sauced. Roasted and pickled.
Yes, the vegetables are fresher and juicer. But they are also seasoned, cooked and cared for with the appreciation we in America too often give steak. Yes, there are beautiful outdoor markets with piles of the freshest vegetables. There are also grocery stores and most often that’s where I shopped. It was convenient. Unlike American grocery stores that too often push the fresh vegetables off to the side, there the vegetables are the main showcase, often dead center as you walk through the door.
On my first trip to the grocery store I needed to stock my pantry and went looking for the ultimate basic, salt. I went around every aisle and combed through the shelfs. I could not find it. Although I could not read the language on anything in the store, I thought for sure I could locate it from the graphics. Nope. I had to ask for help and was led to a package with a picture of a cucumber.
Cucumbers are eaten at every meal. At breakfast, I ate cucumber salad. At lunch I ate pickled cucumbers and cucumber tomato salad. For dinner, I ate roasted cucumbers and fresh cucumbers.
Salt + Cucumbers = Heaven.
Like raw meat, raw vegetables are better when you show them love. As famous American chef Samin Nosrat describes, for successful cooking, you need four elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat. Would you enjoy eating an unsalted steak? Why is barbecue so damn delicious? These four elements make for great meat and even more incredible vegetables.
Salt — brings out the vegetables’ natural flavors.
Fat — olive oil and butter bring depth and richness.
Acid — lemon brings brightness and tang.
Heat — caramelizes and softens the vegetables’ textures.
The Mediterranean table would be full of small bowls filled with brightly colored salads. I ate salads upon salads, upon salads. Each one combining different types of cooked and raw vegetables. The fresh shredded carrots with cumin, parsley and lemon. The roasted eggplant and pepper salad dripping with sweet olive oil. The bright beet salad with mint and sour goat cheese or the simple baked potato smashed in between wax paper with butter and herbs and served with a small wooden spoon at Miznon. There also was where it entered my life, the whole roasted cauliflower head. This golden triumph has finally burst its way onto the American food scene and cauliflower is starting to take over.
Vegetables have soul and are undervalued in America. Stop serving that same old veggie tray. Explore your produce section and buy something new. Take the time to season, marinate, and roast your vegetables. Mix them together with other fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs. Eat your vegetables.