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Flavours of the Mediterranean

Flavours of the Mediterranean

Summer Nicks travels to the exotic Mediterranean and discovers a little about the food that has been sweeping the world for millennia

The exotic Mediterranean Sea is the cavernous heart that allows a delicious and desirable life to bloom in the countries that cuddle her. To speak of ‘Mediterranean food’ — to allow a single dialect to depict the couscous and garlic chicken of Morocco, an Egyptian breakfast of ful and falafel, honey and bean from Lebanon, Greek salads and lamb moussaka, Italian pastas, Spanish tortilla and Turkish seafood stews — may seem an idiot’s task. Nonetheless, the variety of countries that surround the sea split more than a coastline. It is true in saying that domination of the world began with the management of the Mediterranean, and as a result has been the seat of many empires over many a millennia. From the Phoenicians to the Arabs, the Romans to the French and Spaniards, the Turks to the Venetians, the Jews to the Christians to the Muslims and so forth. This elongated history of majestic colonisation, not without forgetting that of post and present international trade, has delivered a profoundly communal culture and cultivation of cuisines amongst the Mediterranean countries.

The majestic Mediterranean can be bluntly separated by three culinary territories: North African (namely Morocco and Tunisia), Eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Greece, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey), and Southern European (Italy, France, Spain). It is the wines and herbs, which are pivotal to Southern European cuisine, and a spicy complexity that audaciously flavors the North African regional delicacies.

The remarkably constant and stable weather patterns of dry, hot summers yield to gorgeous, fresh winters. The earth is arid, the light obvious and pristine. Even the flora and fauna sport shielding earth of white which provides to a great extent of the topography an alleviated and delineated pastel green, wizened by the strict azure sky floating about and the bright sapphire waters.

Victual is fundamental to the demonstrative and sometimes vociferous hospitality, which is ubiquitously crucial in the region since the days when the Pharaoh ruled and Moses parted the Red Sea during the Exodus, when Troy fell, the Romans floundered and Marco Polo came back bearing gifts of silk and fireworks. Flavours are vigorous and hearty, discernable and freed by uncomplicated sauces and heavy blobs of dairy by-products. Home cooked cuisines override as haut monde cooking arc before the traditional brilliance of the abode and grate.
The landscape’s reward, encouraged by the moderate temperatures and environment, is indicated in the principal role vegetables perform in chow right through the territories. A light insalata of onions, garlic, cucumber, okra, and tomatoes, drowned in olive oil, is usually the beginning of most meals. Eggplant and squash flourish, as do capsicums, mushrooms, artichokes, rocket and lettuces. Legumes, too, are ever-present: lentils and chickpeas in Egypt, green beans in France, white and red kidney beans in Tuscany. Fresh herbs include basil, parsley, rosemary, mint, dill, oregano and fennel.

Seafood remains at the core of the cooking tradition and birthright. All manner of shellfish explode superbly in soups, casseroles and pastas. Fresh and cured anchovies are widely eaten, as are various fish like sole, flounder, grouper and salmon with other sealife such as shark, eel, cuttlefish, squid, octopus and shellfish such as mussels, clams and oysters integrated into a wham bang of delectable and palate tickling cuisines. Lamb, mutton, pork, rabbit, and poultry provide most of the meat. Because of the land’s inability to support large herds of cows, beef becomes rare in Mediterranean cuisine.

The people cook over open flames or in ovens, they drink wine or tea with meals (depending greatly on the country) and live a life of siestas and full stomachs. Their clear skin, thick hair and strong bones are testimony to a healthy diets and extended lives. It’s not unusual for a person to live well into their 90s, even 100s. This is the Mediterranean.  This is what some say, “To live bountifully on the gifts provided by God.”

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