Traditional Mediterranean fare covers a lot of ground—and Americanized hummus bowls are off the menu. This time-honored cuisine is undoubtedly mouthwatering, lavished with olive oil and plated over a rich slice of culinary history.
Geographically speaking, “Mediterranean” is an eponymous descriptor for countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Its food cultures include the recognizable delicacies of Greece, Italy and Spain to the Middle Eastern zest of Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Syria. However, today’s modernized concept is often strictly tied to Greek staples like falafel, which tends to cancel out the significant diversity of Middle Eastern, Southern European and North African plates that make up this culinary lifestyle.
Olives are a centerpiece of Mediterranean recipes regardless of each dish’s origin. The Mediterranean basin abounds with olive trees bearing the juiciest fruits for marinating, tossing into salad and, of course, extracting heart-healthy olive oil. Olive oil plays a pivotal role in Mediterranean favorites from refreshing tabbouleh (a Levantine minced herb salad) to hot Muhammara (the distinctly Syrian Aleppo pepper dip). It’s also drizzled and sprayed onto pans when cooking menemen (a Turkish egg scramble) and varieties of Middle Eastern kibbeh (ground meat and bulgur wheat patties).
“Food is a major part of our culture. It’s meant to be shared and how we interact with each other. So, when everything’s piled into one bowl, the food loses its importance,” said Maya Abdelnour, a senior advertising major at the University of Miami who was born and raised in Bhamdoun, Lebanon. Lots of her favorite home-cooked meals are almost always left out of the spotlight at Mediterranean eateries in the U.S. According to Abdelnour, Americanized tabbouleh, for instance, is prepared with too much bulgur and not enough parsley. And go-to breakfast flatbreads like za’atarman’ oushe (savory dried herbs blended with olive oil and sumac and smeared on toasted bread) and fatteh (pita with boiled chickpeas and tangy yogurt) are simply nowhere to be found in Miami.
In the United States, interpretations of Mediterranean fare are correlated with Chipotle-style kitchens that don’t accurately represent the way such meals are enjoyed overseas. In Miami, for example, fast-casual spots like Rice Mediterranean Kitchen build heaping wraps and bowls of “Mediterranean” cuisine. On the other hand, Amal (the Abdelnour family’s Lebanese bistro set to open in Coconut Grove in fall 2021) emulates the authentic Mediterranean dinner table, where dips like hummus and baba ganoush are always a side platter or “mezze” (appetizer)—not dolloped onto everything.
- 1 cup dried (uncooked/raw) chickpeas
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped red or yellow onion
- 1 cup packed fresh cilantro (mostly leaves)
- 1 cup packed fresh parsley (mostly leaves)
- 3 garlic cloves, quartered
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tbs [extra virgin] olive oil
- 1/2tsp baking powder (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Scoop about 1 1/2 to 2 tbs of the mixture at a time. Roll into 12 to 15 patties, being careful not to pack too tightly.
- Arrange the shaped patties on the pan and coat generously with additional olive oil.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the patties are golden and crisp on both sides. Serve hot with a side of tzatziki.
Classic Greek Salad
- 1 English (green) cucumber, seeded and sliced
- 1 or 2 red tomatoes, sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 slice (5 oz) feta cheese (you can cut into cubes)
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- Dash of oregano (optional)
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup [extra virgin] olive oil
- 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Whisk together all dressing ingredients except the olive oil into a bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil and keep mixing until a vinaigrette materializes.
- On a platter, assemble the cut vegetables and feta. Lather with vinaigrette and toss very gently.
- Season to taste and top with pinches of oregano if you’d like. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Hummus & Pita
- 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1/3 cup tahini, homemade or store-bought
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons [extra virgin] olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- White or whole-wheat full-size pita rounds
- More olive oil and sea salt
- Kalamata olives
- Roasted eggplant
- Roasted red pepper
- Spinach and artichoke
- Extra garlic and lemon
- Chopped herb of your choice
- Feta cheese crumbles
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Toasted pine nuts
- Paprika sprinkle
- Place the pita round(s) on a baking pan. Salt as desired and drizzle with olive oil. Toast in a convection oven, flipping halfway as needed, until crispy.
- Puree all hummus ingredients minus the chickpeas in a food processor until smooth.
- Add the chickpeas and your favorite mix-ins and blend, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If the consistency is too thick, blend in one or two tablespoons of water.
- Taste and season to your desire. Serve immediately, garnished with toppings.
- Break the warm pita into pieces with your hands and dip away, or refrigerate the hummus and use later as a spread for a sandwich, wrap or falafel patty.
Where to Dine
Mandolin Aegean Bistro
- $$$ | mandolinmiami.com
- 4312 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137
- $$ | maroosh.com
- 223 Valencia Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33134
Khoury’s Mediterranean Restaurant
- $ | khouryrestaurantmiami.com
- 5887 SW 73rd St, South Miami, FL 33143
words_gianna milan. photo_gianna sanchez.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2021 print issue.