Finally! Spring has sprung in Virginia. Sun and pollen count are high. Winter hibernation is officially over. Notice how everyone is a little nicer in the Spring and Summer? It’s probably because we women are getting much-needed manicures, pedicures and waxes to show off a bit more flesh. And the boys are enjoying the view 🙂
In the Mediterranean, cooking is at a minimal in the summertime. Temperatures skyrocket to 100 F (40 C) and beyond. Most homes are not equipped with central air conditioning (electricity prices are staggering in Cyprus). Most cooking for the day is done in the early morning, when nighttime temperatures have cooled the kitchens. Otherwise, it’s salads, fruit and grilling. As we awaken our outdoor kitchens and dust off our grills, I’d like to offer a couple of additions to the usual burger, hot dog, steak, potato salad phenomenon that grilling usually means West of the Atlantic.
Cyprus is a large island – in fact, it is the third largest in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_in_the_Mediterranean. As such, the topography varies greatly on the island. Although the main and original Mount Olympus is located in Greece, ancient Greeks gave this same name to other high mountaintops to denote that the gods reside there. Cyprus has it’s own Mount Olympus, nestled in the Troodos Mountain range, which at its peak, stretches into the sky at a staggering nearly 2000 meters (over 6000 feet). It boasts a couple of ski runs in the wintertime and feels like you stepped into the Austrian mountains with its tall evergreens and fresh, mountain air. On the North of the Island, an ancillary mountain range stretches across the coast. The Five Finger Mountain range (Pentadaktylos in Greek, Besparmak in Turkish) has ragged, rigid edges that are a few miles from the coast.
Our home is nestled in one of these villages which overlook the sea, yet enjoys slightly cooler air than at sea-level.
On any given Saturday and Sunday in the Spring and Summer, parks on the Five Finger Mountain range or Troodos Mountain range are swarming with picnic goers, eager to escape the intense heat on the shore. BBQ pits are ablaze with smoke. People are still much more environmentally aware than we claim to be in the US – kitchenware is taken, used, and returned home for washing – no plastic, Styrofoam, or paper that clog landfills.
Salads are made ahead of time and taken in containers. My favorite picnic time salads are beetroot and cacik or tzatziki. No need to buy store bought tzatziki! I will give you a simple, yummy recipe! But the biggest difference between BBQ in the Mediterranean versus in the US: the meats that are used!
Here in the States, we have a fondness for burgers, hot dogs, sausages and thick, juicy steak (in truth, steaks are my husband’s and son’s favorites, too). In the Mediterranean, grilling is for whole meats, not processed ones like hot dogs and sausages. Think lamb, pork and chicken – kabobs on skewers or flat, lean pieces cooked whole.
But my personal favorite (which I do this at least once per week in the summer) FISH! Whole fish, bones in, head on and oh-so-fresh. In the US, we seem to get stuck on two types of fish: salmon and tuna. But the seas are teeming with many more varieties that are healthy, delicious alternatives!
Salmon and Tuna are deep-sea fish. The debate drags on regarding mercury safety levels in fish. we consume. However, smaller fish such as mackerel, anchovies, and sea bass do not have long sea lives. This means they are not exposed to the same mercury levels such as these deep sea fish. Basically, they are really healthy alternatives!!
I know many readers out there may not have grown up enjoying fish, so you may not have developed a taste for these healthy, Omega 3 and 6 packed, low-fat, high protein, BRAIN foods! So let me give you a quick breakdown of my favorites for the grill.
- Sea Bass – on the grill, this white meat fish melts in your mouth. It has a slightly buttery taste to it and pairs beautifully with salad and chilled white wine (oh who am I kidding? They all pair beautifully with salad and chilled white wine!)
- Spanish Mackerel – dark meat, heavier and steak-like. I much prefer Spanish Mackerel on the grill than baked in the oven. Mackerel is a notoriously under utilized, healthy alternative to deep-sea fish like tuna and salmon. Plus, it is packed with Omega 3 and 6!
- Grouper – the whitest and lightest of the three fish mentioned, fresh grouper tastes smooth, light and clean. I don’t know how else to describe it. If you aren’t necessarily a “fish or seafood person,” give Grouper a try. It’s the least “fishy” of them all, yet maintains its consistency under the heat of a flame.
Aside from fish as my staple protein when the grill is fired up, we goddesses of the Mediterranean fill up on fiber-rich vegetables. My favorite (hands down) is eggplant, with portobello mushrooms and zucchini a close second and third.
Unsure how to cook vegetables on the grill? A simple marinade of crushed, fresh garlic, sea salt, balsamic vinegar and quality olive oil is all you need for restaurant-worthy veggies that will make guests swoon.
Grilled vegetables are a great way to fill up on low calorie foods that are flavorful and packed with nutrients. Plus, they pack well the next day for lunch at work!
Did I miss one of your favorite fish? A grilled vegetable accidentally left off? Let me know! Drop me a note and as always,
Discover your Inner Aphrodite . . .