10 Mediterranean food essentials

Executive Chef, Mattias Roock, shares the lifeblood of Mediterranean food

10 Mediterranean food essentials

With the majestic Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel, located at The Pearl, now open for business, Mattias Roock, Executive Chef of Sawa, a restaurant serving up European and Mediterranean flavours, shares his ten Mediterranean ingredients that are the lifeblood of the food’s cuisine

When blended together, Mediterranean ingredients can make an explosion of taste in the mouth and display the most vibrant colours. Here are 10 staple ingredients that can make great Mediterranean flavours.

1. Olive oil
We have to start with olive oil. In Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil is the main cooking ingredient. Extra virgin olive oil is mostly used as a simple yet delicious salad dressing and is also used with foods to be eaten cold. If uncompromised by heat, the flavour is much stronger. It also can be used for sautéing.

2. Olives and sundried tomatoes
Both olives and sundried tomatoes are staples in Mediterranean cuisine – either enjoyed on their own or incorporated in pasta dishes, salads, meats and tagines. They are easy to marinate with herbs and olive oil, and both offer rich flavours that add an extra layer of taste to any dish.

3. Fresh herbs – basil and thyme
Fresh herbs are essential to create authentic Mediterranean dishes. Easy to grow in your own home, herbs such as mint, turmeric, saffron, basil and thyme add an essential depth of flavour to any dish. As a cautionary note, don’t go overboard. You want to start with a small amount and slowly add more, if needed.

4. Fresh pasta
When talking about Italian cuisine in particular, fresh pasta is at the forefront of the mind. Boasting an array of different shapes, sizes and methods of cooking, fresh pasta offers any chef a plethora of delicious options. It is also perfect served as either a starter or a main course, hot or cold.

5. Garlic
Garlic is a fundamental component in Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a versatile seasoning that complements most savoury dishes and can be found in local sauces, stews, soups, salad dressings, casseroles, breads, and grain dishes.

6. Pecorino and Parmesan
Hard cheeses are another delicacy used widely with Italian cuisine in particular. Grated to give pasta dishes and salads more in-depth flavour, both Pecorino and Parmesan can be found in different strengths, allowing chefs flexibility in its use.

7. Mozzarella, Feta and Burrata
Mozarella and Burrata, made of cow’s milk, are predominately used in pastas, salads and cold cut plates. The saltier Feta cheese, which is made of goat’s milk, is also popular in both salads and quiches or couscous dishes. The cheeses are rich in flavour, easy to use and can be combined with numerous ingredients for added taste and texture.

8. Courgettes
Courgettes, or zucchinis, are usually cooked and presented as a savoury dish or as an accompaniment in Mediterranean cuisine. Mild in taste, they make an ideal ingredient in cold and warm dishes. Depending on the season, the courgette flowers can also be used by filling and deep-frying them.

9. Fresh seafood
Seafood is very important in Mediterranean cuisine; as the name indicates, coastlines of numerous countries surrounding the sea have been utilising the sea for millennia. The variety of fish (tuna, swordfish etc.) and shellfish (mussels, oysters etc.), remain very popular across the region.

10. Fresh meats
Meat is a staple ingredient across the Mediterranean. Traditionally, lamb is very popular in the eastern and southern parts of the Mediterranean, phenomenally tender in tagines and stews. Cured meats are more popular in the western and northern Mediterranean, along with sausages and steaks.

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