Non si fanno frittate senza fompere le uova.””You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” You have to take action, if you want to bring about change.

Chicken and eggs don’t usually conjure up images of
luxury in today’s world. Readily available and packed
with protein, these two culinary staples are the back-
bone of kitchens everywhere. In the Mediterranean
region, they are greatly appreciated and prepared in
scores of ways. Believe it or not, up until the last few
centuries, both chicken and eggs were quite expensive
and reserved for special occasions. During the late
sixteenth century, for example, King Henry IV of France
told the citizens of his country that his goal was to
enable each French family to afford a single chicken for
their Sunday supper. “A chicken in every pot” became
a political slogan in France, and roasted chicken has
been considered a classic Sunday lunch dish.
Further east in the Mediterranean, however, Ottoman–
controlled Egypt was extremely wealthy thanks to the
spice trade. In thirteenth and fourteenth century Egypt,
a single banquet consisted of thousands of animals and
tons of sugar for desserts and sorbets. Free hospitals
treated needy patients and did not release them until
they could eat an entire roasted chicken by themselves,
in one sitting.
Many egg-based dishes traveled throughout the region
with the migrating Sephardic Jewish diaspora. Since
kosher laws weren’t adhered to in many countries in
the Mediterranean, members of the Jewish community
often relied on eggs for their main source of protein,
omitting the need to purchase nonkosher meat. These
recipes, while inexpensive, are often so delicious that
they are preferred to nonvegetarian alternatives.
Regardless of the history and lore surrounding these
ingredients, dairy, eggs, and poultry are blank culinary
canvases that, with passionate Mediterranean flair, can
be transformed into inexpensive and healthful edible

A trip to any Mediterranean country is a dairy lover’s
dream. With most nations offering hundreds of local
varieties, there’s something for everyone’s palate.
Cheese has become a culinary ambassador of sorts, for
many countries. It’s hard to think of the French kitchen
without images of tangy goat cheese and golden brie
coming to mind. Fresh mozzarella, Pecorino, and Parmi-
giano are associated with Italian food. The feta
of Greece, Halloumi of Crete, and Kasseri of Turkey
continue to grow in popularity around the globe.
To our knowledge, there are at least 900 varieties of
artisanal cheeses in the world. Many cheeses have
been made in the same artisanal fashion for centuries,
ensuring authenticity, flavor, and environmentally sound
practices. Great care goes into making artisan cheese.
Ancient farming practices that emphasize the wellbe-
ing of the animals include high-quality feed, grazing in
cooler pastures in the hot summer months, and hand
milking. In the European portion of the Mediterra-
nean region, many of these types of cheese are given
a government seal of approval, promoted as culinary
treasures, and controlled for quality. In other countries,
such as Lebanon and Israel, there are groups of proud
farmers, chefs, and their supporters who are working
diligently to continue the traditions of the past.
Goat, sheep, cow, buffalo, and in some areas of the
Middle East, camel’s milk are made into a wide variety
of cheeses, which fall into three categories:
– fresh and soft (water content between 45 percent
and 70 percent with a lower sodium content)
– semi-hard (water content between 40 percent and
45 percent)
– hard and aged (water content below 40 percent
and higher sodium content)
The manner in which cheese is consumed varies from
place to place. In France and Italy, cheese courses are
served after a meal. In Spain and Greece, cheese fea-
tures prominently in the small plate, tapas, or meze din-
ing culture. In North Africa and the Middle East, cheese
is predominately eaten at breakfast or in sandwiches for
a snack or light dinner. The North African and Middle
Eastern countries also tend to not add cheese to recipes,
but to eat it on its own, in its original form.
Similarly, while many types of yogurt are available and
eaten throughout the region, the various Mediterra-
nean cultures have their own uses for yogurt. It was
originally made by Bedouins who poured camel, sheep,
goat, or ewe’s milk into canvas hides tied between two
palm trees. The hides would be shaken back and forth
until the milk thickened into yogurt. Yogurt cheese and
dried yogurt balls were then made and preserved to last
without refrigeration. This was a traditional staple of the
people of the Middle East whose daily diet was rounded
out with dates and bread.
Fresh yogurt is used as a condiment, served for break-
fast, used as the base of cold soups and sauces, and a
popular snack. Smooth, creamy, and known for cultivat-
ing friendly intestinal bacteria, yogurt is an ingredient
that seems to prove more beneficial each day.
Nutritional Benefits
Dairy often gets excluded from many western healthy
eating plans because people either consume too much
milk, which leads to gastric distress, or high-fat butter
and processed cheeses, which are also high in choles-
terol. Daily consumption of dairy in the Mediterranean
region, in contrast, consists of fresh cheeses such as
ricotta and feta, which are high in nutrients and lower
in fat and cholesterol. To wit, a Spanish study concluded
that those eating two to three servings, or more, of low-
fat dairy had a 50 percent reduced risk of developing
high blood pressure, while a University of Tennessee,
Knoxville, study found that the calcium in yogurt, eaten
in addition to cutting overall calories, made it easier for
participants to drop pounds.
Milk and its products contain a healthful dose of animal
protein (about 9 grams per 6-ounce (170 g) serving),
plus other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin B 2 , B 12 ,
potassium, and magnesium. Calcium has been shown
to have beneficial effects on bone mass in people of all
ages, but check nutritional labels to choose brands of
milk and yogurt that contain at least 20 percent of the
daily recommended value of both calcium and vitamin
D. (Because vitamin D boosts calcium absorption, but
isn’t naturally present in dairy, most western companies
add it.) Nutritional values of traditional yogurt in the
Mediterranean region also vary since it can be made
from goat, sheep, or cow’s milk, or a combination.
Yogurt with live active cultures (probiotics) helps to
maintain the natural balance of organisms, known as
microflora, in the intestines. According to researchers at
Tufts University, yogurt with active cultures is believed to
boost the immune system, change the microflora of the
gut, and affect the amount of time it takes for food to
travel through the bowel. Digestive concerns such as lac-
tose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, H.
infections, and inflammatory bowel disease have
been shown to improve with probiotic consumption.
Yogurt, especially the Greek variety and type that is
locally produced in many Mediterranean countries, is
packed with protein and vitamin B 12 , which is mostly
found in animal products, making it a great choice for
vegetarians and for athletes looking for a post-workout
snack. The protein helps muscle recovery and water
absorption, which can improve hydration. One 8-ounce
(225 g) serving contains approximately 60 percent of the
recommended daily B 12 intake for adult women along
with good amounts of phosphorus, potassium, ribofla-
vin, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B 5 .
Cheese is also a great source of hunger-curbing protein
and calcium. It is believed to slow down the absorption
rate of carbohydrates eaten at the same meal, balance
blood sugar levels, and improve mood. It also contains
the same calcium benefits as milk and yogurt. The zinc
content in cheese is believed to protect skin, hair, and
nails, as well as help tissue growth and repair.

Appetizer & Meze