5 of our favorite Mediterranean cookbooks

Get your falafel fix, your kebab quota, your tahini threshold here.
Israeli food
An Israeli food platter. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

The Mediterranean diet has it all – it’s delicious, colorful, rich with flavors and great for your health. Thanks to all of the communities that grew from the ancient abundance of the Mediterranean Sea, today we have Greek salads, Italian pasta, French cheese, Israeli couscous and Turkish kebab. Most of all, Mediterranean cuisine can fit any palate and be the basis of a wholesome diet that promotes a long, healthy life.

Here are some of the region’s best chefs and their mouth-watering cookbooks:

1. Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook

Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook (Photo: Ten Speed Press)

This new cookbook from the celebrated, bestselling authors of “Jerusalem” was released late 2020. “Ottolenghi: A Cookbook” features vegetable recipes culled from the popular restaurants owned by Yotam Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi, and are inspired by the diverse culinary traditions of the Mediterranean.

The recipes reflect the authors’ upbringing in Jerusalem, yet also incorporate culinary traditions from California, Italy and North Africa, among others. According to the book summary, the recipes “offer a next-level approach to vegetables that breaks down the fundamentals of cooking into three key elements: process, pairing, and produce.”

2. Cat Cora’s Kitchen

Cat Cora’s Kitchen (Photo: Chronicle Books)

Cat Cora’s upbringing, in the intimate Greek community of Jackson, Miss., had an incalculable influence on her career. Cooking and eating were the center of family life for Cora, with meals at her family home often combining spices from the South, along with fresh cheeses and home-cured olives sent by relatives from the Greek island of Skopelos.

Perhaps best known for her appearance on the Food Network show “Iron Chef America,” Cora counts Julia Child, Barbara Tropp and her grandmother, Alma, among her culinary influences.

This is her first cookbook – the full title is “Cat Cora’s Kitchen: Favorite Meals for Family and Friends” – and it contains many of her family’s favorite recipes, such as spanakopita – the traditional Greek favorite – savory chicken stew and treats such as orange-scented almond cookies or baklava.

3. La Cocina de Mama

La Cocina de Mama (Photo: Clarkson Potter)

Before her death two years ago, “La Cocina de Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain” author Penelope Casas helped introduce Americans in the 1980s to a continental Spanish cuisine. Her rich heritage lives on through the massive body of work she left behind.

According to Amazon, her book from 2005 “presents more than 175 robustly flavored yet amazingly simple recipes representing the best of Spanish home cooking – the cooking handed down through generations of Spanish ‘mamás.’”

For “La Cocina de Mamá,” Casas has collected recipes from great chefs and traditional home cooks in every region of Spain, including clams in garlic gauche, stewed potatoes with ribs, and peas in saffron sauce.

It’s this and other cookbooks of Casas’ that labeled her one of the foremost authorities on Spanish food. Upon her death, famed chef Seamus Mullen said Casas “did more, perhaps, than any single other person to bring the foods of Spain to our shores, and her love for, and knowledge of, the foods of Spain will live on in our kitchens.”

4. The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health (Photo: Bantam)

Maine native Nancy Harmon Jenkins has written frequently about Mediterranean cuisine with cookbooks like “The Essential Mediterranean,” “Flavors of Tuscany” and “Flavors of Puglia.” She’s also considered an authority on olive oil.

In her book “The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health,” Jenkins meant “diet” in the basic sense of the word: what we eat, what we should eat and what we used to eat, at least if you lived along the shores of the Mediterranean.

Spanning the Mediterranean from Spain to France, Italy and Greece, with side trips to Lebanon, Cyprus and North Africa, this book offers 92 mouthwatering new dishes plus the latest information about the nutritional benefits of one of the world’s healthiest cuisines.

“It’s a diet that can be followed just by going to the supermarket and being careful about what you shop for there,” Jenkins told the Portland Press Herald. “It’s a diet that’s delicious, that’s very appealing to lots and lots of people, including small children. And it’s easy to prepare.”

5. The Book of New Israeli Food

The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey: A Cookbook (Photo: Schocken)

Janna Gur, the chief editor of Israeli food and wine magazine Al Hashulchan, offers a tempting collection of recipes in the 2008 release of “The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey.”

Gur collected more than 200 recipes from traditional dishes of various Israeli communities and modern renditions by leading Israeli chefs. Short articles on various aspects of the local food culture – coffee, olive oil, bread and more – add depth and scope to the picturesque recipe images.

“You simply cannot write a book about local cooking without hummus or roasted eggplant salads, but the focus is on the new and unexpected,” Gur said.

Recipes include everyday street food like falafel and shawarma, but Gur also delves into more homestyle meals, including beetroot and pomegranate salad, a hot fish stew from North Africa called chreime, and roasted chicken drumsticks in carob syrup.