One of the healthiest diets in the world is also the most delicious. Here are all the best Mediterranean diet recipes to get you cooking!
Want to eat the Mediterranean way? Of all the ways to describe a way of eating, the Mediterranean diet is probably the closest to what Alex and I eat. It’s been gaining traction as one of the healthiest diets in the world. And this is not diet food, folks: Mediterranean diet recipes are real, fresh, and seriously delicious! What we love even more is that it’s not just food: it’s a lifestyle approach. Keep reading for some of our favorite recipes.
What’s the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been called one the healthiest and best in the world. But what exactly is it? The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating and living that derives from the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea (like Italy and Greece). It’s not a strict diet, but more of loose guidelines. Here’s how the Mayo Clinic defines the Mediterranean diet:
Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats (like olive oil)
Weekly consumption of fish, poultry, legumes (beans & lentils), and eggs
Moderate portions of dairy products
Limited intake of red meat
Mayo Clinic stresses that a Mediterranean diet is plant based, not meat based. It’s kind of like a whole food plant based diet (WFPB), with a bit of seafood and dairy thrown in. Having a loose concept is helpful and provides flexibility (like eating “flexitarian”, a word Alex and I often use to describe how we eat).
It’s all about the lifestyle.
One of the best things about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s all about the lifestyle. This eating philosophy originated based on the longevity of people in the Mediterranean, and researchers observed more than just eating habits. Simply eating Mediterranean diet recipes is not all there is to it. Here’s what’s important in addition to food:
Stay active and exercise regularly.
Reduce the amount of stress in your lifestyle.
Actively participate in community: be invested and engaged in the people around you!
Side note: our cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking, has 10 lessons to a sustainable practice of healthy cooking. It’s no accident that they sound a lot like the tenets of the Mediterranean lifestyle! Many of the principles we learned about how to cook healthy on an everyday basis are less about food and more about lifestyle. These are the same principles that contribute to longevity in the Mediterranean diet.
And now…our top Mediterranean diet recipes!
Without further ado, here are our Mediterranean diet recipes! These recipes feature:
Olive oil as the cooking oil of choice.
Beans, lentils, bulgur wheat, quinoa, and rice as major players. They’ve gotten a bad rap with the interest in the keto diet and Whole 30, but recipes in the Mediterranean diet include beans and whole grains as nutritious foods.
Vegetarian, vegan & seafood recipes. Mediterranean diet recipes are plant based in nature, but it’s recommended to include seafood about 2 times per week.
Though it looks a little like rice, orzo is actually a small pasta in the shape of rice! It’s often used in Mediterranean diet recipes like Italian and Greek cuisine. All the flavors of Greece are in this orzo salad: salty feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and of course, powerhouse herbs like mint and dill! Leftovers save well and it's perfect for lunches.
Looking for an easy weeknight meal? Enter: lemon dill salmon. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s even fancy enough for a dinner party. The Mediterranean diet is plant based most of the time, with seafood every once in a while. When we do eat seafood here at A Couple Cooks, this is the recipe we go to! The baked salmon is perfectly savory, and doused in a zingy lemon dill sauce it’s pretty irresistible.
Next up in our Mediterranean diet recipes: baked falafel! Falafel are a popular Mediterranean chickpea fritter, typically served in a pita. This bowl is a spin on the traditional using a "burger" shaped version that's baked instead of fried. The herby patties are then layered in a bowl with crunchy colorful veggies and drizzled with a cilantro yogurt sauce. This one always gets rave reviews!
Yes, it really is the best lentil soup! This one is easy to make and full of nutritious ingredients. Lentils are common in Mediterranean diet recipes: thy're loaded with plant based protein. The star ingredient here is fresh fennel, which adds a smoky undertone to the fire roasted tomatoes and kale. This soup is ultra cozy; enjoy a steaming bowl with a side of our best vegan cornbread.
Here's a Mediterranean diet recipe that's full of fresh, healthy ingredients! This one features greens, feta cheese, kalamata olives and a quinoa flavored with sofrito. Sofrito is a type of sauce used as a base in Spanish and Italian cooking. The sofrito is mixed with cooked quinoa to add an almost meaty texture. It's a main dish salad that's hearty enough for dinner.
This Mediterranean diet recipe is delicious and quick to make: baked salmon! It takes only 10 minutes to bake up in the oven until it's perfectly flaky and tender. If you'd like, pair it with bright green chimichurri sauce, a parsley and garlic sauce that adds just the right complement to the savory salmon. It comes out a beautiful neon green and it tastes beautifully fresh.
Here's a favorite Mediterranean diet recipe that makes for a tasty vegetarian dinner recipe. Roast those multi-colored bell peppers until they're tender, then stuff them with the flavors of the Mediterranean. The quinoa filling features shallot and garlic, pistachios, parsley, paprika, oregano and lemon. Sprinkle that with a healthy handful of feta cheese, and you've got dinner.
This easy creamy goat cheese penne is tangy and creamy, sweet from the tomatoes and lightly peppery from the fresh basil. The secret to the creaminess is that goat cheese, which brings a body to the sauce that’s almost like a vodka sauce. Combined with chewy penne, it’s out of this world! See also: Creamy Instant Pot Pasta.
The word salad doesn’t even really come close to describing the taste treat that is the traditional French Nicoise salad. Hard boiled eggs, green beans, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, tuna, and tangy potatoes sit on crunchy lettuce with a zesty lemon vinaigrette that makes you want to keep eating it for days. It’s filling enough to be a main dish, and it’s got the best carefree vibe.
This traditional Spanish rice dish is actually easy to make at home: we promise! You don't even need a fancy pan: a large skillet will do. Smoked paprika adds an earthy flair to the rice, which is topped with veggies, artichokes and shrimp. It's a stunning recipe for entertaining, but easy enough for a weeknight. (For a vegetarian version, try our Simple Vegetarian Paella.)
This Tuscan soup is one of our favorite Mediterranean recipes -- and not just because it tastes like pizza! (OK, maybe that is why.) It's full of big flavor from hearty tomatoes and Italian spices, and it's got a smoky undertone from fennel and smoked paprika. Top with some Pecorino or Parmesan shavings and it's divine.
These Mediterranean diet couscous bowls recipe is a common repeat in our dinner recipes repertoire. Why? In just 25 minutes, you have a fresh bowl of delicious vegetables that’s smothered in a tangy lemon tahini sauce. This one is a truly tasty way to eat your veggies. If you'd like, substitute couscous for a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice.
Is pizza a Mediterranean diet recipe? When it's this healthy pizza, it is! It starts with our Easy Thin Crust pizza dough. Then it's slathered with our tangy, garlicky Easy Pizza Sauce. Top that with caramelized peppers and onions, fresh arugula, and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. It's SO flavorful and turns out with only 1/3 the calories of a typical delivery pizza!
Back to a Mediterranean diet favorite, split peas! This vegetarian split pea soup recipe is one of our favorite healthy dinner recipes since it’s not only hearty and delicious, but it’s also incredibly easy to make. Here a touch of liquid smoke is used in place of the traditional ham.
These nachos are all about the flavors of the Mediterranean! Juicy tomatoes, cool cucumber, and white beans are spread over crunchy pita chips and covered in a cool, bright green cilantro sauce. These Greek nachos are vegan, so they’re 100% plant based! Make your own Homemade Pita Chips, but if you’re in a hurry, use storebought instead.
Here's a classic Mediterranean diet recipe: mussels marinara! It's so quick and easy to make, and the flavor is incredible. Mussels are simmered in a tangy marinara sauce, scented with basil and garlic. After they've soaked up the marinara flavor, they're served over al dente bucatini pasta. It's one of those recipes that's much fancier than the effort involved: you can make it in under 30 minutes. (Want to skip the mussels? Go to Homemade Pasta Marinara.)
This hearty tortellini soup has a lightly sweet depth that makes you want the bowl to be never-ending. The trick? Tomato paste and paprika give just the right complexity to the broth. A bit of carrot and celery add texture and crunch. Whole basil leaves are added right after the tortellini cooks, which meld into the beautiful velvety broth.
This white bean shakshuka recipe is a tasty Mediterranean diet recipe that works for brunch or dinner! Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce that originates from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. This one features white beans and bell peppers, and is sprinkled with feta cheese. It's so tasty, and comes together in just over 30 minutes.
This Mediterranean veggie sandwich was inspired by our recent trip to Italy. While in Pisa (as in, the Leaning Tower of), we went to a sweet little sandwich shop and had a sandwich like this. The bread is spread with basil pesto and Kalamata olive spread, and then it’s filled with grilled eggplant, juicy ripe tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. It’s pretty darn delicious, if we do say so ourselves.
Looking for easy Mediterranean dinner recipes? Well, we have the answer for you: shrimp marinara! It combines the most flavorful, simple marinara sauce with tasty sauteed shrimp. Serve it over pasta and it’s a classic Italian recipe that has all the carefree vibe of the Mediterranean without the fuss. But it’s showy enough for entertaining, too. With a big salad, it’s great for an easy dinner party.
Looking for Mediterranean diet recipes? This herby orzo salad is a crowd favorite, bursting with flavor from fresh dill and mint, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese.
8 ounces orzo pasta (1 1/4 cup dry)
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 lemon, juice and zest (about 2 tablespoons juice)
1/4 cup minced shallot or red onion
1/2 English cucumber (2 cups diced, or substitute a peeled standard cucumber)
2 roasted red peppers from a jar or 1/2 fresh red bell pepper (1/2 cup diced)
1/3 cup chopped dill, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup chopped mint
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, halved
Prepare the orzo according to the package instructions. Taste the orzo a few minutes before completion to ensure it’s ‘al dente’ (chewy, but with a little firmness in the center). When it’s done, drain it and then rinse it under cold water until it comes to room temperature.
Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
Mince the red onion, then place it in a bowl with water (this helps to remove the sharp onion taste). Dice the cucumber. Dice the roasted red pepper. Chop the herbs.
Stir together the orzo, chickpeas and bowl of lemon juice, red onion, cucumber, red pepper, dill, mint, white wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, oregano, feta crumbles, black olives, and several grinds of black pepper. Taste and if necessary, season with more kosher salt.
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.