Mediterranean Made Easy

When you live in Alabama, you gradually “ease” into fall. September still feels like summer here. As much as I want to pull out the slow cooker or make a big pot of chili, it’s not time yet—at least not until the first cold snap that usually comes along in mid-October.

So with this weather reality, I thought it would be the perfect time to grab up a handful of fresh, hearty-healthy ingredients and give Mediterranean cooking a try. For those football gatherings, you’ll want to serve the make-ahead White Bean Dip, Toasted Sesame Almonds, and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. All three of these make an impressive spread and a nice alternative to a predictable cheese board.

Be sure to try the Simple Salmon with Mediterranean Couscous for a quick weeknight supper. And if you really want to impress your next dinner guests, assemble the Shrimp and Rice with Olives and Oranges en Papillote in advance. Your guests will be amazed when they tear open these beautiful, tasty packets of flavor.

Shrimp and Rice with Olives and Oranges En Papillote

Shrimp and Rice with Olives and Oranges en Papillote

Serves 4

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2 cups precooked basmati rice
1 cup coarsely chopped green olives
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Juice from 1 orange
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (medium-size) shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 thin slices orange
2 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400°.
Cut 4 (12- x 15-inch) pieces of parchment paper. Fold each in half widthwise, and reopen.
In a small bowl, combine rice, green olives, and next 5 ingredients. Spoon ¾ of the rice mixture on to one side of each parchment rectangle near the crease. Divide shrimp evenly, and place over the rice mixture. Drizzle each with 1 teaspoon olive oil, and top with orange slice.
Fold the empty half of parchment over the shrimp filling, and crimp edges together with overlapping folds to seal. Place packets on a large sheet pan. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes. To serve, slide packets on to plates, carefully tear open paper, and garnish with almonds and parsley.

Toasted Sesame Almonds

Makes 3½ cups

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, or
1½ tablespoons each white and black sesame seeds
1 large egg white
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 cups unsalted whole almonds
Toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 300°.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the sugars, salt, cayenne, and sesame seeds in a bowl. In a second bowl, beat the egg white with the soy sauce until mixture is combined. Add the almonds to the egg mixture, and stir to coat evenly.
Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the almonds, and stir to combine. Transfer the almonds to the prepared baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once midway through the baking time. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with sesame oil; allow to cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in a tin or jar, breaking up any that stick together.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Makes 4½ cups

2 (15.5-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers in water, drained
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
¼ cup tahini, well stirred
1 garlic clove
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Toasted pine nuts, optional

Place first 7 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until creamy. Garnish if desired. Serve with pita chips, crackers, or assorted vegetables.

Simple Salmon with Mediterranean Couscous

Serves 4

For the couscous:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-size shallots, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup couscous
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus additional mint leaves for garnish
½ cup chopped pistachio nuts

For the salmon:
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, skinned removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400°.
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté shallots for about 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the salt, pepper, and cumin, and cook for 1 minute. Pour in broth, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add couscous; stir, cover, and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. With a fork, fluff the couscous, and add raisins, parsley, and mint. Stir to combine. Top with nuts before serving.
Place salmon in a shallow bowl, and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Turn to coat fillets on all sides. Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium-high. Place salmon in pan, and sear for about 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Carefully flip salmon over, and place in preheated oven to finish cooking, about 5 to 6 minutes or until desired doneness.
Serve salmon with couscous. Garnish with fresh mint and lemon wedges.

White Bean Dip

Makes 3 cups

2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until creamy. Serve with warm bread, crackers, or assorted vegetables.


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