13 Pantry Staples to Buy Before You Try the Mediterranean Diet
1. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil has endless applications in the kitchen. At Cooking Light, we love to use it as a finishing oil for salads and veggies—and for good reason. As nutritionist Brierley Horton says, "Research shows it can lower your risk of heart disease and death from heart disease."
2. Canned Fish
Sustainable tuna, salmon, anchovies, clams, and sardines are all tasty, budget-friendly ways to get the heart-healthy omega-3s that are an important piece of the healthy puzzle of the Mediterranean diet. Not sure where to start? We've got delicious and unexpected ways to cook with sardines, creative uses for anchovy paste, and tuna salad recipes that have nothing to do with sad desk lunches.
3. Dried Fruit
Apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, figs, raisins, and prunes can enhance a bevy of recipes, both sweet and savory. One Mediterranean-inspired dish we can't get enough of is this healthier take on chicken Marbella, which plays the sweetness of prunes against the brine of Castelvetrano olives and bright notes of Meyer lemon.
4. Raw or Roasted Nuts and Seeds
There is every health reason to be nuts for nuts! Not only that, but walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, and tahini are so often just the things that add that little something special to a recipe. Try a cauliflower-farro bowl dressed with tahini-chili dressing, spoon this pistachio-herb relish over seafood, or quick-sear shrimp with a decadent walnut-and-herb gremolata.
5. Whole-Grain Staples
Whole grains should form a part of any healthy diet. Read our in-depth guide to learn about the health benefits and get started. Then, just pick! Pasta, bulgur wheat (the base of tabbouleh), farro, millet, whole-grain cornmeal or corn grits—there are a wealth of options and, of course, we have recipes for all of them. A good place to start? This simple, seasoned bulgur that you can use for wholesome breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Italy's "Red Gold" is just that—gold—in kitchen terms. Whether you stock canned tomatoes, paste, sauce, or sun-drieds, you'll find there's almost no end to the applications of the savory veggie. Whether it's paste adding flavor to a plant-based stew or sun-drieds gussying up a big batch of pasta, the sweet-savory acidity of tomatoes is a requirement in a Mediterranean pantry.
It's no secret that we here at Cooking Light have a favorite olive. Comb through our recipes and you'll see, time and again, vibrant green Castelvetranos peep their heads up to add a briny but buttery pop to a variety of dishes. If you're unfamiliar with olives, Castelvetranos are the perfect gateway olive. Try them in salsa to dress up tuna melts, taking roasted parsnips to the next level, or packing a punch in a quesadilla.
8. Whole-Grain Crackers
What snack platter or cheese plate is complete without crackers? The nuttiness of whole grains adds depth and complexity that white-flour crackers just can't match. Up any snack ante by making your own. We like this crunchy, three-seed cracker recipe.
9. Canned Beans
Cans of beans are a pantry staple for any diet! But for the Mediterranean diet, chickpeas, cannellini, fava, kidney beans, and lentils take on a special importance. Though you may want to stir up a perfect pot of dried beans, their canned counterparts can save SO much time on a hectic weeknight. Looking for something to do with the cans in your fridge? Try these 21 recipes.
10. Herbs and Spices
No pantry is complete without seasonings, and for the Mediterranean pantry we recommend the following: oregano, cumin, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, crushed red pepper, curry powder, dill, garlic powder, ginger, paprika, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme, and turmeric. We also recommend blends like Italian seasoning or za'atar, which often contains sumac, sesame seeds, thyme, and other herbs.
11. Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are essential ingredients in forming flavor bases on 6 continents, and they probably take them to Antarctica, too. Think the distinct sofritos of Spain and Puerto Rico, French mirepoix, and the garlic-scallion-ginger combo found all over Asia. Want to brush up before you buy? Read our guide to onions. Need convincing to buy garlic? Read about its many health benefits.
12. Plain Greek Yogurt
The high protein count of Greek yogurt makes it a nutritional darling. Its versatility makes it a culinary one—from a savory sauce that brightens up any protein to a stunning, indulgent milk-chocolate yogurt parfait that doubles as dessert or breakfast—its uses are myriad. For more facts on the creamy, dreamy stuff, read our guide to yogurt.
13. Artisanal Cheeses
Cheese is magical. In moderation, it's a healthy complement to the whole grains, seafood, and veggies of the Med diet. Briny feta and umami-rich Parmesan are two of the more common cheeses you'll find in many Mediterranean recipes. Just a touch of Parm can add luxury to roasted potatoes and jarred pasta sauce baked with feta turns it into a stunning appetizer.