Mediterranean meals

Published in FSD Update

Flavor and health combine in dishes inspired by the region.

The Mediterranean diet is more than just healthy. With an emphasis on fresh produce, flavorful herbs and spices and plenty of grassy olive oil, it’s also tasty. Which means that for non-commercial operators juggling demands for fare that’s both nutritious and delicious, this way of eating strikes the perfect balance.

Salvatore Cantalupo, corporate chef at Corporate Image Dining Services, based in Stamford, Conn., puts it more bluntly: “We can’t serve bland food; it won’t sell,” he says. To solve the problem, he’s turned to Mediterranean-inspired dishes that highlight bold flavors, like salmon puttanesca over Israeli couscous; arugula salad pizza with roasted red peppers and a balsamic vinaigrette; sweet basil-citrus shrimp salad; and gourmet tapas and risotto bars. The offerings are touted on cafeteria signage, as well as in customer menu emails. “Of course, word of mouth always helps, too,” Cantalupo says.

At Chandler Unified School District, in Arizona, fresh hummus is the name of the game. Preportioned for elementary school students and served on the salad bar, the chickpea dip is a healthier alternative to ranch dressing, while still managing to increase raw vegetable consumption.

At Chandler high schools, the hummus is served on a Mediterranean plate with flatbread slices, crudités and olives. “Calling it a Mediterranean plate seems to give it more appeal to students who are health conscious, [as well as] the teachers and staff,” says Nutrition Supervisor Wesley Delbridge, R.D. And since the hummus is made from scratch in house, it’s also a hit with parents. 

Students get a taste of more exotic fare at the University of Oklahoma’s Athens Café, in Norman. Typically, the all-halal menu includes gyro sandwiches; entrées like tagines or Moroccan chicken; sides such as stewed Tunisian vegetables or Algerian green beans; plus salads, hummus, pita chips and baklava.

And though the café hasn’t done much marketing, word of mouth has brought in plenty of curious customers. “What wound up happening was people who came for a gyro sandwich found out about the other foods featured on a daily basis and that made the café a destination,” says Director of Dining Services Frank Henry.

In step with the Mediterranean diet’s minimalist approach to meat, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, promotes Meatless Mondays. “The Meatless Monday dishes emphasize plant-based ingredients such as whole grains, vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, healthy oils, and a variety of herbs and spices for flavoring,” says Director of Food and Nutrition Services Veronica McLymont, R.D.

The patient menu, too, has recently received Mediterranean inspiration. A new salad features chopped romaine, diced cucumbers and tomatoes, shredded carrots, chickpeas, feta cheese, croutons and tahini dressing, while the Mezze Platter boasts hummus, roasted eggplant, tabbouleh, roasted beets and olives.

A Greek salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, dill, olives, feta cheese and herbs is served at the cafeteria, and specialty salads featuring whole grains like quinoa, bulgur or couscous are also available. “As healthcare providers, we’ve shared education promoting the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, so we’re compelled to practice what we preach,” McLymont says.