Three Savory Mediterranean Breakfast Ideas
The entire region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea is filled with cultures that look at breakfast differently – I take a closer look at three unusual and hearty breakfast ideas.
My best days begin with sharing a bit of sunshine, a gentle sea breeze and a leisurely breakfast with my wife. I consider it a rite of passage whenever I find myself in a mediterranean coastal village.
“What nicer thing can you do for somebody than make them breakfast?” ‒ Anthony Bourdain.
Unfortunately, the sunshine and gentle sea breeze are not always present in my life, but a leisurely breakfast is something I can do most days. And those days are made even better when I season my food with a splash of mediterranean goodness.
The breakfast culture around the mediterranean changes significantly. European countries favor quick breakfasts with a strong cup of coffee, a juice and perhaps a sweet pastry or piece of fruit. The Balkans, Greece and Turkey enjoy an even stronger cup of coffee with plenty of build-your-own-bowl ingredients on hand; things like yogurt, honey, dried and fresh fruits, nuts, jams…possibly even a slice of salty cheese or a pie filled with greens.
The breakfast vibe further east in the countries of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iran and Egypt moves toward more savory ingredients. Here, breakfast focuses on legumes, vegetables, cracked wheat and lots of spices…with a bit of fruit on the side. It’s not unusual to begin the day in Israel or Palestine by enjoying warm hummus on freshly made bread with a side of sliced onions and tomatoes…possibly even a handful of olives.
North Africans prefer a sizzling pan of spicy peppers and tomatoes accompanied by a poached egg and sometimes a bit of meat; It’s as close as it gets to a western style fry up. Lighter fare, such as yogurt, fruit, dates and a piece of fish is also common.
I’m focusing my attention this week on breakfast in the eastern Mediterranean. People wake-up slowly and tend to move without a clear purpose in this region – and that’s perfectly ok with me. It’s casual and relaxed. Breakfast seems like a time to take your time.
The choices here are not typical western-style breakfasts. They rely on humble ingredients and interesting spices. Breakfast is the time to slowly fill your body with nutrition and allow enough time for the sun to fill your brain with happy hormones.
It’s a paradise for those interested in following a vegan diet…or at least mostly vegan.
My first brush with Ful Medames came after reading about it in Paula Wolfert’s classic book, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. Here’s how she described it:
“The rich eat ful for breakfast, the poor eat ful for lunch, but only animals eat ful for dinner. So goes the Egyptian proverb. Ful, pronounced ‘fool,’ is made from dried fava beans and is the national dish of Egypt. In Syria and Lebanon, it is eaten as a soupy mass for breakfast, along with glossy black olives, cucumbers and plenty of pita.”
I was hooked after reading that description, so I developed my own version that I like to enjoy for breakfast, brunch or a late lunch.
The Yemini-style breakfast lentil stew is as humble as it gets, relying on red lentils, onions, tomatoes and a classic Yemen spice mixture. But add a touch of spicy green zhug as a garnish, and suddenly every cell in the body is awake and alert.
Whole wheat bulgur köfte (or kibbeh if you're from the East) are common bites to begin the day in Turkey. They are usually put together with some scrambled eggs and served with a salad and Ayran - a refreshing yogurt drink
These are not breakfasts I enjoy daily, but rather every so often to remind me that vegetables and other savory ingredients can be part of my breakfast table…especially if I need a splash of the Mediterranean in my otherwise landlocked life.
As always, I want your feedback…so, please feel free to spark a conversation with me or other readers by leaving a comment below – this contributes enormously and helps others discover VeganWeekly. Of course, sharing this newsletter with your friends, family and social media contacts also helps and sustains me… and maybe this newsletter could help others who may crave valuable insights into the art of vegan cooking.
Ful Medames with Chickpeas
Ful Medames is a hearty dish originating in Egypt but also enjoyed throughout the eastern Mediterranean. It is mostly made with dried fava beans – and sometimes stewed in a tahini sauce. I incorporate cooked chickpeas for added texture and nuttiness in my vegan version.
I like to top my ful with chopped rocket (arugula), sliced green onions and brined red onions. For an added Mediterranean punch, I include whole olives and chopped tomatoes.
Both canned and dried fava beans can be used to make this recipe. Canned beans are a simple solution to make a quick and tasty version. Cooking dried beans is much more time consuming, but the flavor is also deeper, more complex and satisfying. I offer instructions for cooking dried fava beans in the tips below.
Difficulty: simple to moderate
Yield: makes about 4-6 servings
500 grams (one pound) cooked fava beans (see tips)
Juice of 3 lemons (about 60 ml. or 1/4-cup)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
1/2 green chili pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
250 grams (1 cup or one can, drained) cooked chickpeas
1 small red onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
1 green onion, sliced
2 cups roughly chopped rocket (arugula)
Place the cooked fava beans in a medium size pot and add one liter (one quart) water. Heat on medium-high until the water is hot and the beans are heated through. Drain the beans and place in a clean pot, making sure to reserve 240 ml. (one cup) of the water used to heat the beans.
Add the lemon juice, grated garlic, chopped chili pepper, ground cumin, ground Aleppo pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt to the warm fava beans. Add about one half the reserved water and begin to mash the fava beans with either a fork or potato masher. Leave a bit of texture to the mashed fava beans and add a bit more of the reserved water as necessary to achieve a chunky mashed potato look.
Mix in the extra virgin olive oil (if using) and the cooked chickpeas. Cover the pot to keep everything warm while preparing the remaining ingredients.
Add the sliced red onion to a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper. Knead the onions with your fingers to work the salt and spice into the onions. Set aside and allow the brined onions to soften – this will take about 10-15 minutes.
To serve the ful, spread the warm fava beans on a platter or individual bowls. Top with sliced green onions, the brined red onions and the chopped rocket. Top with 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil if you like, and the juice of one lemon.
Tips and Variations
500 grams (one pound) of cooked and drained fava beans is equal to about 3 tins.
To cook dried fava beans, begin by soaking 200 grams (one cup) dried fava beans in water overnight. Drain the softened fava beans and peel off the outer skin – this should simply pinch off if the beans have been softened. Discard any overly dried beans. Place the peeled beans in a pot and add enough water to cover the beans by 10-cm (about 4 inches). Bring the water to a boil, skim off the scum that floats to the top, reduce the temperature to medium-low, cover the pot and cook the fava beans until they are very soft – this will be anywhere between 45-90 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt to the fava beans during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Drain. The fava beans are ready to use at once.
The extra virgin olive oil is optional in this recipe. I like the added moisture the oil gives to the beans, which could otherwise taste a bit dry. Use a bit more water to add moisture if you are choosing to avoid added oils.
Ground Aleppo pepper is a popular spice used throughout Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is simple to find online or in any store specializing in Turkish or Middle Eastern food. Substitute ground paprika or ground sumac if you cannot find Aleppo pepper.
Yemeni-style Breakfast Lentil Stew
This is a simple recipe to put together. And even better, this lentil stew is inexpensive to make and tastes better after a day or two in the refrigerator. So, why aren’t more people making it?
Lentils are not exactly a common ingredient to use for breakfast. Most westerners are not wired to eat legumes in the morning…unless it comes in the form of beans on toast. Plus, let’s face it, Yemini-inspired foods are not exactly mainstream outside of the middle east – and even there…well, aside from zhug and Yemeni bread, not much else is known about their humble recipes.
But this delicious recipe idea may change things going forward. It’s a superior way to fill up in the morning with enough protein and complex carbohydrates to get you through the day…and it’s a great vegan brunch idea.
I like serving this stew with flatbread, a good amount of spicy green zhug and a simple salad of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, rocket and plenty of chopped coriander.
Yield: makes about 6-8 servings
300 grams (1 ½ cups) whole red lentils
600 ml. (2 ½ cups) water
2 medium-size red onions, chopped into medium dice
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
500 grams (one pound) cherry or date tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced fine
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
Sea salt and ground black pepper to season
Chopped parsley or coriander to garnish (or spicy green zhug)
Heat a medium-size pot over moderate heat. Add 600 ml. (2 ½ cups) water to the pot and bring to a boil. Rinse the red lentils well, then add them to the boiling water. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Be sure to skim off any white scum that floats to the top during the first few minutes of cooking. Continue simmering the lentils, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until most of the water is absorbed and the lentils break down. Add a teaspoon of sea salt, stir to mix and remove the pot from the heat. Keep warm on the side.
Heat a larger pot or wide pot with straight edges over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add the chopped onions with ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook gently over medium heat until the onions completely soften – but don’t allow them to caramelize. Add 1-2 tablespoons water as necessary to prevent the onions from sticking too much to the pot. Add the optional extra virgin olive oil once the onions soften.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the onions and cook 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the tomato paste and grated garlic next. Stir well to incorporate the tomato paste. Add 1-2 tablespoons water if the mixture seems too dry. Add the spices next and mix well. Cook 5 minutes over medium heat, then add all the cooked lentils to the mix. Stir well and adjust the seasoning. Allow the stew to mellow off the heat for 15 minutes before serving.
Serve with flatbread and either green zhug or chopped herbs. Refrigerate leftover stew for 3-5 days.
Tips and Variations
I use whole red lentils for this recipe instead of split ones that are often available. I think the whole red lentils have a richer taste…and they don’t take that much longer to cook.
The number of tomatoes varies depending on the variety selected. I prefer small cherry or date tomatoes because of their sweeter flavor and minimal water content. San Marzano tomatoes would be a nice alternative. I think larger tomatoes have too much water and do not offer the same flavor and texture as smaller tomatoes in this recipe. Canned tomatoes work in a pinch. Use about 1 can of chopped tomatoes in this case.
It's ok to substitute ground spices for the whole versions I favor but the ultimate sensation will be a bit muted. Lightly toasting whole spice seeds over medium-high in a non-stick pan and grinding them after a minute or two produces the richest spice flavors.
Whole Wheat Bulgur Köfte with Tofu Scramble
I went to Turkey recently! Ok…not technically (or even physically) but instead, I went with my heart. You see, I was born in Ankara and spent my first few years there. And even though I'm not Turkish, I do feel my heart is undeniably connected to Turkey - especially with the food…and that brings me to this recipe.
These whole wheat bulgur köfte (or kibbeh if you're from the East) are common bites to begin the day in Turkey. They are usually put together with some scrambled eggs and served with a salad and Ayran - a refreshing yogurt drink (see tips on how to make a vegan version).
My vegan version is made with tofu scramble and a dribbling of salted soy yogurt…and they come very close to the original version. Serve with a small herby salad if having as a brunch item.
Difficulty: simple- to moderate
Yield: makes about 4-6 servings
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
2 teaspoons ground sumac
200 grams (1/2 cup) fine whole wheat bulgur
250 grams (about 8 ounces) tofu scramble
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint, chopped
Soy yogurt to garnish
Begin by heating a medium-size sauté pan over medium low heat. When the pan is hot, add the onions all at once, then give them a good pinch of sea salt. Mix well and allow the onions to sweat in their juices…be patient, this will take about 10 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water if the onions begin to stick to your pan. Continue cooking until the onions begin to take on a golden color – about 15 minutes in total cooking time.
While the onions are cooking, go ahead and prepare the tomatoes. Quarter and place in a blender, then process very well – the color should turn pinkish red. Strain the tomatoes to remove the seeds and some of the skin. Reserve the puree until the onions are cooked.
Add the tomato puree to the onions and season with salt, pepper and ground sumac. Add about 60 ml (1/4 cup) water to the pan and cook over high heat for about 1-2 minutes until the mixture thickens.
Rinse the bulgur by placing it in small bowl and covering with water. Allow the bulgur to soak about 5 minutes before straining. Add the rinsed bulgur to the tomato mixture, remove from the heat and gently knead the bulgur with a rubber spatula so that it absorbs almost all the liquid from the tomato sauce. Cover with a double layer of paper towels for 10 minutes.
If you haven’t already made your tofu scramble, then now would be a great time.
Remove the paper towel from the bulgur mixture and add the tofu scramble. Fold in the chopped parsley, chopped spring onions and chopped mint. Use moist hands to pinch off apricot-size pieces of the mixture and shape each into a small oval. Arrange on a small plate and garnish with salted soy yogurt and a bit more mint and spring onions if you wish. Eat them with your hands.
Tips and Variations
Ground sumac is a delicious spice used throughout Turkey and the Middle East. It has a wonderful fruity and slightly acidic quality. If you don’t have any on hand or can’t find any, then substitute an equal amount of sweet paprika and add a good squeeze of lemon juice.
It is much better to use a fine grain bulgur to make this dish. Coarser grains will require some additional time to cook through, and it will not create a fine köfte (patty). I choose whole wheat because of the flavor and color, which is richer and much darker. You can use a normal yellow colored bulgur if you can’t fine the whole grain variety.
I like to make the tofu scramble simple for this recipe. I usually leave out the nutritional yeast and simply season with turmeric and cumin…with a little bite from some Dijon-style mustard. Choose a semi-firm tofu for this scramble – it will make a softer version that crumbles nicely.
Try to avoid peppermint in this recipe because the flavor is a bit too…well, minty and spicy. I like Moroccan-style mint which is milder.
You can also use a food processor to puree the tomatoes. Other alternatives include a hand blender or you can go really old school and carefully grate the whole tomato over the large holes of a box grater until you are left with just skin in your hand (and preferably avoiding grating your hand).
You can make your own vegan Ayran by blending together 250 ml (1 cup) soy yogurt with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Add some water to dilute to your desired consistency.
Please be sure to subscribe to VeganWeekly if you haven’t already…
Discover more delicious vegan food and cooking ideas at myfreshattitude.com
Thanks for reading!
Remember…leaving a comment contributes enormously and helps others discover VeganWeekly. Or if you prefer, sharing this newsletter with your friends, family and social media contacts also helps and sustains my efforts. Who knows? Maybe this newsletter could help others who crave valuable insights into the art of vegan cooking.