Comfort Food: A Mostly Mediterranean Summer Menu

Summer is my favorite season. I don’t complain or whine about the heat, or even the humidity. Many days this summer have been over 90ºF; and the sun and heat make me happy.  All I need to remember is how unpleasantly cold — really freezing — it was this past winter. In summer, I’m happy to spend time outdoors in a way I’m not when the weather’s cold.

Summer produce is my other favorite thing about the season. Savor summer fruits and vegetables now when they’re at the height of flavor. Farmers’ markets in some areas are already introducing late summer/early fall produce. It’s the in-between season and the new fall produce is not as flavorful as it will be later on. For instance, apples won’t be really sweet until there is a chill in the air. Eat summer produce while you still can!

My sister, Cheryl, and I put together a mostly Mediterranean summer lunch menu and tried it out on some friends. I want to start entertaining more since I do it so seldom. Plus, my friends wanted to check out Cheryl’s issues of American Womankind magazine (reviewed here).

Our lunch menu is a departure from usual summer barbecue fare, but it’s still about comfort food. We checked out what produce between our two kitchens we already had on hand.

Tomatoes are such a summer vegetable (though it’s really a fruit), which also means  they’re especially flavorful now. I decided to make a Greek yogurt tomato soup.

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Prepped ingredients for a tomato soup

Greek yogurt tomato soup

Greek yogurt tomato soup

I had a couple of huge zucchinis in the refrigerator and more ripe tomatoes that needed to be consumed. Ratatouille was starting to look like a menu item, so I bought an eggplant. This menu was shaping up to have a Mediterranean flair.

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Eggplants at the grocery store

What else would go with this meal? Mushrooms! Cheryl sautéed wild mushrooms: etoki, shiitake, oyster, portabello, and crimini.  (Wegman’s has the best grocer selection of wild mushrooms I’ve ever seen!) Mushrooms, by the way, are also powerful support for the immune system. I eat them almost daily.

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What to do for protein? A favorite summer comfort food is deviled eggs. I served two types as an appetizer: wasabi and Indian curry. The curry deviled eggs were our favorite! Umm!!! The nicoise olives in the center were another Mediterranean touch.

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2 types of deviled eggs: wasabi and Indian curry

We also had a small platter of Jamon Iberico de Bellota — the finest Spanish ham there is.  This type of ham is sliced paper thin. It is so rich and buttery. Unlike the ordinary ham in the States, you don’t need to cut off the fat on Iberico de Bellota ham because it’s very edible.  A few of these slices suffice for a delightful gustatory experience. (Shout out to Wegman’s again for carrying precious packages of this pork.)

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

Cole slaw is another familiar comfort food. Cheryl’s version was an Asian slaw. It was delicious and added a crunchy element to the meal. (Don’t underestimate the power of cabbage. It’s a cancer-fighting food. Cabbage is in the family of cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts, watercress, bok choy, and cauliflower.)


Main course - vegetarian

The Menu


Deviled eggs (Recipes – D’Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey)

Nicoise olives

Iberico de Bellota ham

Main Course

Greek yogurt tomato soup – (Recipe – Moosewood Restaurant:  Cooking for Health)

Ratatouille (Recipe – originally from Alice Waters, found here.)

Sauteed wild mushrooms (Recipe – Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalusia by Jeff Koehler)

Asian slaw (Recipe – Adapted from Yum Universe by Heather Crosby)


Peach, nectarine, and blueberry crisp (gluten-free) (See recipe here.)

Peach and wild blueberry crisp

If you follow a Paleo diet, you’d want to replace the topping on the gluten-free dessert because it contains oats. A possible solution could be to replace the oats with a combination of unsweetened coconut chips, chopped almonds, and almond flour. It won’t be quite as crunchy as the oats, but it would be Paleo-compliant. Any suggestions from the Paleo community are welcome!

Also, if you eat the Paleo way, you’d want to substitute the dressing in the slaw and the mayonnaise in the deviled eggs. They contain sesame oil and canola oil, which the Paleo community refers to as “industrial oils.” I haven’t found a mayo in stores yet that is made from 100% olive oil.  The easy switch for the Paleo diet is to make a cole slaw with a homemade mayonnaise containing olive oil. The mayo can be used in both the slaw and the deviled eggs. You can find a mayo recipe here.

Last, but not least I had another special, very well-behaved guest: Lulu, Cheryl’s Havanese. She was easily thwarted from her one mad dash for the ham.

Lulu - lunch guest

See how you can make the most of the last of summer’s bounty. Enjoy!

Comfort Food Redemption: How to Beat the Diet Blues

You just discovered your diet needs an overhaul if you are to be healthier and feel good again. You go into mourning immediately with the thought of losing the food you’ve loved and eaten forever.  No worries — you’ll go through these 8 stages of grief:

  1. Deprivation: Someone stole my cheese. All I can think about is cheese.  I’m miserable.
  2. Panic: What the hell CAN I eat, then?  All food choices seem to have vanished.
  3. Denial: I don’t eat much sweets or bread. Maybe if I have just one cookie, I’ll be OK.
  4. Resignation: Uh oh…I’m bloated (or constipated). Not OK.  Misery is assured.
  5. Fear: Will I ever be invited out to dinner again? Where will I find something to eat?  I’m doomed to eat bland, medicinal food.
  6. The Quest: I need help, answers, hope, or a big fat cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.
  7. Re-education: I need a moment to digest the restrictions. The real work is in figuring out the food possibilities.
  8. Joy: There’s a lot of great stuff out there.  I’m re-training myself to eat mindfully, and, hey, the results are surprisingly yummy!

As a gluten-sensitive person, I experienced every one of these stages.  I’m also lucky enough to be an inveterate researcher and cookbook collector; so, when I reached Stage 7, I gathered my curiosity, energy, and tools to make myself food-happy again.

Eliminating much-loved foods and ingredients from your diet is unsettling.  You lose your balance.  So, I’ve road-tested a summer comfort food meal for you, guided by delicious recipes in Well Fed – Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat by Melissa Joulwan.  Check out Clothes Make the Girl for more recipes and information on her cookbooks. Joulwan follows a Paleo regime.  I have found Paleo to be most compatible with my love of meat and need to be gluten-free.  It is not the only solution for a healthy diet, but we will visit others as time goes on.


Grilled Chicken Thighs

Coconut Almond Green Beans

Jicama “Potato Salad” 

Dessert (Optional) – Easy fruit crisp recipe from an earlier post found here.


Grilled Chicken Thighs


Summertime is about The Grill. The key to richly-flavored, moist and juicy thighs is to smoke them. First, season the thighs with salt, pepper, and paprika.

To smoke the thighs, I use Woodstock Lump Hardwood Charcoal.  You can help this along with 4-5 fast-starting briquets.  When the briquets start to get that ashy color, check the wood charcoal.  When there are no more flames, you’re ready to go.  There should be a lot of smoke, but no fire. Put your chicken on the grill. Cover and smoke the meat for an hour.

Coconut-Almond Green Beans

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These green beans are a riff on the ol’ green bean casserole, but without the canned beans, canned soup, frozen onion rings, and outrageous amount of sodium. All I can say about these green beans is WOW!!  I followed this easy recipe to a tee.  If you love Indian food, these beans will resonate with you.  If you aren’t familiar with Indian food, these beans are a real flavor festival. Truly, cool beans.

Jicama “Potato” Salad


I adapted this recipe from Well Fed. Don’t be intimidated by this 3-part recipe — it’s easier than you think.  Jicama is a large root vegetable from Mexico.  It is a great substitute for potatoes because its texture and flavor is similar to a raw potato,  with one caveat — start preparing the jicama early, really early—like 48 hours before you serve the meal!

Jicama Ingredients:

2 pounds jicama

1 teaspoon salt

Salad Ingredients:

4 strips sugar-free, nitrate-free bacon

4 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1 medium  stalk celery, diced (about ½ cup)

About 1/2 cup of diced medium yellow or (and) red onion

½ cup fresh cilantro, minced

2 tablespoons dried chives

¾ teaspoon dried mustard

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

¾ cup olive oil mayo (see recipe below)




Dice the jicama into ½ inch cubes.  (It’s up to you whether or not to peel it.)  When you’re done chopping, you should have about 6 cups of cubes.  Place the jicama and salt in a slow cooker and add enough water to cover the jicama by about 2 inches.  Cover and cook on high for 12-24 hours.  The longer the jicama simmers, the more tender it becomes.

[Note: The recipe says to cook in a slow cooker for 12-24 hours.  I suggest 18 hours, as a baseline, and check every 6 hours after.  My jicama was fork tender at 23 hours.]

When the jicama has cooked, drain, pat dry, and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the salad.


Cut the bacon crosswise into ¼ inch wide pieces.  Place the chopped bacon in a cold skillet, turn the heat to medium-high, and fry the bacon until it’s crisp, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the pan with a wooden spoon and drain on a paper towel.

Place bacon, eggs, celery, onion, parsley, chives, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Blend with a rubber scraper, then add jicama and mix again.  Add mayo (recipe below) and gently fold until combined.  Chill for 20-30 minutes before eating to allow flavors to meld.

Olive Oil Mayo Recipe


1 large egg

2 tablespoons Lemon juice

¼ cup + 1 cup light-tasting olive oil (not extra virgin!)

1/2 teaspoon wasabi

½ teaspoon salt


Bring all ingredients to room temperature (including the egg).

1.  In a blender or food processor, break the egg and add the lemon juice. Put the lid on your appliance and allow the egg and lemon juice to sit and come to room temperature together, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

2.  When the egg and lemon juice are room temperature, add the mustard, salt, and ¼ cup oil to the canister.  Blend on medium until the ingredients are combined.  Incorporate the remaining 1 cup oil by pouring very, very slowly.  You want the skinniest drizzle you can manage; this takes about 2-3 minutes.

3.  If you’re using a blender, you’ll hear the pitch change as the liquid begins to form the emulsion.  Eventually, the substance inside the blender will resemble traditional mayonnaise, only far more beautiful. (Do not lose your nerve and consider dumping!) Continue to drizzle slowly.

4. When all of the oil is incorporated, revel in your triumph and transfer the mayo to a container with a lid.  (Mark a calendar with your egg expiration date—that’s when your mayo expires, too.)

5. Mix 3/4 cup of olive oil mayo with the assembled salad.

This meal is satisfying, filling, and beautiful to look at. The ingredients, for the most part, are familiar and comforting. Does this menu make you food-happy again?

– Cheryl

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