A Mediterranean-Inspired New Year’s Feast

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a culinary tour of the Mediterranean? Warmed by the sunny climes of the European and African countries surrounding the sea, this region has long been known for its palate-pleasing fare, which, it turns out, is as nutritionally robust as it tastes.

Mediterranean cuisine has been linked to low rates of a host of chronic maladies such as heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer. Traditional local menus vary as you travel along the  coast, but the basics remain the same. The fragrance of extra virgin olive oil, the predominant fat used in the region, is evident in a cornucopia of dishes. The  foundation of each country’s diet is based upon an abundance of healthy choices from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dried beans and peas, nuts and seeds, seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices and only small amounts of meat and poultry. With its luscious flavours and high health quotient, a Mediterranean menu is the perfect way to entertain.

New Year’s Eve Mediterranean Menu

Crostini With White Bean Spread or Caramelized Onions and Parmesan*
Tabbouleh With Red Pepper Wedges*
Assorted vegetable crudités
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad*
Roasted Mushroom and Sun-dried Tomato Linguini*
Grilled Salmon With Tzatziki*
Steamed green vegetables (such as broccoli)
Pear Almond Phyllo Tart*
Fresh fruit plate
*Recipes follow

Crostini With White Bean Spread or Caramelized Onions and Parmesan

In Italy, bite-sized toasts are used as a foundation for an assortment of vegetable or legume mixtures.

Makes 24 pieces (6 servings).

1 baguette (2-in/5 cm wide), cut in 1⁄2-in (1 cm) slices
Extra virgin olive oil
White Bean Spread (recipe follows)
Caramelized Onions and Parmesan (recipe follows)

• Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

• Brush bread slices very lightly with olive oil and place in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Per-serving nutritional information: calories: 30; protein: less than 1 g; fat: 1 g; saturated fat: less than 1 g; carbohydrate: 6 g; dietary fibre: less than 1 g; sodium: 40 mg.

White Bean Spread:

1 can (19 oz/540 ml) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (25 ml)
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (45 ml_
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (15 ml)
1 1/2 tsp light mayonnaise (7 ml)
1 tsp thyme (5 ml)
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley for garnish

• In food processor, blend beans, lemon juice, parsley, oil, mayonnaise and thyme until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in a small dish garnished with fresh parsley.

Per-serving nutritional information (without crostini): calories: 103; protein: 5 g; fat: 3 g; saturated fat: less than 1 g; carbohydrate: 15 g; dietary fibre: 4 g; sodium: 196 mg.


Caramelized Onions and Parmesan

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (15 ml)
4 cups thinly sliced onions (1 l)
1 tsp granulated sugar (5 ml)
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar (45 ml)
Salt and pepper
Thin Parmesan cheese shards

• In large non-stick  skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add sugar; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes or until onions are slightly browned.

• Stir in vinegar and cook until vinegar evaporates. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool to lukewarm. Spoon onion mixture onto crostini and top with  Parmesan cheese shard.

Per-serving nutritional information: calories: 57; protein: 2 g; fat: 3 g; saturated fat: less than 1 g; carbohydrate: 9 g; dietary fibre: 1 g; sodium: 62 mg

Tabbouleh With Red Pepper Wedges

Here’s an example of Mediterranean cuisine at its finest – whole grains, vegetables, herbs and olive oil. A perfect dietary prescription for those with high blood pressure, diabetes and a variety of other ailments.

Makes 6 servings.

1/3 cup medium or fine bulgur (75 ml)
2/3 cup boiling water (150 ml)
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil (20 ml)
4 tsp fresh lemon juice (20 ml)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (125 ml)
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions (75 ml)
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill (75 ml)
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint (75 ml)
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, finely diced
2/3 cup finely diced English cucumber (150 ml)
1 tbsp chopped pistachios(15 ml)
Salt and pepper
Red pepper wedges

• In medium bowl, pour water over bulgur, stir and let stand, covered, for 45 to  60 minutes or until bulgur is soft. Drain, pressing bulgur to remove excess liquid.

• Transfer bulgur to large bowl and toss with oil, lemon juice, parsley, green onions, dill, mint, tomatoes, cucumber and pistachios. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with red pepper wedges for dipping.

Per-serving nutritional information: calories: 73; protein: 2 g; fat: 4 g; saturated fat: 1 g; carbohydrate: 9 g; dietary fibre: 2 g; sodium: 65 mg.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

Beets are chock full of the heart-healthy B vitamin, folate. You can substitute other dark, leafy greens, such as spinach or arugula, for the mesclun or spring mix.

Makes 6 servings.

4 beets, scrubbed and trimmed, with about 1 in (2.5 cm) stem attached
1 tsp finely chopped shallots (5 ml)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (25 ml)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (25 ml)
2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard (10 ml)
Salt and pepper
6 cups mesclun lettuce or spring mix (1.5 l)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion (125 ml)
1/3 cup low-fat goat cheese (75 ml)

• Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

• Wrap beets tightly in foil and roast in middle of oven for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until tender. Unwrap beets carefully and  let cool. Cut off stems and peel beets. (Beets may be prepared a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.) Cut each beet into 6 wedges.

• Dressing: In blender or food processor, mix together shallots, vinegar, oil and mustard. Season with salt and  pepper. (Dressing may be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to use.)

• Divide greens among 6 plates. Ar-range beets and sliced onions on top and sprinkle with goat cheese. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately.

Per-serving nutritional information: calories: 125; protein: 5 g; fat: 10 g; saturated fat: 4 g; carbohydrate: 6 g; dietary fibre: 2 g; sodium: 225 mg.

Roasted Mushroom and Sun-dried Tomato Linguini

Pasta that’s perfect for guests but simple enough for an everyday meal. You can divide the recipe in half or into three. if sun-dried tomatoes are salty, soak and drain twice to lower sodium counts.

Makes 6 servings.

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 lb assorted mushrooms, sliced (500 g)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (15 ml)
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil (20 ml)
1/2 lb linguini, preferably whole wheat (250 g)
1 tbsp chopped garlic (15 ml)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water (125 ml)
2 bocconcini balls (fresh mozzarella), diced
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (75 ml)

• Preheat oven to 425°F (230 °C).

• Spray 13- by 9-inch (3.5 l) baking pan  with cooking spray. Place mushrooms in pan and toss with vinegar and 2 tsp (10 ml) of the oil. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and only a small amount of liquid remains. Set aside. (Mushrooms can be made earlier in the day, covered  and refrigerated.)

• In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta just until tender. Drain thoroughly.

• In large skillet over medium-low  heat, heat remaining oil. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and tomatoes, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta and toss to mix.

• Toss with bocconcini until mixed throughout. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Per-serving nutritional information: calories: 225; protein: 12 g; fat: 7 g; saturated fat: 3 g; carbohydrate: 34 g; dietary fibre: 6 g; sodium: 230 mg.

Grilled Salmon With Tzatziki

Salmon is a wonderful choice for entertaining. Its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids make it a good alternative to meat. when served with tzatziki, it’s a marriage made in heaven. Enjoy any leftovers with whole grain pita wedges or vegetable crudités.

Makes 6 servings.

6 salmon fillets (4 to 6 oz/150 g)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Tzatziki (recipe follows)

• Preheat grill or barbecue. Brush salmon with oil and grill skin side up for 4 to 5 minutes. With spatula, turn the salmon and grill 4 to 5 minutes longer or until cooked through. Serve immediately with Tzatziki.


1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (250 ml)
1/2 cup shredded English cucumber (unpeeled) (125 ml)
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice 7 ml
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil 7 ml
1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic 2 ml
1 tbsp minced fresh dill 25 ml
Salt and pepper

• Place yogurt in cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

• Place cucumber in sieve and salt generously; drain over a bowl for 30 minutes. Rinse well and squeeze cucumber to remove liquid.

• In medium bowl, mix together yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, oil, garlic and dill. Season with salt and pepper. (Tzatziki may be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

Per-serving nutritional information for Grilled Salmon With Tzatziki: calories: 225; protein: 25 g; fat: 8 g; saturated fat: 1 g; carbohydrate: 3 g; dietary fibre: less than 1 g; sodium: 150 mg.

Pear Almond Phyllo Tart

A decadent but surprisingly light finish to a festive dinner.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Vegetable oil cooking spray
3 phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
3 tbsp granulated sugar (45 ml)
1 tbsp liquid honey (15 ml)
1/2 tsp almond extract (2 ml)
3 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 21⁄2 cups/625 ml)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (15 ml)
2 tbsp soft margarine (25 ml)
1 tbsp apricot jam, heated and strained (15 ml)
3 tbsp toasted sliced almonds (45 ml)

• Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

• Spray a 10- or 11-inch (25 or 27 cm) tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray.

• Place a sheet of phyllo in pan and press onto sides of pan (keep remaining phyllo covered with a damp towel to prevent drying). Spray phyllo with cooking spray.

• Top with second phyllo sheet and spray again. Repeat with third phyllo sheet. Tuck and fold edges of phyllo inside pan. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.

• In small bowl, mix together honey and almond extract. In large bowl, toss pears with lemon juice and stir in honey mixture. Spread pears evenly in tart pan.   Dot with margarine.

• Bake for 45 minutes or until pears are tender and crust is golden. Brush top of  tart with apricot jam. Let cool and sprinkle with sliced almonds before serving.

Per-serving nutritional information (based on 10 servings): calories: 95; protein: 1 g; fat: 4 g; saturated fat: 1 g; carbohydrate: 15 g; dietary fibre: 2 g; sodium: 50 mg.

Enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Daniel Loiselle

For more holiday recipes and entertaining ideas, visit our Holiday section.