Mediterranean Cooking on a Budget

This isn’t a traditional What’s Cooking Wednesday post. In fact, it’s not even written by me (welcome dear Heather of Yummi Sushi Pajamas!), but it’s full of great information–and TWO recipes–for those trying to eat healthier and save money. Pretty much all of us, I imagine?

But before we get to Heather, in other food news:

World Nutella Day 2010I wanted to let you know that Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy and I, as co-hosts of World Nutella Day, (yes, it’s coming faster than you realize!) are holding a contest and giving away some Nutella!

All you have to do is tell us about your first time. Eating Nutella, of course. Get the deets, enter over at the World Nutella Day Facebook Fan Page–coming up on 1800 fans!–and why not become a fan while you’re there?

OK, take it away Heather!


Rugged Calabria on FlickrI am so excited to be guest posting on Bleeding Espresso!  Here I am to talk about Mediterranean cooking on a budget.

I’ve been lucky enough to make three separate trips to the Mediterranean.  Every time I come home, I look around and wonder how I can bring something of the Mediterranean lifestyle into my American living.  It’s not an easy thing to do since in a lot of ways the culture couldn’t be more different, but there are some things I’ve been able to manage.

For me, food was the easiest change to make.  Mediterranean meals are based on fresh, local ingredients with smaller portions of meat, healthy fats, and lots of veggies. I loved the food when I was there, and I knew I could find ways to work it into my cooking.  Following the Mediterranean diet (whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins in small amounts, and tons of produce) helped me lose six pounds without ever having to measure a serving or count a calorie.

The problem came when the economy took a downturn and I changed my shopping style.  Instead of shopping from a preplanned list, I’ve started clipping coupons and shopping sales.  It saves us a lot of money, but makes it tough to purchase particular items for specific recipes.  Saving money meant changing the way I thought about incorporating the Mediterranean mindset.

Instead of searching for Italian or Greek inspired recipes, I’ve started shopping at local farmers markets.  I spend a lot of time putting together recipes from whatever I’ve got in the pantry (lots of canned fruits, veggies, and beans) and whatever produce I am able to grab from the local stands.  I am trying to embrace the fact that it’s not olives, capers, or lamb that make a meal Mediterranean.  I am learning to embrace the Mediterranean mindset of using what’s fresh and local instead of trying to incorporate specific ingredients.

Plum ChickenLast week’s attempt resulted in two extremely good dinners made from local ingredients and pantry leftovers.  My first experiment was born from the need to use up two pounds of plums before they rotted.  I peeled and pitted all of the plums, then put them in a skillet with:

  • A clove of minced garlic
  • 1 ¾ cups of sugar
  • ¾ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

I boiled it all down, using a spoon to crush the plums a bit better, and waited for it to reduce.  It took maybe a half hour total.  I used the sauce to top some cooked chopped chicken I had in the freezer, and put it all over some ziti.  It turned out really well, and went great with a simple side of sautéed zucchini.

Experiment two was even more adventurous.  I sautéed the rest of the zucchini in a little bit of olive oil and garlic.  I boiled some penne pasta while the zucchini cooked.  After I took the zucchini out of the pan, I tossed in a little more olive oil and a can of sardines I’ve had sitting around forever.  The sardines (I chopped them first) cooked down nicely until they were just crisp salty bits, and I tossed in some bread crumbs to soak up the leftover oil.  Once that was all done, I tossed the zucchini and pasta into the pan just so it could all warm up together.  It was really good and so easy!

Now I feel confident that I can get whatever is fresh at the farmers market every weekend and just make it work with what I’ve got at home.  I try to keep some basics like olive oil, lemon juice and capers on hand, and just toss in whatever else I have.  It takes some courage, and lots of experimentation, but eventually you’ll find your own style using things you can get inexpensively and creating quick, easy meals that are reasonably healthy.

I know these ideas don’t compare to the amazing recipes featured here on Bleeding Espresso [so NOT true, Heather!], but they’ve been a hit at my house!


Heather Hurd is a freelance writer and blogger.  She writes about food and wine for and blogs at Yummy Sushi Pajamas about raising a family and enjoying the good things in life.


They sound delicious!

How have you been saving money on food lately?

Do you enjoy the Mediterranean Diet?

12 Beans of Wisdom to “Mediterranean Cooking on a Budget”
  1. Gil

    Sounds delicious!

    I agree Gil 🙂

  2. Great guest post, Heather. Thanks for this, Michelle. I think she hit on something that we do here (in Calabria, at least) and that is cook with whatever you find in the kitchen! Great lesson and definitely a good way to save some cents!

    So true; it’s important to have a well-stocked pantry…you know, if you’re lucky enough to have room for a pantry 😉

  3. Fantastic guest post Heather.

    I just posted last week about how I want to be more of an instinctual cook. I must buy some more capers.

    Who knew capers were so dang good?!

    .-= nyc/caribbean ragazza´s last blog ..Adult Education in Rome =-.

  4. chicken with plums is a popular Persian dish too – served over rice.

    we’re doing the same thing with our cooking. And as a result, I’m eating more vegetables

    Actually Heather *did* serve hers over long grain rice, but the photo had pasta, so… 😉 Yay for more veggies!

    .-= coffeejitters (Judy Haley)´s last blog ..Anticipation =-.

  5. 10.29.2009

    Great guest post. I try to do the same thing… preparing meals around what I can find at the markets.

    Don’t you just love when you end up coming up with “go to” meals that way?!

  6. 10.29.2009

    Thanks for the great idea with the zucchini and sardines.. sounds great and I will try it this weekend. Great guest post.

    Hope you enjoy it, Willym!

    .-= Willym´s last blog ..Mercoledi Musicale +1 =-.

  7. 10.30.2009

    Ciao 🙂
    ma che bello questo blog!
    peccato che il mio inglese sia abbastanza scarso, magari vengo qui per esercitarmi 😛
    Ho notato che ho il nome della tua capretta -.-‘ beh… però è dolce 🙂


    Hihihihi…stavo dicendo ma che bel nome! Grazie per la visita…adesso vengo a trovarti 🙂

    .-= Margherita´s last blog ..Crema di Annona con sciroppo di Melograno =-.

  8. 11.15.2009

    Both recipes sound good (the first in particular as using fruit in savoury dishes is always interesting).

    One thing I have taken from Mediterranean cooking, other than using local, seasonal ingredients, is simplicity of preparation.

    For instance, almost all greens can be cooked the Italian way, which is simply to give them a whizz around a pan with some olive oil, chilli and garlic. If I am faced with seaonal greens and no knowledge of how they are normally prepared, this is my fallback position and it is good (stuffed in a pitta bread the next day, it is even better).

    It is challenging at times incorporating a Mediterranean approach into our lifestyles, especially as what is cheap and/or readily available there isn’t necessarily cheap or readily available at home.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head though by adopting the mindset rather than the shopping list of the Mediterranean nations.

    So very true. LOVE the seasonal eating too 🙂
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..Aimless Chatter =-.

  9. 02.13.2012

    My parents used to live in Spain ( Almeria). The food is great and SO fresh!! Cooking on a budget I found was so easy there.
    Some tips I found useful ub general though would be;

    Sticking to my shopping list although some foods are tempting just to pop in the trolley!

    Buy in bulk, especially meat.

    Try not to cook on impulse but plan your meals for the week.

    Hope this helps:-)

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Theresa 🙂

  1. [...] 2009 October 28 by Yummy Sushi Pajamas Hey, check me out!  I’m blogging over here [...]...
  2. [...] to a comment on my guest post, I started thinking about my current eating habits.  Thanks to the routin...
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



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