By Meri Raffetto, Wendy Jo Peterson

In many Mediterranean regions, the general rule is to serve a hot appetizer before a light meal and a cold appetizer prior to a heavy meal. This strategy is a great health tip; avoiding eating heavy foods on top of heavy foods is one of the ways the people of the Mediterranean naturally balance their calorie and fat intake.

Pan-Grilled Shrimp

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

24 raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (tail may be intact)

8 cloves garlic, sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cracked red pepper flakes

1 lemon, zested and cut into 6 wedges

1 cup parsley, chopped

Sea salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Skewer 4 shrimp 1/2 inch apart on each of 6 small skewers.
  2. Mix the garlic, olive oil, and cracked pepper in a small skillet. Heat the mixture over medium heat to infuse flavors, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest.
  3. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of the shrimp skewers with the heated oil mixture.
  4. Heat a grill pan, cast-iron pan, or griddle over medium high heat. Cook the skewers 1-inch apart for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until pink in color. Sprinkle the shrimp evenly with parsley, sea salt, and cracked pepper and serve each with a lemon wedge.

PER SERVING: Calories 111 (From Fat 85); Fat 9g (Saturated 1g); Cholesterol 36mg; Sodium 36mg; Carbohydrate 2g (Dietary Fiber 0g); Protein 5g.

If you have to clean and devein your own shrimp, check out these guidelines.

mediterranean-shrimp
llustration by Liz Kurtzman

Cleaning and deveining shrimp.

Fried Calamari (Calamari Fritti)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

1 pound fresh, cleaned calamari

1 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, for frying

1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges

1-1/2 cups marinara sauce

  1. Rinse the calamari in cold running water and then drain and pat it dry. Slice the calamari into 2-inch pieces and sprinkle with sea salt.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flours. Add the calamari and toss until lightly coated with the flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and place the calamari onto a clean plate.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan or cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat until you start to see small bubbles (about 360 degrees F). Working in small batches (so the oil does not get cold), fry the calamari for 1 to 2 minutes or until lightly golden. (Don’t overcook the calamari, or it will be chewy.)
  4. Remove the calamari with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow the oil to reheat and continue cooking in small batches until you’ve fried all pieces.
  5. Serve the calamari with the lemon wedges and marinara sauce (heated or at room temperature).

PER SERVING: Calories 343 (From Fat 58); Fat 12g (Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 42mg; Sodium 850mg; Carbohydrate 16g (Dietary Fiber 1g); Protein 25g.

Watch that your oil doesn’t get too hot. If the oil begins to smoke, it has reached its smoke point, and you should start over with fresh oil.

When working with fresh seafood, use it within 24 hours of purchase for best results.

Tuna-Stuffed Tomato Bites

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 18 servings

One 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil, drained

2 tablespoons capers

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

18 large cherry tomatoes (preferably with flat bottoms)

  1. Mix the tuna, capers, mayonnaise, vinegar, and parsley in a medium bowl. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cut off the top (stem side) of each tomato and gently remove the insides with a spoon or a grapefruit spoon, being careful not to go through the bottom of the tomato.
  3. Fill each tomato with 1 to 2 teaspoons of the tuna mixture; the mixture should be coming out the top. Serve or store in the refrigerator until your guests arrive.

PER SERVING: Calories 26 (From Fat 10); Fat 1g (Saturated 0g); Cholesterol 2mg; Sodium 69mg; Carbohydrate 1g (Dietary Fiber 0g); Protein 3g.

If you can’t find flat-bottomed tomatoes, you can slice a small sliver off the bottom so that the tomatoes sit flat.