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Hard-to-Find Mediterranean Cuisine Ingredients

One of the big differences between the North American lifestyle and that of the Mediterranean is where people shop for food. Many people in the Mediterranean, whether they live in large cities or small towns, depend more on local markets, butchers, bakers, and produce stands (though the big-box stores you’re used to are popping up more and more in the Mediterranean). This dependence allows them to have fresher foods.

In most of the United States, taking a walk down the street to buy baked goods, produce, and fish from the local vendors just isn’t a reality. So you have to make do in finding the right foods at your local chain or specialty stores.

Seeking the perfect seafood

Depending on where you live, you can find a good variety of both local fish and shipped-in fish at your local grocery store or fish market. Choose a variety of fish and shellfish each week. Your goal is to consume up to 12 ounces per week of lower-mercury seafood, including shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

All seafood is good for you, but fatty fish found in cold waters such as the Pacific Ocean or cold freshwater lakes are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Leaner fish found in tropical waters may have lower levels of omega-3, but they’re still a great source of lean protein.

You don’t have to pick seafood unique to the Mediterranean region; rather, you want fish that’s fresh, so local is better. And if you live near a coastal town, take the time to find a local market that sells the freshest catch. Nothing compares to fresh-caught fish for flavor.

Be aware that fish do contain mercury from pollutants in the water. For the average healthy adult, limiting your intake of the high-mercury fish listed here can keep you pretty safe. Pregnant women, nursing moms, women who may become pregnant, and small children should use the following tips for seafood safety from the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel (kingfish), and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

  • Choose light canned tuna as opposed to albacore canned tuna because the former has less mercury.

  • Check your local advisories on any local fish caught in lakes and streams. If no advisories are available, eat up to 6 ounces per week of such local fish with no additional fish (of any kind) that week.

Shopping for cheeses

Cheese is common in Mediterranean cooking, and you may be unfamiliar with some of the called-for cheeses (such as feta or goat cheese) or where to find them. Here are a few places to look when you’re shopping:

  • Your local grocery story: You can typically find containers of crumbled goat cheese and/or feta in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store or in the dedicated cheese counter. You can also ask your deli clerk if the cheese you’re looking for is behind the counter. (The grocery’s deli cold case is often full of unique cheeses, many of which you can sample.)

  • A local cheese shop: You may be fortunate enough to have a store in your town that specializes in cheese. Count yourself lucky; you’ll find everything you need there, plus knowledgeable clerks to answer questions and give you samples.

  • Online: If you live in a very rural area and can’t find these cheeses in your local grocery store, you can always shop online. Pricing varies depending on the stores. Here are a few to get you started: Amazon, Cheese Supply, and igourmet.

Exploring grains and breads

You notice a lot of pasta and rice in Mediterranean cooking, and you also see many grains you may not be used to cooking with, such as bulgur wheat, pearl barley, and cornmeal.

You should be able to find most grain products in the inner aisles of your grocery store, where you find the rice products. Cornmeal sometimes appears with the baking supplies. The grains that aren’t as popular are often on the lower shelves, so be sure to look around. If you don’t find the products you’re looking for, venture to a gourmet grocer or health food store. You can also find many products at Amazon.

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