Munching on Mediterranean

There’s a reason the average life expectancy rate in the Mediterranean is so high. Foods commonly found in a Mediterranean diet are heart and health conscious. A Mediterranean person’s average diet is full of healthy and nutritious meals. Four for $40 explores how to recreate Mediterranean meals with a $40 budget and limited amount of time, a classic scenario for college students. This week’s Trader Joe’s haul makes the best use of time and provides easy methods of food preparation. 

The first meal is a delicious spin on nachos: pita nachos. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper, then cut three to four pita pockets into eight wedges. Add the pita wedges to the sheet, place them in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil and Trader Joe’s Za’atar seasoning. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. While the pita chips are baking, this is a great opportunity to prep the nacho toppings. 

Toppings can include pepperoncinis, red onions, feta and hummus, as well as black or kalamata olives. This particular batch included fresh Persian cucumbers. Once the chips are done baking, layer the toppings, starting with hummus and feta. Trader Joe’s has a delightful herbed feta that worked well in this recipe. If desired, chop up a few slices of Trader Joe’s gyro meat into small pieces and layer onto the nachos. Throw them back into the oven and broil for five to 10 minutes to melt the feta completely. 

After removing from the oven, layer the nachos with the remaining fresh ingredients. Pita nachos make an excellent appetizer and can be consumed as a lunch meal. This yields three healthy servings and took about 45 minutes for the entire dish, including prep time. 

Next up: a delicious tzatziki chicken. This recipe requires a bit of planning because the chicken needs to be marinated for three hours. To begin, simply chop up three decently sized chicken breasts – the tray used for this meal cost $7.86. Add the sliced chicken into a gallon-sized bag and toss with a generous serving of Trader Joe’s Tzatziki dip, which rings in at $3.49. Reserve some of the tzatziki for the next recipe. Allow the chicken to marinate for about three hours, then cook in a pan that is lightly coated with olive oil or cooking spray. 

Alongside the chicken, chef’s can serve quinoa. The quinoa takes about 15 to 20 minutes to cook on the stove and adds a lovely carbohydrate to accompany the tzatziki chicken. Any vegetable can be added to the meal as well. In this case, there were green beans available from a different grocery trip, so it became the chef’s choice. One budget-friendly tip is to use everything in the fridge before buying more vegetables in order to minimize waste. 

These green beans were cooked with a blend of harissa and cumin and topped with freshly roasted garbanzo beans. A can of organic garbanzo beans costs $0.99, and can be tossed with Za’atar seasoning, garlic powder and olive oil for a delicious kick. Toss these on top of a salad – or in the case of this recipe – on top of the green beans. The entire meal took about an hour to complete, not including the prep necessary for marinating the chicken. The dish of tzatziki chicken, quinoa and green beans was enough for four servings with the potential of a fifth leftover dish. 

The next meal is a shockingly easy-to-assemble Greek-inspired gyro wrap. Simply chop up some cooked gyro meat – this wrap used three slices which were microwaved at their package’s recommended time of 30 seconds. Next, warm up a pita on the stove until toasted and hot. Then, add the meat and top with Persian cucumbers, pickled red onions – a refrigerator staple in some households – and the remaining tzatziki sauce. For a more substantial lunch, folks can add baby carrots and hummus for a side. This recipe used up the last of the Persian cucumbers – purchased in last week’s Four for $40 column – the last pita and the last of the tzatziki sauce.

Similarly, the final recipe is quick and easy to assemble. Trader Joe’s has two options of  falafel to purchase. The first is a box mix, where shoppers add water and cook the falafel. The second is a bag of frozen, cooked falafel which is perfect for those with a busy lifestyle. The frozen falafel can be warmed up by one’s desired method, either in the oven or microwave. Plate with quinoa – left over from tzatziki chicken night – as well as leftover green beans and hummus. 

Falafel is vegetarian, healthy and takes less than 15 minutes to assemble. The falafel package yields three and a half servings. It makes use of leftovers, and follows the theme of heart-healthy Mediterranean dishes. For more college-friendly recipes and tips, stay tuned for next week’s edition of Four for $40.

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