Mediterranean cuisines are so much more than the clichés. So much more than grilled fish, vegetables and olive oil. It’s a lesson that suffuses the cooking of Meike Peters, an author who over her life has eaten her way across much of the region. The flavors are big and brash, heavy on citrus, spices and bold ingredients used with abandon.
It is a departure from the traditional cooking of her native Germany, where a pinch of this or that may suffice. And it opened her eyes to experimenting with ingredients that stand out rather than blend in.
“That’s the fun part, when you say, ‘Whoa, that’s bitter or really sweet,’” says Peters, who lives in Berlin. “It’s different from having the perfect pasta Bolognese where everything is all together. This is the kind of cooking where you have fun.”
Indeed, Peters’ book, “365: A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking,” is a distillation of her fearless approach to flavor combinations, many of them influenced by the Mediterranean, Middle East and elsewhere. In her unique take on sweet potatoes— hardly a Mediterranean ingredient— she braises them with briny olives and triples down on citrusy notes via bright coriander, orange juice and candied zest.
It’s an unexpected combination that brightens and balances the one-note sweetness of the main ingredient. “There are many dishes where you can’t imagine olives would work, but they just do,” she says.
She first cooks the potatoes with a small amount of orange juice and water until tender, then stirs in candied citrus zest and chopped black olives, which provide depth and pops of briny flavor.
This recipe resonated with us not only for its bold flavors, but also for its use of a low-liquid braise, a technique that concentrates flavor. For our version, we streamlined, eliminating the step of candying citrus peel. We got plenty of citrus notes from the coriander and juice, and this kept the recipe a one-pot preparation. We also browned the onion more for a slightly deeper flavor and added 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper for an extra bit of savoriness.
But the dish otherwise stayed true to Peters’ original for a uniquely bright sweet potato side punctuated with jammy onions, pleasantly crunchy crushed coriander and rich olives.
“The olives are quite extreme,” Peters says. “But if one flavor goes really far, then the other side has to go just as far in the other direction.”