3 Mediterranean Diet Desserts That Prove the Eating Plan Isn’t Just Olive Oil, Nuts, and Fish

Photo: America's Test Kitchen

The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook
Photo: America's Test Kitchen

Don't call it a comeback (because, really, did it ever really go anywhere?), but the Mediterranean diet is trending in a serious way. (Well keto, we had fun, but I'm just looking for something a bit more long-term...) Here's the thing though: When you look for Mediterranean diet recipes—whether it's on Google or the cookbook aisle at the bookstore—you'll see amazing savory ideas, likely starring fish, legumes, nuts, and of course olive oil. But what about Mediterranean diet desserts? Is that even a thing?

America's Test Kitchen executive editor Dan Zuccarello is here to tell you that you can absolutely have dessert while sticking to the Mediterranean diet. (Phew!) You just have to change the way you think about it a little bit. "Dessert is viewed much differently in the Mediterranean than it is here," says Zuccarello, the creative force behind the newly released The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. "While we think of dessert as a regular occurrence and the final course to our meals, it is not uncommon for 'dessert' in the Mediterranean to simply be a piece of fresh fruit. That’s not to say cakes and cookies are not eaten; rather they are often saved for special family gatherings and celebrations."

Want more intel on the Mediterranean diet? An RD dishes on the popular eating plan:

Don't find fruit on its own all that exciting? There are some easy ways to upgrade it. Here, Zuccarello shares three dessert ideas from his new book (which of course also includes loads of breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes, too). Keep reading for the goods.

Scroll down for three Mediterranean diet dessert recipes.

stuffed apricots recipe
Photo: America's Test Kitchen

1. Turkish stuffed apricots with rose water and pistachios

"This dish has a lot of history in Turkey and that is where our research started," Zuccarello says. While the OG way to make stuffed apricots involves candying them in sugar syrup and then filling them with cream made from water buffalo milk (not exactly a fridge staple in the States), Zuccarello and his team made a healthier version by reducing the amount of sugar in the syrup by steeping it with bay leaves and cardamom pods.

"Thick Greek yogurt made a perfect substitute for the hard-to-find water buffalo cream, and we added a bit of rose water to the yogurt to enhance the floral qualities of the apricots," Zuccarello says. "Chopped toasted pistachios made for a traditional finish, and their crunch contrasted beautifully with the rich yogurt and tender fruit."

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp rose water
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest plus 1 Tbsp juice
2 cups water
4 green cardamom pods, cracked
2 bay leaves
24 whole dried apricots
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped fine

1. Combine yogurt, one teaspoon sugar, rose water, lemon zest, and pinch salt in small bowl. Refrigerate filling until ready to use.

2. Bring water, cardamom pods, bay leaves, lemon juice, and remaining sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved, about two minutes. Stir in apricots, return to simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until plump and tender, twenty-five to thirty minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer apricots to plate and let cool to room temperature.

3. Discard cardamom pods and bay leaves. Bring syrup to boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and measures about three tablespoons, four to six minutes; let cool to room temperature.

4. Place pistachios in shallow dish. Place filling in small zipper-lock bag and snip off one corner to create a half-inch opening. Pipe filling evenly into opening of each apricot and dip exposed filling into pistachios; transfer to serving platter. Drizzle apricots with syrup and serve.

warm figs and honey dessert recipe
Photo: America's Test Kitchen

2. Warm figs with goat cheese and honey

Figs are a major Mediterranean diet staple, and here, they serve as a satiating dessert. Zuccarello says that figs are so flavorful as is that they don't need too much fussing with. "They are delicious on their own as a snack or quartered and drizzled with a little honey on a cheese board," he says.

1 1/2 oz. goat cheese
8 fresh figs, halved lengthwise
16 walnut halves, toasted
3 Tbsp honey

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500°F. Spoon heaping half teaspoon goat cheese onto each fig half and arrange in parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake figs until heated through, about four minutes; transfer to serving platter.

2. Place one walnut half on top of each fig half and drizzle with honey. Serve.

mediterranean diet dessert recipes
Photo: America's Test Kitchen

3. Honey glazed peaches with hazelnuts

"Peaches and nuts are a classic combination, especially in this dish where the crunch of the nuts balances out the tender peaches," Zuccarello says. "Hazelnuts were a favorite here, but honestly, almonds or pistachios would work just as well."

2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 ripe but firm peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped coarse

1. Adjust oven rack six inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Combine lemon juice, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Add peaches and toss to combine, making sure to coat all sides with sugar mixture.

2. Arrange peaches cut side up in 12-inch broiler-safe skillet and spoon any remaining sugar mixture into peach cavities. Pour water around peaches in skillet. Broil until peaches are just beginning to brown, eleven to fifteen minutes.

3. Combine honey and oil in bowl and microwave until warm, about twenty seconds, then stir to combine. Using potholders, remove skillet from oven. Being careful of hot skillet handle, brush half of honey mixture on peaches. Return peaches to oven and continue to broil until spotty brown, five to seven minutes.

4. Carefully remove skillet from oven, brush peaches with remaining honey mixture, and transfer to serving platter, leaving juice behind. Bring accumulated juice in skillet to simmer over medium heat and cook, whisking frequently to combine, until syrupy, about one minute. Pour syrup over peaches and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve.

Recipes excerpted with permission from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, published by America's Test Kitchen. 

Here are more Mediterranean diet recipe ideas. Plus, five products that make following it easier.

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