Skip to content

Mediterranean Diet Recipes for the Best Brain Food

by Serena Ball, MS, RD and Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD
May 7, 2024
Excerpted from The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook

When we think of the Mediterranean diet, along with imagining all those flavorful, fresh foods, we appreciate its disease-fighting power. Along with boosting cardiovascular health and protecting against cancer, the sunny eating pattern is also the best brain food. A new book, The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook, aims to make it not only simple but also delicious to calm inflammation, fight disease, boost mood, and more.

These simple recipes, excerpted from the book, show how you can eat delicious, nourishing foods all day — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack — and boost your brain health.

Related: Sign up to receive delicious recipes, expert advice, and shopping tips in your inbox!

Cheesy Spinach and Egg Mug Scrambles with a Kick

Excerpted from The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook

Cheesy Spinach and Egg Mug Scrambles with a Kick

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Serves: 2

In just 10 minutes, you can fuel up with an easy egg breakfast that’s rich in high-quality protein. This spinach and egg combo means a double dose of lutein and zeaxanthin — nutrients that act as internal “sunglasses” to help prevent blue light damage to the eyes from computer and phone screens, which in turn may protect your brain.

  • ½ cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 scallion, green and white parts, thinly sliced
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more for topping (optional)
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  1. Coat the inside of two coffee mugs with cooking spray. Divide the spinach and scallion between the mugs.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, red pepper, salt, and 2 tablespoons water. Divide the mixture between the mugs and mix to combine.
  3. Place both mugs in the microwave and cook, uncovered, on high for 1 minute. Stir, cover, and microwave for an additional 45 to 50 seconds, until the eggs are almost set. (The eggs will continue to cook after removing them from the microwave.) Let sit for 5 minutes to cool and finish setting.
  4. Sprinkle with more red pepper, if desired.
  • Tip: Switch up this recipe by swapping in any leftover greens or herbs you may have on hand, like arugula, kale, cilantro, or parsley, and experiment with different Mediterranean spices like ground cumin, turmeric, or za’atar.
  • Healthy Kitchen Hack: Double or triple this recipe and freeze the extras for future breakfasts. Remove the egg scrambles from the mugs and cool. Wrap in parchment paper and then freeze in an airtight container. To reheat, microwave 2 scrambles on 50 percent power for about 1 minute. For a grab-and-go breakfast sandwich, pop the warm egg scramble between 2 pieces of whole-grain toast, a whole-grain English muffin, or a corn tortilla.

PER SERVING: Calories: 161, Total Fat: 13g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 281mg; Sodium: 240mg; Total Carbohydrates: 1g; Fiber: 0g; Protein: 11g

Provençal Grilled Cheese with Walnut Mustard Spread

Excerpted from The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook

Provençal Grilled Cheese with Walnut Mustard Spread

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 

Here’s a thought that’s good for mental health: sitting down at a lovely French café to an extra crispy, melty grilled cheese. As you make this sandwich in your “café” kitchen, you’ll pile on ingredients that can be good for your brain health as well as your taste buds. Walnuts, olive oil, and mustard seeds all have potential benefits. Like all seeds, mustard seeds are rich in every component needed to become a whole plant, and their bold flavor signals the presence of strong polyphenols (plant antioxidants). Shop for whole-grain Dijon mustard for more seed power.

  • 1 lemon
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, plus more for garnish (see Hack)
  • 8 thin slices crusty white sourdough bread, toasted
  • 4 ounces Brie cheese, cut into 8 thin slices
  • 1 large tomato, sliced and seeded
  1. Using a Microplane or citrus zester, grate the zest from the lemon into a blender or mini food processor, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze in 1 tablespoon juice (save the remaining lemon for another use). Add the walnuts, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, the mustard, and 3 tablespoons water and puree until thick and creamy. Add the herbes de Provence and pulse to combine. (Add another 1 to 2 tablespoons water to thin out the spread, if desired.)
  2. Heat a cast-iron or other large, heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until very hot.
  3. Brush one side of all the toast slices with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, then flip them over. Spread the other side of each slice with 1 teaspoon of the walnut mustard (reserve the remaining spread). On the mustard side, layer four of the toasts with a cheese slice, a tomato slice, and then another cheese slice. Top with the remaining toast slices, mustard side down and oil side up.
  4. Add two sandwiches to the hot skillet and cook for 3 minutes, until golden brown. Flip with a spatula and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat with the other two sandwiches. Sprinkle with additional herbs de Provence and serve immediately with the remaining mustard on the side.
  • Tip: To prevent a soggy sandwich, pat the tomato slices dry after removing the seeds and use no more than 1 teaspoon of mustard per toast slice.
  • Healthy Kitchen Hack: Herbes de Provence is the iconic dried herb mixture used in many traditional Southern France dishes. You can buy it premade or make it yourself. Combine 1 tablespoon of each of the following dried herbs: thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, and tarragon (or fennel seed). Sprinkle on grilled meats and fish, fold into scrambled eggs, mix into bean and lentil dishes, whip into ricotta cheese, blend into vinaigrettes, and sprinkle on salads.

PER SERVING: Calories: 362; Total Fat: 25g; Saturated Fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 28mg; Sodium: 568mg; Total Carbohydrates: 26g; Fiber: 2g; Protein: 12g

Sizzling Shrimp and Peppers with Cilantro

Excerpted from The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook

Sizzling Shrimp and Peppers with Cilantro

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Serves: 4 

Even if you have a “low spicy heat” tolerance, you can still get the big brain benefits from hot peppers. Capsaicin is a plant antioxidant found in chiles that delivers powerful anti-inflammatory components for the whole body, including the brain. But capsaicin is also found in mildly spicy Anaheim chiles, as well as the spicier jalapeños and spicier yet serranoes. While fresh Mediterranean varieties of hot peppers can be harder to find, use whichever pepper pleases your palate in this simple cilantro shrimp dinner.

  • 1 pound large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound), peeled, deveined. and patted dry (see Tip)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced, divided
  • 2 (4-inch) Anaheim peppers (or 2 jalapeños for more spice, or 1 large bell pepper for less spice), seeded and thinly sliced into rings, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  1. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to pull out extra moisture.
  2. Meanwhile, using a Microplane or citrus zester, grate the zest from the lemon into a food processor or high-powered blender, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice. Add the cilantro, half of the garlic, half of the chiles, the black pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Process until roughly chopped. Add 1 tablespoon oil and process until smooth.
  3. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute, until fragrant. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the shrimp, the remaining chiles, and the ¼ cup of the cilantro mixture from the blender. Spread the mixture out in an even layer in the skillet, cover with a lid (or baking sheet), and cook for 1 minute without stirring. Uncover and cook, stirring and flipping the shrimp, until they just begin to curl and turn pink on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand until the shrimp are fully opaque, about 2 minutes. Serve the shrimp with the remaining cilantro mixture.
  • Tip: For the most sustainable choice, look for shrimp from the Pacific Northwest, wild shrimp from the North Atlantic, or USA farmed.
  • Healthy Kitchen Hack: To avoid overcooking, which results in tough shrimp, we cook them gently over lower heat in a fair amount of oil, which helps buffer the heat. Removing the shrimp from the heat about a minute before they are cooked through also helps, as the residual heat off of the stove will complete the cooking process. This gentle sauté method should yield tender shrimp every time.

PER SERVING: Calories: 238; Total Fat: 15g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 183mg; Sodium: 432mg; Total Carbohydrates: 5g; Fiber: 1g; Protein: 24g

Honey-Turmeric Salted Peanuts

Excerpted from The Smart Mediterranean Cookbook

Honey-Turmeric Salted Peanuts

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Serves: 6 

Turmeric, the gorgeous yellow-orange spice that’s ubiquitous in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines, has potent protective properties. Some research suggests it can slow down the natural death of brain cells and even stop unnatural cell death from toxins, trauma, and infections. But curcuminoids — the antioxidants in turmeric — can slightly degrade with cooking, reducing some (but not all) of their powerful capabilities. Here, the turmeric only warms for a minute to keep its potency, turning plain peanuts into a snack with serious cred in terms of salty-sweet-peppery yumminess, and in brain-boosting benefits.

  • 1½ cups unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  1. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet or heat-proof surface.
  2. In a large skillet on a cold stove, combine the peanuts, salt, and pepper. Turn the heat to medium. Stir frequently until the nuts are warm, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the honey and turmeric and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are completely coated, 1 to 2 minutes (be careful not to burn the nuts, as they brown quickly). Remove from the heat and carefully spread the nuts on the parchment paper. Cool completely, at least 15 minutes (the nuts will still be somewhat sticky). Store the nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the freezer for longer storage.
  • Healthy Kitchen Hack: Mix up your mixed nuts. We’ve also tried this recipe with pecans, walnuts, and almonds, all with tasty results. Other spices can subbed in, too. And for a super substantial, fiber-filled snack, toss these nuts into a bowl of popcorn.

PER SERVING: Calories: 227; Total Fat: 18g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 83mg; Total Carbohydrates: 11g; Fiber: 3g; Protein: 9g

Reprinted with permission from The Smart Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Serena Ball, MS, RD and Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD (BenBella Books, Inc.)

Read next: 8 Mediterranean Diet Recipes Perfect for Spring

Good food
people together.
So do
good emails.

What our editors love right now

Good food brings people together.
So do good emails.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden