Kitchen Confidence: Mediterranean diet dishes up great health benefits (column)
Unless you have been living completely off line, you surely have heard of the Med Diet. No, I am not talking about medical marijuana or even prescription meds. I refer, of course to the world-renowned Mediterranean Diet. This style of eating is widely recognized as one of the most delicious ways to embrace healthy eating. How can we confidently tap into the health benefits of The Med Diet? What foods are practical to focus on? Where does this style of eating fit into our modern-day lifestyles here in the West?
First, a crash course on what the term Med Diet refers to. The Mediterranean region includes all the countries situated around the Mediterranean Sea. Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Syria and Israel to name a few. The foods and style of cooking found in these countries are what make up the Med Diet. In a nutshell then, we’re talking about daily food choices that include lots of vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, and to a small degree, red meat. Fresh herbs and a wide range of spices also play an important part.
There are certain high-profile foods like garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar that come to mind. Just take a look in the deli department and you will see that hummus is extremely popular. Greek-style yogurt is all the rage too. You might even think of pine nuts and truffle mushrooms if you are a real foodie. Most important is the seasonal nature and wide variety of foods that are found in the Med Diet.
One way we can tap into the health benefits of the Med Diet is by adding more fish and more soups into our meals. One of my favorite ways to prepare fish is fast and easy. The whole thing comes together in about 20 minutes or so and takes only one pan. Poached fish with tomato and cumin uses garlic, celery and onion along with cumin and Aleppo pepper to give the dish its signature flavor. Of course, there is tomato in it too. By using a box grater to make a light puree, the tomato lends its flavor, but not necessarily its texture.
Another way to tap into this delicious cuisine is a popular soup from Greece known as Avgolemono. This one uses egg and lemon, a classic combination in the Mediterranean, to create a creamy yet light soup. There are only four ingredients: chicken broth, eggs, lemon and orzo. Orzo is a Greek pasta shaped like rice. Any tiny pasta will be just fine, even rice will do if that is all you can find or want to make a gluent-free version. The key step is to temper the eggs before adding them to the soup. Do this by stirring a small amount of broth into the beaten eggs and then adding that mixture back to the soup pot. This little bit of culinary magic allows the eggs to stay creamy and smooth in the hot soup. The full details can be found on my blog here: http://www.theconfidencediet.com/greek-avgolemono-soup/
Aside from the specific foods, there is a lifestyle component as well. Meals in the Mediterranean are a time to slow down and relax a little. The serving sizes are generally smaller than what we are accustomed to here in our culture. Some foods that are suited to our life on the move are hummus with veggie sticks for dipping, a thermos full of lentil soup, or chicken piccata. All will travel well and be tasty at room temperature. You can give your salads a Med twist by adding artichoke hearts, feta cheese and cured olives. Add a little radicchio to your salad greens for color and texture. Dress in the traditional Greek style with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a splash of olive oil. Your taste buds will thank you!
I will be presenting a free cooking demo featuring recipes from my book “Mediterranean Diet Recipes for Weight Loss” at the Natural Grocers store in Frisco on Tuesday, May 24 at 6 p.m. Come on by and see for yourself how you can gain the confidence to add the Med Diet into your eating habits.
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