The Mediterranean Way
Ask me to choose my favorite food region and I will instantly confess to a certain fondness for the Mediterranean. To travel and eat my way through countries like Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Croatia and Greece would be the fulfillment of some highly intense food fantasies. Just thinking about the vivid colors and glorious beauty of the Mediterranean spurs my creative spirit and appetite.
Certain films have fueled my desire to explore all things Mediterranean. Films like “Shirley Valentine,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and a quirky John Cassavetes film called “Tempest”, which all glorified the gorgeousness of Greece, while “The Talented Mr. Ripley” transported me straight to San Remo and forever cemented my opinion that the Mediterranean is among the most stunning areas in the world.
In the book “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” there is a paragraph that reads; “After visiting the Amalfi Coast, a giddy Andre Gide wrote in “The Immoralist” that “nothing more beautiful can be seen on this earth.” It continues on by saying “Vertical cliffs plunge into an impossibly blue Mediterranean, as a coastline of seaside towns unfolds among terraced olive and lemon groves, oaks and umbrella pines.”
But here is the clincher for me...the author goes on to describe a bit of the area's food by writing; “This is the region that gives the world fresh mozzarella di bufala; imagine how heavenly it tastes when it is grilled on a fragrant lemon leaf and served under the warm Neapolitan sun. Things only get better with the exquisite simplicity of spaghetti made with a sauce of plump baby clams and mussels.”
The food of the Mediterranean is fresh, natural, unprocessed...of the earth, and the sea. And that impresses and inspires me, as I feel that the greatest of dishes are the simplest ones, made with the best ingredients.Turns out that eating as the Mediterranean people do, by focusing on an abundance of fresh vegetables, and fruits, along with grains, and incorporating a bit of fish, poultry, lean meats and dairy is not only soul satisfying, but immensely healthy for the body.
Rachel Greenstein, Communications Manager for Oldways wrote to me several weeks ago to inform me that Oldways has declared May “National Mediterranean Diet Month”. Oldways is an
internationally respected non-profit organization devoted to positively changing the way people eat and live. As a global educator, Oldways creates materials, educational programs, activities and recipes to promote healthy eating, drinking, and a lifestyle that celebrates the many pleasures of sharing natural, nutritious and delicious foods.
Rachel directed me to the Oldways website and I have been having a wonderful time learning more
about Oldways' vision for teaching Americans the goodness of the Mediterranean way. Oldways worked closely with the Harvard School of Public Health, along with an international coalition of nutrition scientists and numerous culinary experts to create the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, which is a richly illustrated and easy to comprehend graphic that details the components of this supremely healthy way of eating. Oldways has launched a campaign to deliver a million Mediterranean Diet pyramids to American households and you can download yours at www.oldwayspt.org.
The traditional dietary habits of the Mediterranean people have been widely studied and are believed to be among the healthiest ways to eat in the world. Research on this primarily plant based diet shows that there may be significant health benefits including greater longevity, improved heart health and an enhanced quality of life.
But let's get back to the food! The foods of the Mediterranean Diet are luscious, nutrient rich, natural choices that are full of tantalizing flavor and exciting eye appeal. Sun drenched, color soaked vegetables and fruits such as scarlet and neon yellow sweet peppers, bright green, baby spinach, garden fresh sugar snap peas and cucumbers, pale yellow and green summer squashes, rich, red tomatoes, fat mushroom, fragrant strawberries, crunchy apples, sweet grapes, luxurious figs and a host of other fruits and vegetables form the mainstay of the pyramid.
A range of grains from rice to pasta, couscous and polenta as well as whole grain breads are included on the pyramid. Grains, fruits and vegetables offer important vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants and fiber. Eating these nutrient dense and fibrous foods helps the body feel full longer and can lead to successfully sustaining weight loss.
But for me, here comes the best part. I love my veggies and greens and grains and fruit, but I love my dairy even more. The Mediterranean Diet encourages a moderate consumption of yogurt and cheese. I have always found that artisinal cheeses and organic dairy products have exceptional taste and when I eat well made dairy, a little goes a long way.
The Pyramid also suggest that consuming healthy fats such as olive oil, avacado and nuts can be a beneficial part of life, along with the aformentioned lean meats, poultry, and fish. The Mediterranean diet opens up a vast array of cooking opportunities that are not only tremendously tasty, but can
enhance our health. I love that the Mediterranean Diet also focuses on whole body wellness, by encouraging daily exercise and sharing quality time with the people you love.
So for these remaining days of May, I am continuing to collect and experiment with Mediterranean inspired recipes. I'm thinking grilled octopus, brushed with olive oil and finely chopped herbs. I imagine it will turn out slightly smoky, yet sweet, fabulous with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. I adore that fresh herbs play an important role in Mediterranean cooking. Herbs are such an amazing way to add incredible layers of flavor to food, from pungent rosemary with grilled meats, thyme and parsley
embellishing a roast chicken, chopped dill and cilantro adding spark to a green salad, or a mix of herbs
layered between roasted eggplant, onions, peppers, tomatoes and squash, with just a bit of French feta cheese. (Find french feta at Liuzzi's in North Haven, CT!)
On this particular day in May, the spring rains are coming down hard, but the my kitchen is lit with love and the wonderful warmth of the Mediterranean way!
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Robin Glowa is a healthy cooking teacher, passionate food professional and writer. She is a
a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher's College.