As the winter winds down, some of my most favorite comfort dishes come from the Mediterranean regions of the world. I subscribe to Clean Eating magazine so imagine my delight last night to receive my latest copy with several mouth- watering recipes. Numerous studies have proven that the dietary habits of those living in Mediterranean areas have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. In fact, many claim it to be the world’s healthiest diet.
As we’ve all read, these diets are predominantly plant based, abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The common denominators to these regions are garlic and a love of olive oil, though the flavors vary widely. Just think of the flavor variations from Greece, Italy, Spain, Israel, Morocco, Lebanon, and coastal Egypt and France. Italy tends to use more herbs such as basil, oregano and rosemary, while Morocco is known for the rich flavors of cinnamon, ginger and turmeric. (VegKitchen)
In furthering my knowledge of what each region specializes in, here’s what I found:
Morocco and Egypt
Chickpeas, lentils, nuts, carrots, pumpkins, squashes, rice, fava beans, dried fruits, sweet spices, flatbreads and mint.
My favorite Moroccan and Egyptian dishes: Couscous and tagine (vegetable stew)
Pastas, semolina breads, beans, cornmeal, Arborio rice, artichokes, asparagus, fennel, mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, olives, green leafy vegetables, fresh herbs such as parsley, basil and rosemary.
My favorite Italian dishes: Risotto with anything, polenta, focaccia, minestrone, pesto and pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup).
Rice, lentils, olives, eggplant, tomatoes, lemon, spinach and dill.
My favorite Greek dishes: Moussaka (eggplant casserole) Spanakopita Spinach Pie, and Tzatziki, a refreshing Yogurt Cucumber dip that’s delicious on grilled meat or vegetables.
Israel and Lebanon
Chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste) cracked wheat, olives, tomatoes, eggplant, yogurt, flatbreads, apricots, dates and parsley.
My favorite Israeli and Lebanese dishes: Hummus (chickpea dip), baba ghanouj (egglplant dip) and tabouleh (cracked wheat and parsley salad).
Sweet and hot peppers, potatoes, rices, beans, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, oranges, saffron.
My favorite Spanish dish: Paella (rice and vegetables, most often with seafood).
Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, leeks, olives, eggplant, squash, sweet peppers, fennel, grapes, fresh and dried fruits, fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, sage and basil.
My favorite French dishes: Ratatouille (vegetable stew) and Soupe au pistou (vegetable soup with pesto sauce).
Here is a reminder of the health benefits of Mediterranean foods: (all the studies can’t be wrong!)
- Improves weight loss
- Improves sugar levels
- Reduces risk of depression
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces risk of heart attack
- Reduces risk of stroke (Study author-Dr. Paul Wright-American Stroke Association -2015)
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Tips for eating a Mediterranean diet
- Switch up your proteins, especially red meat. Skinless turkey and chicken are fine, but try something new and learn to find enjoyment and health in lentils and chickpeas as protein alternatives. Also strive to have fish twice per week and treat yourself to nuts and other beans as you build a super salad.
- Replace your butters with healthy oils, especially coconut or olive.
- Eat more vegetables throughout the day
- Eat more whole grain pasta, bread, rice and other grains. I love barley soup and quinoa has become a great side dish for many meals. Did you know popcorn is considered a whole grain? Yep! Just remember to air pop it and swap out the butter by drizzling or spritzing with olive oil. All of these are full of fiber, therefore filling you up.
Eat more nuts! Some of my favorite go to snacks during the day are almonds. These along with walnuts and seeds are healthy snacks, along with low fat cheese. As with everything, eat any of these in moderation as more than a serving will pack on the pounds.
- Eat fruit for dessert. It’s refreshing, light and healthy!
Without further ado, back to my April 2015 Clean Eating recipes! Here are the two that really caught my eye, both by Alison Kent:
Moroccan Red Lentil Stew
Lentils are loaded with vitamin B or folate, which support our nervous and cardiovascular systems. The cinnamon and turmeric in this recipe are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric may also curb joint pain.
Click here for a recipe card suitable for printing.
Chickpea and Kale Shakshouka
The New York Times notes “Shakshouka may be at the apex of eggs-for-dinner recipes, though in Israel it is breakfast food, a bright, spicy start to the day with a pile of pita or challah served on the side. It also makes excellent brunch or lunch food.” And with kale, it’s loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin A which supports our vision and bone protective Vitamin K.
Click here for a recipe card suitable for printing.
Over the years as we’ve weaned more red meat from our diets, we’ve discovered a larger, wonderful world grains and beans as healthy sources of protein. We’re finding they are so filling and as a result, we are keeping our waistlines in check. We eat a fair amount of lentils here at our house, either in soups, stews or salads. In addition, we’ve come to love experimenting with the various cultures cuisines and their respective herbs and spices. Meals have certainly become more healthy and interesting over the years. There are some wonderful recipes online and I encourage you to check them out.
This March, when you’re watching your favorite basketball teams (or not), why not join me in indulging in some March Madness Mediterranean Cuisine! Your body will thank you!
And as they say in Italy, Buon Appetito!
American Stroke Association (2015)
Clean Eating (April 2015)
HuffPost-Healthy Living (March 2015)
New York Times
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