The Mediterranean Lifestyle

It’s a warm, humid evening as you make your way down a cobblestone street. There are no vehicles allowed in the city, and you are tired from walking all day. The smell of basil, cinnamon, and black pepper gently blows down the street and greets you as you approach a sign so small you almost miss it entirely. “To Maereio” it reads. You breathe in the scent of spice as you enter the small hole in the wall restaurant and take in the low-lit atmosphere. It’s packed with both locals and the few lucky tourists who managed to find themselves here. You are ushered into the back and seated at a well-worn wood table that has obviously been in the family restaurant for generations. As you peruse the menu, you notice an American couple to your right quickly consuming their meal and anxiously flagging down the waiter to get their check. He saunters over to them, chuckling softly, holds up his hands, and says with a thick Greek accent and a small smile, “αργά αργά” (slowly, slowly).

The Mediterranean Diet has made headlines for its spectacular health properties and touted by experts as possibly the world’s healthiest diet. Still, there is one aspect of the Mediterranean Diet that has not translated to western culture. The Mediterranean Diet is actually a lifestyle, not a diet. I recently found myself lucky enough to spend an extended period of time experiencing Greece. The Greeks are quick to tell you that their foods are healthier, fresher, and overall better than the rest of the world. However, one major difference stands out between the Mediterranean Diet found in Greece and the Mediterranean Diet here in the States. They are enjoying their food. Without abandon, without restriction. The meal is savored, and time with their friends and family is treasured. There is no guilt when digging into large loaves of whole-grain breads that they soak in olive oil or savoring the end of the meal by indulging in a rich dessert of custard pie. So how are they doing it? Why are they so much healthier? Aren’t carbs bad? Isn’t sugar the root of all evil?

I picked up a few observations along the way that may help shed some light on this confusing paradox. Food is not grabbed on the go or wolfed down. Every meal takes a minimum of 30-60 minutes, and food is eaten slowly and methodically. There are no pre-packaged foods available, only fresh food made from scratch, and most of it is grown within a short distance of where you are dining. Greens are eaten with every meal, and emphasis is placed on fruits and vegetables. Salads are dressed only with lemon juice and olive oil, and there are no prepared salad dressings available. Meats are cooked simply in olive oil and spices. The people are walking all day long instead of driving in cars. Even the elderly are slowly making their way up long flights of stone stairs back and forth from the market and their home. And lastly, there is a general sense of ease, a lack of rushing. Or as they say, “αργά αργά.” All of these components combine to make the Mediterranean Lifestyle. A concept that I think we should whole-heartedly embrace.

Shopping List:

The Mediterranean diet is much more than eating olive oil. Put together a stress-free shopping list full of anti-inflammatory foods.

Vegetables:

Tomatoes               

Garlic

Onion                    

Eggplant

Cucumbers

Red onion

Mixed greens

Fruits:

Strawberries

Oranges

Lemons

Dairy:

Greek yogurt

Feta cheese

Tzatziki (Greek yogurt sauce)

Proteins:

Pork                         

Lamb

Chicken

Fish (any kind)/ Seafood

Starches:

Whole grain breads

Pita

Chickpeas

Fats and Extras:

Pesto                           

Spices

Olive oil                       

Almonds/walnuts

Olives in brine          

Local honey

Recipes

Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients:

Chopped romaine              

1/4 white onion

1/4 cup green onion          

4 olives in brine

3 oz Feta cheese                   

Fresh tomato 

Dressing: drizzle salad with 2 Tb olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Serve with whole grain bread

Lamb and Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb                   

1 lb ground turkey      

1/2 cup diced white onion                           

1/4 cup chopped cilantro    

2 Tb chopped mint         

1 Tb ground cumin                             

1 Tb ground coriander          

2 tsp ground fennel        

1 tsp fresh lemon juice                     

1 tsp kosher salt

Preparation:

1) Preheat oven to 375°. 2) Gently combine all ingredients in a large bowl with moistened hands until just combined. Gently form the meat mixture into evenly portioned meatballs (about 2 tablespoons per meatball); arrange meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 3) Bake at 375° until meatballs are crispy, golden-brown, and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking. Serve immediately or freeze for up to 3 months.

From My Recipes

Tzatziki

A popular Greek dipping sauce and condiment. Can also be store bought.

Ingredients:

1/2 English cucumber, peeled
16 oz (2 cups) Cold plain Greek yogurt (either full fat or fat free will work)
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/3 cup chopped dill, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (Juice of 1/2 lemon; please squeeze a real lemon)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper

Directions:

Peel the cucumber, dice and strain of juice

Combine cucumber with 2 cups Greek yogurt , 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice, 4 pressed garlic cloves, 1/3 cup chopped dill, 1/2 tsp salt (add more to taste) and 1/8 tsp black pepper

Mix everything together and add more salt to taste if needed. It’s best to refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving to let the flavors meld. Refrigerate overnight.

From Natasha’s Kitchen

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