Mediterranean diet is not really not a “diet,” it is a life long lifestyle change. Following this diet will not make you loose the weight quickly but the weight loss and benefits of eating this way would bloom over time. Longer life, healthier looking skin, reduced risks of many diseases are just some of the benefits that you could potentially enjoy if you follow this type of diet. What I love about Mediterranean diet is that it focuses on what we should be eating vs what we should not be eating.
So what is the core of this type of eating? The meals are built around fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. Olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, healthy fats and whole grains are encouraged daily. While fish and shellfish should be eaten at least twice a week, red meat should be reduced to only once a week, if that. Dairy should be limited, but yogurt should be part of the diet because of its calcium content and because it contributes to healthy digestion (natural probiotic). While nothing is excluded in this type of diet, refined sugars, high saturated fat foods, processed foods and refined grains should be consumed in moderation.
Two weeks ago we did a whole week of Mediterranean cuisine and it was very refreshing. It was an overload of vegetables, seafood, lemon, oregano, garlic and olive oil. And guess what? We felt amazing! Meals were so simple, tasty and very filling. And what I realized is that we don’t need 8oz steak or piece of chicken to feel full!
Below are some of my favorite recipes from the “The Mediterranean Table” cookbook. This cookbook is very good and worth investing in.
Arugula And Fennel Salad With Fresh Basil
Fennel is one of the vegetables that grows abundantly throughout the Mediterranean and it has been used in cooking since ancient times. While main source of vitamin is Vitamin C, fennel has a lot of other powerful minerals and phytonutrients that are great in fighting carcinogens, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Fennel oil or fennel extract is also used in many beauty products because of its skin-softening and anti aging-properties.
This salad is a great addition to any dinner dish. I served it with grilled shrimp (Recipe below) and baked sweet potatoes. The dressing is excellent, perfect balance of sweet and sour. I keep this dressing recipe handy and make it quite often as an everyday dressing especially when I want to break out from same old balsamic vinaigrette that I am used to using.
1 fennel head, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
2 cups of arugula
¼ cup of pine nuts
½ cup of crumbled feta cheese (I use sheep milk feta)
¼ fresh basil leaves (thinly sliced)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of raw honey
½ teaspoon of salt
Prepare the dressing above, add sliced fennel and cucumber to it and set it aside for 10 minutes to marinate.
Plate the arugula on individual plates, add marinated fennel and cucumber mixture on top and sprinkle pine nuts, crumbled feta and basil leaves. Lightly toss.
The measurements above are for 4 servings. If you are making it for less people and the salad in not your main meal, you can leave the leftover marinated fennel and cucumbers in the fridge for the next day and enjoy the same salad at lunch time.
Lemon Oregano Grilled Shrimp
Lemon, oregano, garlic and olive oil are the main ingredients in almost any Greek dish. The combo of these ingredients will bring you right back to Greek islands in the matter of minutes! When I saw this recipe below I knew it was going to be a winner. It is simple, yet tasty and full of flavor. The dressing can be used also as a marinade for steak, chicken or lamb. Or you can use it as a dressing over your favorite grilled cuts!
2 ½ lbs of Large Uncooked Shrimp
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of salt & pepper
½ cup of fresh oregano leaves
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of lemon zest (1 lemon)
¾ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ cup of good olive oil
Combine all marinade ingredients and whisk in the olive oil. Set aside until shrimp is done.
Clean the shrimp and pat it dry with the kitchen towel. Toss with salt, pepper, olive oil and arrange it on the skewers. Grill the shrimp on medium heat for about 3 minutes per side (shrimp will turn pinkish in color, it won’t be white anymore). Once done, take the shrimp off the grill and arrange on the plates. Spoon the prepared dressing over the shrimp skewers and serve warm.
I served the shrimp with some baked sweet potatoes and fennel arugula salad (recipe above) but you could also serve it over some brown rice or quinoa.
Extra dressing can be stored in the fridge for the next few days. I had some left over so 2 days after I used it to marinate chicken breast which I then baked in the oven. It was delicious!
Whole-Wheat Spaghetti A La Puttanesca
Another ingredient popular in Mediterranean cuisine is the olives. A lots of them! Olives are added to soups, tossed in the pastas, used in salads, used for marinades for meats, ground up and made into yummy olive spreads. Just like the olive oil, olives contain monounsaturated fat, oleic acid and other antioxidants that fight risks of disease.
This pasta dish is an easy week night dinner. Recipe calls for whole wheat pasta but you can use white flour pasta as well or you can use rice spaghetti, if that’s what you prefer. When I made it with rice spaghetti, my family did not even notice 😉 Either way, it will come out great because it is really all about the fresh and wholesome ingredients you use and less about the type of pasta.
1 package of whole wheat pasta of your choice
1/3 cup of olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 anchovy fillets
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
½ cup of pitted green olives
2 tablespoons of capers (drained)
1 28oz can of pureed or crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup of chopped fresh basil leaves
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (use less if you don’t like too spicy)
1 teaspoon of sea salt (or more depending on taste)
½ teaspoon of black pepper
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. While pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce.
Heat the olive oil and add garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes on medium heat making sure that garlic doesn’t burn. Add the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes, whatever you planned), olives, cherry tomatoes and capers and cook for about 10 minutes.
At this point your pasta should be cooked as well so after draining it, add it to the sauce and toss until it is well coated. I like to reserve about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid from pasta and add it to the sauce. I think this is a necessary step any time you make pasta dish in order for all the flavors to combine properly.
When you serve pasta, add fresh chopped basil on top and dash of olive oil.
I hope you enjoy these dishes as much as we did!
Until Next Time,