By: Cassie Van Der Hyde
Do you ever hear about those “awareness months” and think, “Are you kidding me? Who comes up with these things?” I do. Every time. I wonder who designates these days, how they could possibly gain traction, and why the world needs them.
My day has come, though! This month is International Mediterranean Diet Month and it combines three of my passions: cardiac health, supremely tasty food, and Being Greek!
If you aren’t Greek, I’m sorry! I am, and it’s true that Greece was the cradle of democracy, Greek is a major root of the English language, and also that our food is so very, very tasty. The Mediterranean diet is not Grecian only, but growing up with a Yia yia and all the traditions that came with having her in my life has given me a special love for the food of the Mediterranean region in general.
Not only is it delicious, but many studies suggest that there are heart-healthy benefits to it as well. I started out my career as a nurse in a cardiovascular and cardiothoracic unit caring for post-op cardiac bypass and vascular bypass patients, so I love to preach those heart-healthy habits whenever I can!
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be a list of do’s and don’ts to follow. It’s basically a reorganization of food habits:
1. Go heavy on the veggies, beans, and spices!
2. Make meat a garnish and not a main!
3. Go whole grain whenever possible!
4. Go vegetarian whenever possible!
5. Add in healthy fats for satiety–fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds!
After I had kids and I was starting to rethink my postpartum waistline and my own cardiovascular health as I aged, the first thing I did was start looking back to all the food I remember my Yia yia making when I was a kid. Things like lentil soup, rice with a bit of tomato-stewed chicken, salads, chickpeas, and lots of greens. All of these were great building blocks to a more vegetarian diet and a very simple, flavorful way of cooking that didn’t depend entirely on grains and meat to carry the meals. This had a benefit I didn’t anticipate at the time–not only was I eating healthier, but cutting out meat as a main and using so many veggies with all those beans really cut back on our food bills.
If you’re looking to start amping up your Mediterranean a bit, here are some of my very favorite simple staple recipes for everyday cooking. I make the horiatiki salad for at least one meal a day, sometimes two! Make sure you really beef up and diversify your spice selection and buy the best olive oil you can and you’ll be ready to chef it up!
Horiatiki (Greek Salad) – https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Greek-Salad-Horiatiki
Gigantes Plaki (stewed lima beans) – https://www.olivetomato.com/tender-greek-roasted-beans-in-tomato-sauce-gigantes-plaki/
Tabboule (bulgur salad) – https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/06/tabbouleh-salad-recipe.html
Fakes (lentil soup) – https://www.thespruce.com/fakes-soupa-lentil-soup-1706121