There is no such thing as a single Mediterranean diet, because over twenty countries border the Mediterranean Sea. The food from Libya is very different from the food from Italy, but broadly speaking what is charecterised as the Mediterranean Diet does have certain similarities. it contains little red meat, lots of fresh fish, plenty of grains and pulses, loads of fruit and vegetables and the healthy oxidants that they contain and red wine is the alcoholic drink of choice.
The main source of fat is olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, which comes from pressing the fruit of the olive tree. It is important for health because it does not raise the bodies’ cholesterol level the way that saturated fat does, and better still it is thought to boost the good cholesterol in the diet. In general most people that live around the Mediterranean Sea eat more calories from fat than is generally recommended for health, most will eat a salad at least once a day and it will have a dressing of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, or vinegar. They don’t make a vinaigrette dressing they just pour the olive oil on the salad followed by the acidic medium. However most health experts and nutritionalists agree that having a diet high in monounsaturated fat it better than having a diet high in bad fats.
Fresh fish, shellfish and oily fish
Ideally fish should be eaten three times a week and at least one of those portions should be oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel, or salmon. Shrimps, prawn and crayfish are higher in cholesterol the white fish, but they are have less fat and specifically less saturated fat than most meats and poultry. Fish can be baked, steamed or grilled for maximum health. Fresh fish tastes better when it is grilled with a little butter and served with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little lemon zest. Haven’t got time to prepare a fish dish, then make a huge bowl of fresh salad and add a hard boiled egg and a can of drained tuna in brine over the top and serve with a crust wholewheat roll for a perfectly balanced nutritious lunch. The fatty fish are all high in omega 3.
The Mediterranean diet uses salt but it also reduces salt by flavouring the food with fresh herbs such as mint, basil, parsley, fresh thyme, orange thyme and lemon thyme, oregano, chives and wild herbs such as marjoram.
Legumes, peas, beans, pulses
All the peoples of the Mediterranean use lots of beans, pulses and legumes. The Southern Mediterranean African make houmous, which is mashed chickpeas, with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and lashings of fresh garlic. Try it for breakfast on wholewheat toast, cut out the butter and just have lashings of houmous. Traditionally it is served for breakfast but with hot flat unleavened pita bread. The French add puy lentils to their salads. They are a small slate green lentil with a marbled effect of blue and they hold their shape during cooking. An example of a healthy lentil dish is given below.
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon turmeric
2 whole cloves
Seeds from three green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ghee
1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons golden raisins
Zest of a small lime
1 vine of cherry tomato, chopped
4 ounces of cooked Puy lentils,
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander leaves
lashings of black pepper
Heat the oil over a medium heat, add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the yellow pepper and fry for a further 3 minutes. Add the spices, palm sugar, ghee, chilli, raisins, lime zest, toasted and chopped tomato to the pan and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the lentils, season and garnish with coriander leaves before serving.