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Mediterranean Diet

 

Last updated 3/19/2009 at Noon



The obvious? I love food. More recently I’ve grown to love healthy cooking and eating. For me this translates to some different choices.

Persons even slightly interested in their health (your first wealth?) will want to have a gander at “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Bantam Books. Unlike more faddish books about skin-deep dieting, this book goes to its roots…an in-depth explanation of the foods eaten by folks in the Mediterranean area and how this may link to increased health, vitality and long life.

Americans could take a lesson to two from this cookbook and benefit by having good food, affordable meals and a good start on the road to better health. After all, we are what we eat, digest and absorb.

This book comes highly endorsed by world-class gourmands, including Alice Waters, Barbara Kafta and the illustrious Walter Willet, Chairman, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.

As you review the book, bear with the recipes. They are a bit longer than common “quick and easy” stuff that rules the world of TV food and other culinary media. The information presented is priceless and I believe the author truly wants to leave nothing “to chance.” In order words, she truly cares that you have success with her recipes and the concept.

Today’s recipes are presented in the context of menus that are based on the most affordable items at Major Market. The goal is family dinners for four for about $10. Shop wisely, shop well and eat well…for your budget and your long-term health.

Bean soup is a “staple” in the Mediterranean and this is an authentic version that is satisfying and healthy. Treat yourself to luscious fresh strawberries for dessert.

Mediterranean Bean Soup

1 med. to large onion,

coarsely chopped

2 or 3 medium carrots, peeled

and coarsely chopped

1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed with

the flat blade of a knife

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil,

plus more to taste for garnish

2 cups dried beans, soaked

overnight, drained

8 to 10 cups boiling water

1 tbsp. fresh thyme or 1 tsp.

dried thyme, crumbled

1 or 2 bay leaves, to taste

About ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf

parsley, plus more for garnish

Sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

In a heavy stockpot or soup kettle over medium heat, gently sauté the onion, carrots and garlic in the oil until the vegetables are soft, but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the drained beans to the stockpot along with boiling water. Add the herbs, except the salt and pepper.

Cook the beans, covered, over low heat for 1 ½ to 3 hours, adding boiling water from time to time if necessary. Cooking time varies with the age of the beans. When beans are soft, taste and adjust the seasonings.

Before serving, you may want to remove about 1 ½ cups of the beans, puree them in a blender or a food mill and return them to the pot to thicken the soup. If the soup is too thick, on the other hand, it may be thinned by adding hot water or some crushed canned tomatoes with their juices. In any case, be sure to taste the soup and adjust the salt and pepper before serving.

Serve the soup as is, with chopped parsley sprinkled over and a drizzle of the best green olive oil you can buy. Or, garnish with croutons.

Or, in true Mediterranean style, for each serving, toast a thick slice of densely textured country style bread, rub it with a clove of garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and float it in the middle of the soup plate.

Variation: Add a chopped ripe tomato (in season) or a dollop of tomato concentrate.

Thick halibut fillets team well with fresh spinach in this flavorful and eye-appealing baked fish entrée.

Gratin of Fish and Spinach

2 lbs. fresh spinach, rinsed well

1 med. onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

1 ½ lb. fish fillets, the thicker

the better

Juice of ½ lemon or more to taste

¾ cup fine dry unseasoned

bread crumbs

Cook the spinach in a large kettle over medium heat, using only the water clinging to its leaves, for about 10 to 15 minutes. When the spinach is tender, remove from the heat, drain and chop rather coarsely.

In a small saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat, gently sauté the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp. of the oil until onion is softened but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the mustard and combine the mixture with the chopped spinach, stirring to mix it all together. Taste and salt and pepper if desired. (The recipe can be prepared ahead up to this point.)

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of an oval gratin dish large enough to hold the fish in one layer. Spread half the spinach in the bottom of the dish, then set the fish pieces on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the lemon juice. Then top with remaining spinach. Strew the bread crumbs over the top and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil over the crumbs.

Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets, or until the dish is thoroughly cooked and the spinach is bubbling. Serve immediately. 6 servings.

Roast ribs of beef is a splurge for company… Still, when sale-priced it’s a treat for all. Just remember the recommended portion of meat is about 4 oz…no larger than a deck of cards. Rice pilaf from “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” is a perfect accompaniment.

Basic Rice Pilaf

2 ½ cups high quality chicken stock

¼ cup coarsely chopped

blanched almonds

¼ cup pine nuts

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 med. onion, finely chopped

1 ½ cups long-grain rice

1 three-inch cinnamon stick

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup golden raisins, plumped

in warm water

Heat the stock to a slow simmer while you prepare the rest of the pilaf.

In a saucepan over medium heat, gently saute the almonds and pine nuts in the olive oil, stirring constantly, until they are brown, about 5 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onion to the oil in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften but not to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rice and continue cooking and stirring until the rice begins to turn a very pale brown, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour in the hot stock, add the cinnamon and season to taste with salt and lots of pepper. Stir the rice briefly to mix well, then lower the heat and cook, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and, with the pot still covered, set aside for 5 minutes without disturbing.

Then remove the lid, discard the cinnamon and stir in the reserved nuts and drained raisins and serve the rice. 6 servings.

Two more affordable family meals that incorporate seasonal values:

20-Minute Family Supper

Creamed Tuna on

Frozen Waffles

Steamed Asparagus

Tossed Salad

Ice Cream Novelty

Dieter’s Delight

Grilled London Broil

Cottage Cheese in Wedge

of Melon

Angel Food Cake,

Strawberries

 

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