A Taste of the Sunny Mediterranean
For some of us, the Mediterranean Diet is a health buzz phrase. For a few decades now, experts have agreed that the countries of southern Europe and northern Africa give us the pattern for an ideal way to eat.
A diet rich in beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and an occasional glass of wine has been shown to support heart health, weight management, and much more. But for people like my husband, Andy, it's just how Mom and Dad have always cooked. Mediterranean food tastes like home.
Never Lost the Healthy Taste of the Homeland
My in-laws were Greek immigrants, and they never lost the healthy tastes of their homeland. Yiayia always baked her own bread and made filo dough from scratch to encase delicious spinach pies. Papou liked to grill a whole lamb for big family parties, and every summer his garden patch yielded fresh veggies to eat raw in Greek salad. They both collected wild greens to make the traditional Greek horta, a health-boosting blend of wild herbs and greens — Papou would literally pull the car to the shoulder of the highway if he saw a particularly promising patch to harvest.
Papou would literally pull the car to the shoulder of the highway if he saw a particularly promising patch of wild greens to harvest.
We don't gather greens by the roadside in our family, but Andy does retain a lot of the traditions and tastes he grew up with. He puts feta cheese in his scrambled eggs, seasons everything with oregano, and enjoys a good mezedes plate (a spread of traditional Greek appetizers to nibble — they might include stuffed grape leaves, marinated fresh sardines, or dried giant lima beans stewed in tomato sauce). And he still makes his mother's Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup several times every winter. This savory lemon soup full of tender orzo pasta is based on a broth of long-cooked chicken thickened with egg. This soup lends itself to endless variations — you can try it with spinach swirled through, or replace the orzo with rice.
Immigrants like my in-laws have always learned to adapt the foods of their new homelands into their traditional cuisine, and avocado is a perfect example. The “alligator pear” is a New World fruit, but it fits perfectly into the healthful, sunny Mediterranean pantry. Add it to the traditional hummus dip — popular throughout Greece, Turkey, and the Near East — for an easy and delicious lunch or appetizer with an added boost of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Or try mashing it and spreading it on bread as the base of a new American classic — Salmon Avocado Toast, which is topped off with tasty and nutritious salmon and red onion for an elegant nibble. Yiayia never heard of such a thing, but I think she would have approved. Opa!