The school term is finally over, and I have enough time to take a breather—and maybe even get back to blogging here and there before this baby comes! My last big project for Food Therapy was giving a presentation on the Mediterranean Diet after following it for a week; I selected this particular diet way back at the beginning of the term because it was more pregnancy-friendly than most of our other options, but I ended up being so glad I did for many reasons.
I double-majored in English and Classical Studies years ago in college, so I automatically thought of Greek and Italian food when I started looking into the Mediterranean diet. I love both cuisines and have felt comfortable cooking in those modes for many years—particularly Italian, which I credit with really setting me on the road toward whole, fresh foods and overcoming some of my fearfulness and intimidation when it comes to vegetables. Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Family Table were my stand-by cookbooks, and after a few years, I added The Food and Wine of Greece by Diane Kochilas to my Mediterranean rotation. This blog is sprinkled with meals inspired by all three books.
However, important as the foods of Italy and Greece are to my personal development as a foodie, the Mediterranean diet itself actually casts a much wider net, encompassing some 16 countries that contain coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Spain and France, all of northern Africa including Morocco and Egypt, and Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Israel can all legitimately be included in the cuisine of the Mediterranean. Such a wide array of cultural, ethnic, religious, economic, political and dietary traditions brings incredible depth to the possibilities of the Mediterranean diet, but a more focused definition would simply be that it is a traditional foods diet, as cataloged in rural communities in the olive oil-growing areas of the Mediterranean region in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, before the invasion of fast food culture.
My presentation on the Mediterranean diet delved into the history of scientific studies from this reference period to the present day—the most recent being the so-called Spanish Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this past February—but here I’ll suffice it to say that this diet has been shown over and over again to have significant health benefits across the board, most notably for promoting weight loss and lowering risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers. In fact, one study I found stated that “over 90% of type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary heart disease, and 70% of stroke can be avoided by adopting healthful food choices that model the traditional Mediterranean diet” (Willett 2006).
Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan Day 1:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs topped with torn fresh basil, over multi-grain toast spread with spinach-walnut pesto; fruit-based fresh juice
- Lunch: Sprouted lentil-walnut salad with sautéed spinach and dandelion greens, and veg/fruit fresh juice
- Snack: Greek yogurt with honey and kiwi; handful of almonds
- Dinner: Catalan shrimp with sweet roasted pepper sauce; couscous with olives, parsley, spinach, and feta
Most of my breakfasts were improvised with little guidance. Today’s breakfast was kept simple with homemade spinach-walnut pesto leftover from dinner a few nights before. I also made a few fresh juices throughout the course of the meal plan in an effort to increase my fruit and vegetable content without spending all day eating salads.
Lunch was a fast-fix, as sprouted lentils take just a few minutes to cook; I wanted to use dandelion greens for their status as harbingers of spring, but they are too bitter for my tastes as yet, and I found them much more palatable cut with some spinach. This little legume salad was based on one in The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, and although it was very tasty, it did not contain enough protein to keep me full for longer than about an hour.
Dinner was based on another recipe from the same book, and Jeremy in particular thought it was fantastic. I served it over an improvised couscous and specifically included kalamata olives because even though I don’t care for olives, I was adamant about including them in at least one meal. I’m glad I did, however, because they added subtle depth to the dish that really set off the roasted red peppers.
- Breakfast: Grapefruit; creamy polenta (Friuli, made with milk) with scrambled eggs and olive oil drizzle
- Lunch: Warm fusilli pasta salad with tuna, lemon juice, orange zest, capers, parsley, tomatoes
- Snack: Apple with almond butter
- Dinner: Pan-roasted chicken breast with orange-rosemary marinade; large spinach salad with Cara Cara oranges, goat cheese, almonds, balsamic vinaigrette; homemade pain a l’ancienne dipped in olive oil
A rather bland breakfast made with regular cornmeal and milk (rather than water) for extra calcium. Lunch was a tasty improvisation based on Chris Cosentino’s Spaghetti with Tuna, but again not especially filling. Dinner was just alright for me, but the salad was very satisfying. I talked Jeremy into baking us some pain a l’ancienne from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice; the dough was retarded from the night before, and this was our first bread baked with the new convection oven.
- Breakfast: Grapefruit; creamy polenta (Friuli, made with milk) with scrambled eggs and truffle oil drizzle
- Lunch: Pan-roasted salmon belly with roasted vegetables; homemade bread dipped in blood orange fused oil and blueberry balsamic vinegar
- Snack: Kiwi; fresh veg/fruit juice
- Dinner: Fresh sprouted-spelt fettuccine with chicken thigh ragu and haricots vert, parmesan; baguette dipped in blood orange fused oil and blueberry balsamic vinegar
More boring eggs and polenta for breakfast, slightly enlivened with truffle oil. My salmon for lunch, after a drive from Colorado Springs back up to Littleton, was very simply cooked and served over a bed of leftover roasted vegetables. Dinner was a more thought-out affair: I knew I wanted to do fresh pasta at least once, and decided to go with Marcella Hazan’s basic egg pasta, made with organic sprouted spelt flour. For a whole wheat noodle, it came out very delicate and delicious, and I served it with a variation of a chicken thigh ragu I’ve made once before, this time using our home-canned tomatoes as the base.
- Breakfast: Turkish poached eggs with garlic yogurt and paprika-sage butter; homemade bread dipped in plate sauces
- Snack: Veg/fruit juice
- Lunch: Leftover fettuccine with chicken thigh ragu and haricots verts
- Dinner: Sprouted bean/lentil soup with kale, sweet potato and barley; salad with yogurt-tahini dressing; homemade bread dipped in blood orange fused oil and blueberry balsamic vinegar
Breakfast today was much more satisfying: Turkish poached eggs I’ve made once before, with homemade bread to drag through the fragrant plate sauces. I could eat this sort of breakfast every day! I saved myself some effort at lunch and had leftover pasta and ragu; I used the last of the noodles to make Nolan a frittata di fettuccine, but as I have come to expect, he never has much interest in eating my homemade pasta. Dinner was an improvisation based on the general Mediterranean obsession with bean soups: I used frozen homemade chicken stock and a sprouted bean trio from Tru Roots to cut down on cooking time, and loaded up the pot with onion, celery, garlic, sweet potato, and kale, plus a little pearled barley for body. We ate it with a basic salad dressed with yogurt, tahini, garlic, lemon, and of course olive oil, and also with slices of homemade bread.
- Breakfast: Farro breakfast porridge with dates, walnuts and milk
- Lunch: Egg scramble with asparagus, tomato, mushroom and feta, whole wheat toast
- Dinner: Crudité (carrot, cucumber, celery, haricots verts, garlic-rubbed crostini) with anchoiade; saffron risotto with bay scallops, asparagus and lemon; Tunisian blood orange-olive oil cake
I decided to change things up for breakfast today and infused some basic cooked farro with dates, walnuts, and cinnamon; and then drowned it with raw milk for calcium after having had a foot cramp overnight. It was extremely tasty, but contained nowhere near enough protein to fill me up. I broke down and had more eggs for lunch in a simple scramble.
Dinner was a more elaborate affair, starting with a big platter of crudité and garlic-rubbed crostini with anchoiade. I found this dip really impressive because despite the intimidating amount of anchovies it contained, my fish-squeamish mom ate several tablespoons and I thought it was so delicious that it actually convinced me to eat several raw cucumber and celery sticks! In fact, I probably single-handedly consumed at least half of the anchoiade visible in the photo below. It did not, however, have the intended effect of bringing my family together for extended dinnertime conviviality; my parents each took a plate of vegetables and went to different rooms to eat while I worked on the next course.
The risotto was perfectly adequate but nothing special, in part because I didn’t have enough saffron on hand to really make it sing.
I also decided to make a Mediterranean dessert for my last day following the diet, and selected a Tunisian blood orange and olive oil cake for its unique process—it actually called for chopping up whole blood oranges and pureeing them with olive oil into an emulsified paste that served as the moisture in the cake. The finished cake was very plain, moist, not too sweet and fragrant with citrus flavor.
Nolan parked himself in front of the cake as I began to photograph and slice it, and very nearly helped himself before I was done—this boy loves his mama’s baking, and fortunately this cake is dairy-free with no adjustments necessary!