Interested in the Mediterranean diet? Learn more about this healthy way of eating and try some healthy recipes inspired by one of our nutritionist’s trips to Italy and Greece.
Last summer my husband and I went on a 10-day trip to Italy and Greece to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. As a dietitian, I have been interested in the Mediterranean diet for several years and had been dreaming of going there to explore the culture and the food (mostly the food), so I was thrilled when he agreed to go.
Enjoying Roman cuisineWe started our journey in Rome and enjoyed amazing pasta meals, bread dipped in olive oil and red wine. Everything tasted fresh. This is where I learned to love the taste of bread dipped in herbed olive oil.
We traveled through Tuscany, stopping at a villa for dinner where they made wine and olive oil on the premises, before we headed to Florence and Venice. Meals are often small plates of two to three courses. Food is simple and prepared fresh and sitting down to a meal is something not to be rushed but enjoyed with family and friends.
Savoring Greek cuisineAfter an overnight ferry ride to Greece, our first stop was in the quaint village of Metsovo for a "hidden gem" stop for lunch. I ordered a Greek salad, and it was so memorable, so delicious — and dare I say, so fresh. I've been craving and making Greek salads ever since.
In Delphi we had a foodie’s dream of a meal that featured several traditional Greek appetizers, entrees and desserts: stuffed grape leaves, tzatziki and fava dip, breaded eggplant, hummus with pita bread, eggplant stew, moussaka and baklava for dessert. The food in Greece was truly wonderful — fresh, colorful and bursting with flavor. Olive oil was used liberally, as were spices and fresh fruits and vegetables. A dietitian's dream!
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is popular because the foods are flavorful, easy to make and budget-friendly. As a bonus, it’s been found to lower the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, and to reduce blood pressure and assist with weight loss.
Here are some of my favorite foods from the Mediterranean diet I had while traveling that I’ve incorporated into my diet on a regular basis:
- Plain Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey and a handful of walnuts. Our Greek bus driver ate this for breakfast every morning.
- Fresh-baked bread dipped in herb-infused olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Delish!
- Feta cheese sprinkled on salad, soup or stew for a flavor twist. I like crumbled feta to make sprinkling easier and extend the flavor.
- Kalamata olives added to salads, or stuffed olives for a snack.
- Traditional Greek salad. I eat this at least once a week (see recipe below).
- Homemade salad dressing with herb-infused extra-virgin olive oil and flavored vinegar such as balsamic.
Relax and enjoy each bite to savor the flavors of these simple, healthy recipes.
Greek village salad
An authentic Greek salad contains no lettuce. Use fresh extra-virgin olive oil. No vinegar is needed; the acidity from the tomatoes is enough.
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
- ½ English cucumber, halved and sliced into ½-inch slices
- 1 medium green or red pepper, halved and sliced into ½-inch slices
- 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 8 Kalamata olives
- On a serving plate, arrange tomatoes and cucumbers. Add peppers and onions. Season with salt.
- Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Top with feta and sprinkle with oregano. Top with olives.
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 268, protein 7 g, fat 22 g, carbohydrate 10 g, fiber 3 g
Fresh tomato sauce
This is a versatile, quick-cooking sauce.
Yields 1 gallon.
- 2 large yellow onions
- 1 shallot
- 8 cloves garlic
- 20 fresh plum tomatoes
- 10 large fresh basil leaves
- 3 sprigs fresh oregano leaves
- ¼ bunch fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup dry red wine (choose a house or table wine rather than a cooking wine)
- Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- Dice the onions and mince the shallot and garlic. Chop the tomatoes and herbs.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large stockpot. Add the onions, shallots and garlic. Sauté lightly for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes in the onion mixture for 3 minutes. Add the wine and let it reduce for 10 minutes.
- Add the herbs and spices. Adjust to taste. Remove from heat and serve.
Nutrition information per 1-cup serving: Calories 32, protein 1 g, fat 1 g, carbohydrate 6 g
Recipes adapted from The Big Book of Mediterranean Recipes by Peter Minaki.