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Updated 12 October 2015

Eat Mediterranean, live longer

Keen to eat like the Greeks and to reap the benefits, too? Here’s a handy shopping list to help you stock up on those Mediterranean essentials.

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People living around the Mediterranean are said to live longer than their other European counterparts. The key, experts believe, is in the Mediterraneans’ healthy diet.

Olive oil


Olive oil is a must when you want to create Mediterranean dishes. Colour isn’t necessarily an indication of quality but at which stage the olives were harvested. Good-quality olive oil has a peppery taste.

Olives

Olives are served as they are or made into tapenade. Black Calamata olives are probably the best-known eating olives and the rounder, fatter Mission olives are particularly good for preserving.

Balsamic vinegar

This vinegar is aged in wooden barrels for several years to allow its specific flavour to develop. Just a dash enhances salads and sauces and it’s also ideal for sprinkling over roast vegetables. It’s said to be a natural appetite suppressant and to speed up metabolism, be anti-ageing, prevent tiredness and relieve pain.

Lemons

Use lemon juice generously with olive oil to give any dish fresh flavour. In Muslim countries lemons are used to provide that essential acidic flavour in place of vinegar made from wine, which is forbidden.

Lemons have lots of vitamin C, which helps relieve colds, sore throats, fever and high blood pressure. They also alleviate sunburn.

Herbs

Basil forms the basis of pesto, which is delicious with pasta and flavours everything from stews to soups. Basil not only contains lots of vitamins A and C – giving you glowing skin, shiny hair and good sight – but also lots of betacarotene, an antioxidant.

  • Parsley – it must be the flat-leaf kind – is an important “background” herb in Mediterranean cooking but is definitely not a mere garnish. Just think of fragrant salsa verde salad dressing. The herb has high levels of vitamins A and C, helps control high blood pressure and fights urinary infections.
  • Mint is commonly used, especially in salads and dressings. It loses most of its flavour when heated so it’s not really used in cooking. Mint is said to help you detox, clean out the digestive system, inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi and help prevent cancer.
  • Oregano is also a favourite in Mediterranean cooking. It’s the only herb that’s best used dried, when it has more flavour.
  • Garlic is exceptionally good for you. A natural antiseptic, it’s credited with thoroughly cleansing the digestive system.

Anchovies

Use them to flavour everything from meat to other fish, salads, quiches and pizzas. They don’t keep fresh for long so they’re usually salted and preserved in olive oil. Before using, soak anchovies in a little milk to get rid of most of the salt. Anchovies contain lots of vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids that help sharpen brain activity and prevent heart disease.

Various pastas

You don’t have to eat only freshly prepared pasta – if using packets of dried pasta, make sure it’s made with durum wheat. Durum is a hard wheat that has more protein and less starch than similar grains. It also has a lower glycaemic index.

Couscous

It’s made from semolina (the kernel of durum wheat) and needs hardly any preparation. It’s especially tasty with flavourful stews.

Chickpeas

These pulses are the basis of hummus, a popular Mediterranean spread. They’re often added to soups and stews.

Lentils

Mediterraneans use brown lentils or the more expensive green Puy variety because they don’t disintegrate when cooked. Lentils are incorporated in salads and stews.

Nuts

They contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, choline and vitamin E, which especially help the memory and prevent heart disease. They have a low glycaemic index. Pine nuts and pistachios are favourites in the Mediterranean region.

Cheeses

Fresh soft cheeses such as goat’s milk and ricotta cheeses contain little fat and are ideal for stuffing vegetables and pasta shapes. They’re also served as part of a meze platter or for dessert with nuts or fruit.

Medium-fat cheeses such as feta, mozzarella and halloumi are favourites in the Mediterranean diet, while full-fat cheeses such as Parmesan and pecorino have such intense flavours you need literally only shavings.

Vegetables

Tomatoes, peppers, brinjals, baby marrows and green leafy vegetables are probably the best known and a variety of favourite dishes are made with these basic vegetables. Nothing beats the flavour of a ripe tomato plucked from the vine in summer. Out of season they’re not so full of flavour, which is why cooking with canned tomatoes is not unusual. Flavourful baby tomatoes remain the most favoured for salads.

Sweet peppers


They’re especially used as “cups” in which to spoon all kinds of fillings. Their flavour intensifies when they’re cooked: roast the sweet peppers, pull off the skin, slice them and use them in salads dressed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Peppers are rich in vitamin C.


 
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