The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

May 24, 2016 | Oldways Table

“Although there are exceptions, tradition rarely honors unhealthy habits … Traditional diets are compatible with the respective ecosystem and are, more often than not, supportive of the local economy.” ~ Antonia Trichopoulou, MD, PhD

Anyone that has studied the Mediterranean diet has likely come across the work of the “mother of the Mediterranean diet,” Antonia Trichopoulou, MD, PhD, President of the Hellenic Health Foundation and Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre of Nutrition, Medical School at the University of Athens (read Antonia's bio here).

Hailing from the Mediterranean itself, Greece specifically, Antonia has dedicated her scientific work to studying public health nutrition and nutrition epidemiology, with emphasis on the health effects of the Mediterranean diet and traditional foods. She was a leading researcher in the 1980s when interest around the Mediterranean diet resurged, and she is proud to have been “present at the universal recognition” of the Mediterranean diet during Oldways' 1993 conference when we unveiled the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (you can read her reflection here).

When it comes to the Mediterranean diet, no one has been more passionate about olive oil and its importance in a healthy diet than Antonia. As she says, “It’s the olive oil which makes the vegetables taste so wonderful in Greece.” For our final International Mediterranean Diet Month Q&A, we wanted to highlight and celebrate Antonia Trichopoulou’s devotion and expertise in all things Med Diet. An exclusive Med diet presentation, which Antonia gave at our Finding Common Ground Conference last November, is also embedded below the text.

Oldways: What are some of your favorite traditional Mediterranean foods that show up regularly on your table?

Antonia Trichopoulou: "Ladera" (from ladi — λάδι — the Greek name of olive oil) means mainly plant-based foods (e.g. eggplants, okra, fresh beans, legumes) cooked in plenty of olive oil; garlic, onion, tomato, and various herbs and spices (parsley, oregano, basilica, dill, spearmint, etc.) are added. The "Ladera" provides macronutrients and a wide range of micronutrients that meet many recommended daily allowances.

OW: Which health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet are most striking, in your opinion?

AT: The fact that this diet has considerable beneficial health effects; is based on studies which have indicated convincing inverse associations with overall mortality and with the incidence of coronary heart disease and thrombotic stroke; compelling inverse associations with incidence of cancer overall (including, possibly, incidence of breast and colorectal cancer); likely inverse association with the incidence of adult-onset diabetes mellitus and possibly with the incidence of hip fractures. There have also been randomized trials supporting a beneficial role of the Mediterranean diet on the incidence of cardiovascular events and of survival from coronary heart disease.

After all, this diet is not only health promoting, as the overwhelming evidence indicates, but also delicious, as many of those who have tried variations of it readily acknowledged.

OW: Is there any new area of research around the Mediterranean diet and health that seems promising?

AT: Recent evidence suggest that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with longer telomeres. These results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.

OW: What advice do you have for people who want to follow a Mediterranean diet but don’t think their modern-day lifestyles would support this way of eating and living?

AT: To try to cook ladera at home.

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May 19, 2016 | Oldways Table

Soft, tangy, and milky white, fresh cheeses are the darlings of the cheese world. Some, such as fresh mozzarella, are so young that they barely have time to develop flavors beyond the subtleties of the milk used to make them. Others, such as feta, have more pronounced flavor thanks to added salt and other seasoning. Celebrate Mediterranean Diet Month by learning more about fresh cheeses and their versatility in the kitchen.

Virtually every region around the Mediterranean has its own form of fresh cheese, made from local milk and varying slightly from place to place. Quite a few cheeses are made from whey (the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of cheese curds), making use of the "waste" product from other cheeses.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy fresh Mediterranean cheeses:

All by themselves. Enjoy a couple slices plain or dress them up with a little olive oil, fresh fruit, or honey for a satisfying snack. Halloumi, a semi-hard fresh cheese from Cyprus, is best served simply sliced and grilled. 

In savory fillings. Greeks are famous for their savory pies (e.g. spanakopita) filled with greens, herbs, and fresh cheeses like feta and the cheese made from its whey, manouri.

Try our recipe for Thick Crusted Greens, Onion, and Feta Pie. Recipe here.

With pasta. In Italy, what cheese tortellini or ravioli would be complete without ricotta? Ricotta is sweet, smooth, and is made from the whey that's drained off in the production of mozzarella and other cheeses.

Make our Greek-style Vegetarian Lasagna. Find the recipe here.

For breakfast. Found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, labane (or labne or labanah) is a "yogurt cheese" made by draining thick, full-fat yogurt overnight in cloth. It's similar to Greek yogurt - velvety and slightly sour - and traditionally eaten at breakfast served with olive oil, fresh herbs, and pita bread. Try using it as a substitute for cream cheese too.

For texture. Add fresh cheeses to hot dishes - at the last moment, to avoid curdling - to give them a richer flavor and creamier texture. Mascarpone, a velvety smooth Italian "tub cheese" typically used to make tiramisu, can also add creaminess to savory dishes like risotto. A couple of spoonfuls go a long way.

In saladsFeta is a favorite salad cheese because it adds a nice tang that is quick to complement other ingredients, from earthy beets to light and peppery arugula.

Take your tastebuds to the Mediterranean with our Milo Salad with Oregano, Feta Cheese, and Cucumbers. Recipe here.

Cheese, eaten in moderation and in the context of a Mediterranean diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and nuts, is a healthy and nutritious food. For more information about the health benefits of cheese, visit the Oldways Cheese Coalition's website.

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May 17, 2016 | Oldways Table

You can’t talk food and nutrition without also discussing sustainability, as our food systems are inextricably linked with humans and planetary health. And even though the 2015 Dietary Guidelines threw sustainability under the bus, when Oldways gathered some of the world’s top nutrition scientists to find common ground on what comprises the best diet, the experts included sustainability as the second point in the 11-point consensus statement.

One of the most compelling aspects of the Mediterranean diet, aside from its many health benefits, is its roots in sustainability. Mediterranean diet staples are low on the food chain and not resource intensive — think whole grains, pulses, fruits, and veggies that grow happily in that climate — and preservation techniques like curing and sun-drying are common. Like traditional diets around the world, a Med diet (circa the 1950s) reflects the foods that have been cultivated over generations, foods that create a culinary identity, and foods that support the diverse communities spanning the region.

To bring sustainability to our Mediterranean Diet Month table, Oldways connected with Danielle Nierenberg, founder of Food Tank, a nonprofit that works towards “building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters” as its vision states. Dani’s work with Food Tank has been inspiring and eye-opening, and we’re honored to work alongside her as we collectively strive to improve public health and food justice. As part of a TEDx Talk she gave in Manhattan last year, Dani included a fantastic definition of sustainability that sums up what Food Tank is all about:

"For me, it is a food system that does not lurch from crisis to crisis, a food system that does not chew people up and spit them out. Sustainability is what happens when techniques for combatting drought are shared with the people that need them, and sustainability is what happens when women who were making 90 cents per day are now making $5 a day by using agro-ecological practices, and really building better lives for themselves and their families.”

In honor of Mediterranean Diet Month, we asked Dani to bring her expertise to the conversation and speak to the overlap of the Mediterranean diet and sustainability. Check out her Q&A below. You can also watch her TEDx Talk (mentioned above) at the bottom of the page.

Oldways: The concept of sustainable diets rests on the understanding of how what we eat affects our natural resources. Can you explain how different food choices impact planetary health?

Danielle Nierenberg: Food Tank has been working closely with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation and they have developed the Double Pyramid*, which highlights how the foods that tend to be the worst for our health — including industrial livestock products — also tend to have the highest environmental impacts. It makes sense that the foods that harm human health are also the foods that negatively impact the planet. Unfortunately, many people around the globe don't have the option of making healthy and sustainable "choices" around food because of lack of access and affordability and sustainable diets will only be possible when all eaters can afford nutritious, safe and healthy food.

OW: Given that human and planetary health are closely intertwined, in what ways does the traditional Mediterranean diet encourage sustainability?

DN: The Mediterranean Diet can encourage sustainability because it highlights how meat — as well as cheese and eggs — don't have to be the center of meals, but can be used as condiments for both taste and nutrition. Typically, the Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes and pulses, nuts, healthy oils which are combined with small amounts of fish or meat. Eating lower on the food chain can not only nourish people, but also the planet.

OW: Seafood is one of the most well-recognized aspects of the Mediterranean diet, but many experts warn about the dangers of overfishing. Do you have advice for people who would like to enjoy seafood and a Mediterranean-style diet, without causing undue harm on our fisheries? (Such as types of fish to choose, or how to source it.)

DN: There are so many great resources for eating better fish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has long been a leader in helping eaters understand which fish are the best to eat for the environment. Their Seafood Watch website is an amazing and easy-to-use resource to help chefs and eaters figure out which fish is the most sustainable.

OW: Most people view the Western diet and our current, industrialized food system as somewhat unsustainable in the long run. In what ways, if any, is it actually easier to embrace sustainable diets today than it was generations ago? In what ways is it harder?

DN: Consumer have so many more choices of foods available today than they did even 10 or 20 years ago. Unfortunately, many of these products are highly processed and high in salt and fat. They also lack nutrients so we're filling people up rather than nourishing them.

*The food pyramid component of the Double Pyramid referenced Oldways' Mediterranean Diet Pyramid model. Learn more here.

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May 13, 2016 | Oldways Table

To celebrate International Mediterranean Diet Month, we perused our extensive cookbook collection (which spans our entire office!) and selected four of our favorite Mediterrranean cookbooks. From old favorites to new culinary discoveries, these cookbooks offer unique and mouth-watering lenses into Mediterranean cuisine. Get a sense for all that these cookbooks offer, and then choose which to add to your collection.

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

"I love the Mediterranean Diet for many reasons: Wonderful ingredients, heart-healthy and brain-healthy recipes, and delicious tastes. What more would one want?" - Paula Wolfert

This gem takes us back to the days when cooking was the activity (not the chore) and everything was a bit slower —  cooking, enjoying meals together, and life itself. If you relish in the slow life, you will love The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert, a leader in the world of gastronomy (visit her website here). Some highlights of this cookbook include slow-simmered stews, slow-roasted salmon, and other authentic cooking methods blended with traditional ingredients. Wolfert's favorite recipe from the book? The herb jam with crushed steamed garlic, lots of herbs, spices, oil-cured black olives, and lemon — try making this jam recipe here. Find The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen on Amazon.

The New Mediterranean Cookbook

"For me, the Mediterranean diet represents not just a delicious route to optimum health but one that's easy and accessible for Americans, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables, grains and legumes, all quickly pulled together in meals to delight cooks and their families." - Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is a longtime aficionado of Mediterranean cuisine and her catalogue of cookbooks speaks volumes about her deep passion and knowledge for this celebrated way of eating and living. We chose The New Mediterranean Cookbook because it revisits many of the flavors and recipes from its earlier version, while highlighting the health benefits and nutritional elements of the Med diet. Oldways has traveled and collaborated with Nancy for years, and we love following along her culinary adventures and discoveries. From traditional Mediterranean staple recipes to her seasonal specialties — like North African Pumpkin Soup and Lebanese Garlic Roasted Chicken — this book is a definite must-have for any chef's collection. Visit her website to peruse her wonderful recipe collection, and find The New Mediterranean Cookbook on Amazon.

Mediterranean Cookery

“The food, like everything about Mediterranean life, is rooted in the soil and the sea. It is the combination of frugality and fruitfulness with an abundance of grain, vegetables, pulses, fruit and nuts which gives it a unique rustic and healthy quality.” - Claudia Roden

Some things get better with age — like fine wine, cheese, and Claudia Roden's 1987 cookbook, Mediterranean Cookery. This treasured resource is the ultimate blend of history, culture, geography, and of course cuisine. In fact, our copy has been used so much some of the pages are stuck together. What is it exactly about the Mediteranean diet? According to Claudia, “It is the rich flavors and aromas, the colors, the sensual quality of the cuisines and the extraordinary variety of dishes that enthralled me when I travelled around the Mediterranean more than thirty years ago.” While our favorite recipe in this book is the salmorejo, here is Claudia's recipe for Tunisian Roasted Salad. Find her Mediterranean Cookery book on Amazon.

Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

"The Mediterranean​ way of eating proposes THE most exciting, colorful and absolutely delicious dishes, which as a bonus, also happen to be THE healthiest!" - Aglaia Kremezi

While meat is relegated as a garnish in a traditional Mediterranean diet, there is always the option to go meat-free — and Aglaia Kremezi makes that as irresistable as ever in her cookbook, Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts. This book bursts with creative tips and recipes to help home chefs learn to go from the farmers market to the kitchen, and wind up with a healthy and delicious feast. Amid her 150 plant-based, seasonal recipes, the Greece-based cookbook author, chef, and journalist shares specialties like Toasted Red Lentil and Bulgur Patties, her meatless Moussaka, and Roasted Cauliflower with Zahter Relish. Try your hand at making her Crustless or 'Naked' Squash Pie recipe. Find Aglaia's Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts on Amazon.

 

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