Pleasures of the Plate (and Pyramid!)

Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD
As a writer, educator, real food enthusiast, and award-winning journalist, Dr. Wendy Bazilian brings experience in nutrition science, public health and counseling to her work. She is also the co-owner of Bazilian’s Health Clinic with her husband and business partner, Dr. Jason Bazilian. She is author of “The SuperFoodsRx Diet” and has contributed to other New York Times Bestselling and James Beard-nominated books. She is a registered dietitian and an American College of Sports Medicine–certified Health and Fitness Specialist. Dr. Wendy possesses an ‘inexhaustible enthusiasm’ for energetic and healthy living that she passionately shares with others. With a philosophy of focusing on the positive for achieving health and life goals, and a belief that small steps yield big rewards, Wendy’s motto is Eat well, Move daily, Be Healthy—simple, inviting, and achievable. You can learn more about Wendy and her work by visiting her website or say hello to her on Twitter @EatBeMove.

For me, you can’t beat dining in the company of friends on wholesome, fresh and flavorful food to nourish the mind and body, whether comfortably situated at home or eating out from funky to fancy. And I’m all about flavor. Who ever loved a recipe or meal and exclaimed—“Wowee, now that was

really healthy!” No indeed—when we dine, we’re shooting for delicious, rich, splendid, delightful, and fun… .The side perk to me, of course, is that what pleases my palate can also benefit my health! And that’s the essence and the simple truth of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Certainly we now know that the Mediterranean diet in all its delicious and health-enhancing glory is a traditional way of eating that epitomizes the rich culture and cuisines of many nations along the Mediterranean Sea, including countries like Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Morocco. And it’s a diet in the best of ways: an eating ‘style’ that’s not only about what you eat, but also how you eat …and most of all, it’s delicious.

Since the 1950s when Ancel Keys and colleagues conducted the Seven Countries Study, researchers have been keen to discover what it is about the diet and lifestyle in these areas that makes, or keeps, people vital and at reduced risk of disease. These and other scientists who were initially interested in the low mortality and good health of people living in Italy, Crete, Greece and other countries skirting the crystal clear, sapphire blue waters of the Mediterranean, have been working steadily ever since to discover what about that area—or the way people live there—makes for a healthier population. And the evidence has been mounting over the last 60 years. From what started as a ‘heart thing,’ it turns out that people following this eating pattern not only experience low incidence of heart disease and better longevity, but healthier weight and blood pressure, improved metabolic control, as well as lower risk of diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, Parkinson’s and age-related declines in cognition and memory. And it has really been only since the early 1990s that a literal explosion of studies emerged one after another demonstrating the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle, and in particular its diet.

As research continues, we know that this is one diet that transfers beautifully and deliciously onto our plates—both in our households and restaurants, even across the expansive Atlantic Ocean that separates us from the Mediterranean. This is because the hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet are available to us here, too—including abundant fruits and vegetables rich in phytochemicals, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, liberal use of herbs and spices, and moderate fats, especially those monounsaturated fats that olive oil and avocados are famous for. Included are lean proteins from fish and plant sources in beans and nuts, along with modest amounts of dairy. Meats and sweets are scant. All the makings of beautiful breakfasts, lovely lunches, scrumptious suppers and tasty snacks.

And notably and importantly to me, the Mediterranean diet at its best is one consumed at the table in the company of friends and family (… and often enjoyed with a modest pour of wine in the evening). A beautiful sight and a stomach’s delight. Perhaps the only thing missing—that must be left to our imaginations—are those crystal blue Mediterranean waters to accompany our meal.

Here are a few favorite ways I incorporate a bit of the Mediterranean lifestyle into my menus.

I keep a fruit bowl out on the counter at all times. We stock the standards from apples, bananas and oranges (from my orange tree) in the bowl, but also avocados, lemons, kiwis and tomatoes among the mix. Seasonally the fruit bowl and color palette change, but we try to keep it full at all times.

At least one soup is prepared weekly in our household and ready and waiting for lunch, dinner or a snack at a moment’s notice.  Here is a super
simple Tuscan Bean Soup from my book. Frequently I experiment with other seasonings—both fresh and dried herbs and spices—in this recipe, too.

Tuscan Bean Soup (recipe can be found below)

My husband, Jason, and I often prepare what we call a “Med Spread”. We have some pretty wooden boards, plates and stones that we “decorate” with favorite cheeses, bean spreads, grapes, figs or apricots, quince compote, walnuts or other nuts, sliced red peppers and other goodies. Sometimes this becomes the meal itself! It feels like a small trip to the Mediterranean and a lovely way to enjoy each other’s company over small bites.

I love a Mediterranean-inspired Salad. While I’m keen on deeply colored and bitter greens several times during the week, for me the crunch of crisp romaine lettuce topped with garbanzo beans, red bell pepper, red onion, tomatoes, a few sliced Kalamata olives and a generous sprinkle of feta could make my meal or my day anytime.

I like to prepare my own salad dressings and make-n-shake this Basil Garlic Vinaigrette from my book frequently. I just prep the ingredients right into a Ball jar and shake wildly!

Basil Garlic Vinaigrette and my Mediterranean-inspired Salad (recipe can be found below)

And when the tomato-getting’s good at the market or in the garden—nothing beats Slow-Baked Tomatoes. This is so simple and so tasty that it’s worth
every single, drawn-out minute of waiting. This is slow food at its finest. Just a few basic ingredients, but a full two hours until perfection. (The bonus of course is you can make a bunch and have leftovers for tomorrow.)

Slow-Baked Tomatoes (recipe can be found below)

Please be our guest to a meal at the Bazilian’s sometime! Mangia, mangia!

(…and a very Happy Mediterranean Diet Month!)

Reprinted with permission from The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale) by Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD
Use dried beans and you’ve got aromatherapy from the kitchen. Use canned and you’ve got dinner in a flash. Either way, this soup is simple and divine … or in other words, simply divine!

Servings: 4
Serving Size: 1 ¼ cups
Volume: 5 cups

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

¾ cup dried cannellini beans (yields approximately 2 cups)
(Or use a 15 ½-ounce can of drained and rinsed beans and begin the recipe with the second paragraph of instructions and heat the mixture until hot.)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper (3 good cranks on the pepper grinder)
Sea salt to taste (about ⅛-¼ teaspoon if desired)
½ tablespoon fresh snipped sage (or scant 1 teaspoon dry)
Fresh sage leaves for garnish

Place the dried beans in a stockpot with a quart of water. Bring the beans to a boil and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Turn off the heat and cover. Allow the beans to soak for 1 hour.

Drain and rinse the beans thoroughly. Return the beans to the stockpot and cover them with 3 cups of fresh water. Bring them to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until the beans are done, skimming away any foam that develops.

During last 10 minutes of cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, stirring constantly. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onions are nicely browned. Add the entire contents of the skillet to the beans and remove from heat. With an immersion blender (see note), puree the soup, adjusting the thickness with water. Stir in the minced sage, cover and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Ladle into 1 ¼-cup servings into the soup bowls. Garnish with fresh sage leaves and serve warm. (You can refrigerate or freeze the extra servings of the soup, by allowing the remaining soup to completely cool. Pour the soup into a shallow freezer container, label, and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze.)

Note: If you do not own an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool slightly. Puree it in batches in a blender. Return the soup to the stockpot and gently reheat.

Reprinted with permission from The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale) by Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD
Classic Vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Our recipe has cut the calories from the oil by adding some water and additionally changing the ingredients to provide variety. Replacing some of the vinegar or acid with fruit juices also provides interest and preparing it ahead of time will enhance flavor. Additional vinaigrette can be refrigerated for several days, providing convenience.

Versatile “vinaigrettes” like those in The SuperFoodsRx Diet can be used as salad dressing, marinades for salmon, turkey or vegetables, and as a condiment that you drizzle over your protein, or vegetables.

Servings: 5
Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
Volume: ⅔ cup (10 tablespoons)

Prep Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 3 minutes

3 tablespoons orange, lemon or lime juice
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves or ¼ teaspoon dried basil
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper (3 good cranks on the pepper grinder)

Whisk all of the ingredients together or shake them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Reprinted with permission from The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale) by Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD
Swallow your tongue delicious! The baking AND the extra virgin olive oil will help you get the most luscious lycopene from this treat, too.

Servings: 2
Serving size: 1 tomato
Volume: 2 tomatoes

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

2 ripe fresh tomatoes
1 ½ teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
⅛ teaspoon black pepper (3 good cranks on the pepper grinder)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut in strips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice off the top of the tomatoes (including all of the core) and reserve for other uses. Place the tomatoes, cut side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle each tomato with half of the oil and sprinkle with half of the pepper. Bake for 2 hours, or until the tomatoes nearly collapse and begin to caramelize. Sprinkle with garlic halfway through the baking process. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and sprinkle the tops with basil strips. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Alternative Serving Suggestion: Top each tomato with 1 teaspoon of dry seasoned breadcrumbs 10 minutes before serving.

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