Key ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits, vegetables, protein-rich legumes, fish and whole grains with moderate amounts of wine and red meat. The flavors are rich and the health benefits for people choosing a Mediterranean diet — one of the world’s healthiest — are hard to ignore. These people are less likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or become obese.

Numerous research studies suggest that the benefits of following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern may be many: improved weight loss, better control of blood glucose (sugar) levels and reduced risk of depression, to name a few. Eating like a Mediterranean has also been associated with reduced levels of inflammation, a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’re trying to eat foods that are better for your heart, start with the principles of Mediterranean cooking.

Stock your pantry and cook at home.

Use whole, unprocessed ingredients and control portion sizes, salt and calories.

Make sure your pantry and freezer are stocked with Mediterranean-inspired staples like canned tomatoes, olives, whole-wheat pasta and frozen vegetables.

Love Italian food, then a bowl of pasta for dinner is a no-brainer. Typical standbys are Penne with Vodka Sauce or Pasta with Broccoli Rabe.

Experiment with “real” whole grains that are still in their “whole” form and haven’t been refined. Quinoa, a grain that was a staple in the ancient Incas’ diet, cooks up in just 20 minutes, making it a great side dish for weeknight meals. Barley is full of fiber and it’s filling. Pair it with mushrooms for a steamy, satisfying soup. A hot bowl of oatmeal with some fresh summer berries is perfect for breakfast. Even popcorn is a whole grain—just keep it healthy by eating air-popped corn and forgo the butter (try a drizzle of olive oil instead).

Supplement your intake with other whole-grain products, like whole-wheat bread and pasta. Look for the term “whole” or “whole grain” on the food package and in the ingredient list—it should be listed as the first ingredient. But if you still find it too hard to make the switch from your old refined favorites, phase in a whole grain by using whole-grain blends of pastas and rice or mixing whole grains half-and-half with a refined one (like half whole-wheat pasta and half white).

By displacing meat at some meals, you can lower your saturated-fat intake while adding healthful nutrients, like fiber and antioxidant-rich flavonoids. If you eat meat every day right now, try making a vegetarian dinner, like Multi-Bean Chili, once a week. Swap out most of your red meat and replace it with skinless chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts and other plants. Start by making a few small changes.

Aim to eat fish of any kind—except for fried, of course—twice a week. Fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna are especially good choices: they are rich in omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat, linked with improved heart health. Make the focus of the meal whole grains and vegetables and think of meat as a flavoring; for example, use a little diced pancetta in a tomato sauce for pasta. If you do have a hankering for a steak, it’s OK to indulge, just do so occasionally and choose a lean cut, like top loin, sirloin, flank steak or strip steak and limit your portion size to 4 ounces.

Use heart-healthy olive oil as well as other plant-based oils like canola and walnut oil instead of saturated-fat-laden butter, lard or shortening—even in baking. There are many dessert recipes now that use olive oil instead of butter. Olive oil is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. A high-quality extra-virgin olive oil seasoned with balsamic vinegar is delicious for dipping bread and is a healthier alternative to butter. Other plant-based oils, such as canola or walnut oil, are also rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Aim for 4 to 8 servings of vegetables a day. A serving size is 1/2 to 2 cups depending on the vegetable. Pick vegetables in a variety of colors to get a range of antioxidants and vitamins. Start your day out with a spinach and Cheddar omelet, have a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch and have roasted carrots and a green salad for dinner. Big green salads are a great way to include several vegetable servings at once.

Snack on a handful of almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds in place of chips, cookies or other processed snack foods, which are often loaded with sugars, saturated fat and trans fats. Calcium-rich low-fat cheese or low-fat and nonfat plain yogurt with fresh fruit are other healthy and portable snacks.

Generally a good source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, fresh fruit is a healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth. If it helps you to eat more, drizzle slices of pear with honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar on grapefruit. Keep fresh fruit visible at home and keep a piece or two at work so you have a healthful snack when your stomach starts growling. Lots of grocery stores stock exotic fruit—pick a new one to try each week and expand your fruit horizons.

Research indicates that people who drink moderately are less likely to have heart disease than those who abstain. Alcohol appears to raise “good” HDL cholesterol. Wine, in particular, “thins” the blood (making it less prone to clotting) and also contains antioxidants that prevent your arteries from taking up LDL cholesterol, a process that can lead to plaque buildup. Remember, “1 drink” equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.

Eating like a Mediterranean is as much lifestyle as it is diet. Instead of gobbling your meal in front of the TV, slow down and sit down at the table with your family and friends to savor what you’re eating. Not only will you enjoy your company and your food, eating slowly allows you to tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness signals. You’re more apt to eat just until you’re satisfied then until you’re busting-at-the-seams full. This is the perfect time of year to make some changes to your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful and local fresh caught fish is more available. These delicious dinners can all be enjoyed during a leisurely, relaxing dinner on the patio on a warm summer evening.

Fusilli with Green Beans, Pancetta and Parmigiano

Serves three.

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 lb. whole grain fusilli or other twisted pasta
  • 4 oz. pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cut into 1/2 -inch squares (3/4 cup)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled but kept whole
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (2 cups)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)

Directions:

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just barely al dente, about 1 minute less than package timing. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, put the pancetta in a cold 10-inch skillet and set over medium-high heat. When the pancetta starts sizzling, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until starting to brown, 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook the pancetta until golden, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. If the pancetta has rendered a lot of its fat, spoon off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Add the beans to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until they’re crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the garlic and season the beans with salt and pepper. With the pan still over medium heat, add the pasta, 1/2 cup of the pasta water and the olive oil. Toss to combine. Add another 1/4 cup pasta water and 3/4 cup of the Parmigiano. Stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper. If necessary, add a little more pasta water to loosen the sauce. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Grind black pepper over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Sea Bass With Citrus-Olive-Caper Sauce

Buy Eco-friendly Mid-Atlantic Sea Bass

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 8 sea bass fillets (about 5 oz each), skin on
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 lemons, peeled and thinly sliced, segments halved
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

Directions:

Place broiler pan as close to heating element as possible and heat 5 minutes. On a plate, coat fillets on both sides with 1 tablespoons oil. Carefully remove pan from broiler and place on the stovetop.

Arrange fillets on pan, skin side down; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Broil fish 6 minutes.

In a bowl, mix together lemon slices, juice, oregano, capers, olives, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 3/4 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoons pepper.

Place fish on platter; top with citrus-olive-caper sauce.

Grilled Chicken with Feta and Red Pepper Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients:

Grilled chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Red pepper sauce:

  • 2 pounds grilled red bell peppers
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces sliced feta cheese (4 slices)

Spinach leaves for serving plate

Directions:

To prepare chicken: place chicken, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a zip-top plastic bag; place in refrigerator and marinate 2 to 24 hours.

To grill the peppers: preheat grill. Place peppers on the grill and cook, turning until charred all over. Place peppers in a paper or plastic bag to let steam for 10 minutes. Peel and seed peppers.

To prepare sauce: place grilled peppers, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender; puree until smooth.

Preheat grill to medium and oil grill grates. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Grill chicken 7 minutes, turn, place feta cheese slices on top of the chicken and cook 7 more minutes or until cooked through.

Arrange spinach on serving plate, top with chicken and serve with red pepper sauce.

Orange and Olive Salad

Serve with flatbread or pita.

Ingredients:

  • Two heads romaine lettuce
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1/2 cup black oil-cured olives, pitted, sliced in half
  • 1/2 red onion, diced small
  • 2 oranges, peeled and chopped
  • Orange slices and orange zest for garnish

Dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

Directions:

Wash and dry the romaine and arugula. Toss in a large bowl with the olives, onion and oranges.

Add freshly ground black pepper to taste (the olives may be salty, so don’t add any salt at this point).

Whisk the dressing ingredients, seasoning it to taste. Slowly pour some of the dressing over the salad while tossing well to coat all.

Be careful not to use too much dressing for the amount of greens. Garnish with very thin slices of orange and orange zest.

Spaghettini with Tomatoes, Anchovies and Almonds

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, cored and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded basil leaves
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Large pinch of crushed red pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup roasted almonds
  • 3 large oil-packed anchovies
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 pound swhole grain paghettini (thin spaghetti)

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the diced tomatoes with the shredded basil, scallions, olive oil and crushed red pepper. Season lightly with salt and black pepper and let the tomatoes stand for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mini food processor, pulse the almonds with the anchovies and garlic until finely chopped. Add the 1/2 cup of pecorino cheese and the capers and pulse to combine.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve a little pasta water in case the sauce needs thinning. Drain pasta and add the pasta to the tomatoes along with the chopped almond mixture and toss well. Serve the pasta, passing extra cheese at the table.

Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage

For stuffing:

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large green or red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large cabbage

Cooking sauce for cabbage rolls

  • 3 containers (26-28 oz. size) tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring 2 cups of water to boil, adding the rice and turmeric. Return to a boil, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Cook the lentils in 3 cups of boiling water until soft.

Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in olive oil in a skillet.

Mix the cooking sauce ingredients together in a bowl.

For the filling: in a large bowl, combine the sauteed vegetables, rice, lentils, almonds and raisins.

Fill each cabbage leaf with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup filling, beginning at the thick end of the leaf. Fold this end over the filling, folding the edges in as you go to make a neat roll.

Place the rolls in one or two casseroles, covering with the sauce.

Bake the cabbage rolls covered at 350 degrees F, 45-60 minutes until cabbage is tender. Cool slightly and serve from the dish they were baked in.

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