Adopting a Mediterranean Eating Style + Sunny Yellow Chopped Salad
May is set aside to celebrate the Mediterranean diet, and I see no reason not to adopt these health-promoting — not to mention delicious, sustainable and affordable — eating habits for the remainder of the month and beyond!
What does this style of eating look like?
At its heart the traditional Mediterranean “diet” — as in eating pattern; not restrictive, calorie-counting regimen — is a healthy and balanced way to eat. It’s primarily plant-based, focusing on simplicity, freshness and, whenever possible, foods that are locally grown and produced.
+ Heavy emphasis is placed on a variety of fresh veg and fruits, whole grains, as well as healthy fats, such as those from olive oil, seeds and nuts, olives, and occasionally cheeses or yogurt. Lean proteins, predominantly beans, legumes, fish and shellfish, are also highlighted.
+ Red meat is treated more like a “garnish” than the main event, and sweets are saved for special occasions. Highly processed foods and beverages are taken sparingly, if at all.
+ Water is the main beverage. A glass of wine — if appropriate for age and stage — is common in moderation.
What are the benefits?
In moving toward or fully adopting this style of eating your diet will receive significant bumps in healthy unsaturated and omega-3 fats, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. On the other end, the limitation of high fat meats, sweets and processed items results in far fewer refined starches and sugars, and unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
Eating seasonally and locally not only ensure that you save money, support farmers and promote community economic stability, and contribute to energy conservation and sustainability, but also that your products are the freshest, best-tasting and most nutritionally complete.
It may be that the myriad health benefits are not solely a result of diet. Of equal importance to the foods eaten is the ritual of the mealtime itself. Meals are a time to sit and slow down, savor the flavors, connect and share time with family and friends, rather than eating on the hoof, at a desk or alone at the counter. Simple cooking methods are typically employed, and the concepts of celebration and heritage are cherished. Moderate, regular physical activity is often a necessary part of daily life in these regions, but is routinely done for pleasure as well.
Taken altogether, it’s easy to see how the traditional Mediterranean eating pattern — lifestyle — has earned its acclaim as one of the healthiest in the world.
When you begin with the fresh, bright ingredients and simple preparation methods the Mediterranean diet is known for, there is no meal, in my mind, quite as perfect a showcase than a salad.
This sunny yellow chopped salad balances crunchy with tender, and is as nourishing and satisfying as it is beautiful and flavorful. Vibrant, ripest vegetables, creamy chickpeas, lovely herbs, good extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon, bold cheese in just the right amount. Looking back, I might add a few briny green olives — as an extra or in place of the cheese.
It has enough heft to stand alone, but will complement many other mains as a side, if you prefer. Because it can be served at room temperature or chilled, this is an excellent make-ahead option for gatherings. Cool salads are especially welcomed on warm days, and I can see this fitting in nicely with a barbecue or picnic spread. Glass of red or rosé wine optional, though highly (scientifically) encouraged.
In good health AND good taste — cheers, Heather
Tell me… Do you already follow any of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle habits? What’s your favorite Mediterranean flavor?
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1 cup halved yellow cherry or pear tomatoes (*see HGN Notes)
- 1 raw yellow beet, peeled and thinly sliced with a mandoline or peeler
- 1 cucumber, peeled (optional) and cut into chunks
- raw kernels from 1 ear white or yellow corn, or 1/2 cup thawed frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 of a 16-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 1/4 cup Ricotta Salata cheese, in small chunks (or feta or chevre)
- 3 Tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice + 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 1/2 tsp coarse grain Dijon mustard, or other good whole grain mustard
- 2 tsp finely chopped fresh chives
- In a small bowl, combine extra virgin olive oil through chives with a fork or small whisk. Taste, and season, as needed, with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Set aside.
- Add remaining ingredients to a large bowl, and toss to combine. Add about 3/4 of the vinaigrette, toss again, and taste. Add the last 1/4, if desired; taste again and adjust seasonings, as needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Additionally, the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup golden raisins. This was a simple oversight on my part, and I imagine they would be a nice, mildly sweet addition.
+ Replace the tomatoes (or rutabaga) with thin ribbons of raw summer squash... or simply add these on top of everything else!
+ Feature whichever herbs are freshest at the moment -- mint, basil, marjoram, tarragon, thyme... or swap in tender baby greens, such as arugula, cress or baby spinach.
+ To make this dairy-free and vegan, replace the cheese with another 1/2 cup chickpeas. Alternatively, while soy products aren't often represented in the Mediterranean diet, 1/2 cup of cubed tofu or tempeh (raw or steamed) is another option to replace the cheese.
+ Add a small handful of pitted briny green olives, whole or halved, as an additional part of the salad, or in place of the cheese.
Recipe adapted from The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleason
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