Not a month seems to go by when there isn’t yet more good news about food and health. This month it is once again the turn of the Mediterranean diet to bask in the scientific limelight. But before I get too excited and ramble on as is my norm (which I will no doubt do anyway), it should be pointed out that this most recent study on the lauded Mediterranean diet was yet another genetically engineered mouse study, in special conditions, with extracts. Not real food. Not on people. And the researchers would appear to be delighted if they can put all the goodness and health benefits into a pill. Yes, a pill. What the…?Certainly a true Mediterranean diet is a good idea – cold-pressed olive oil, an abundance of dark leafy greens, colourful vegetables, avocados, nuts, whole grains, fish. These are the foods pointed out as holding the ‘secret’ to the Mediterranean Diet. Foods noted by researchers in the 1960s as potentially explaining the preponderance of healthy elderly people in the Mediterranean – the healthy hearts, the strong bones, lower cancer rates. But what passes for a Mediterranean Diet these days may be anything but.
Go into a typical Italian, Spanish, or even Greek restaurant (usually thought of as the healthiest of the southern European countries) and most of us will have to pick our way through the sauce-soaked meat and cheese pastas, fried and breaded vegetables, meaty stews, breads, pizzas, pissaladieres, cheeses and even meat-stuffed vegetables to get to something truly health-giving.
Mmm, start with just-picked vegetables dressed in a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette perhaps? Followed by lightly grilled fish with fresh greens and wild herbs?
Most of us won’t find such things on menus unless we are very lucky. Even in the Mediterranean. These are the meals fixed at home, by home cooks. And even then – like the rest of us – fast food, prepared meals and eating on the run is becoming sadly typical. Obesity is fast-rising in the southern Mediterranean, with young people catching up with their northerly peers in becoming less active and eating less real food. And this last point may be crucial: real food. How can we be truly in control of our diet and consequently our health if we abnegate food decisions to Big Food?
I don’t know if we need another expensive study to tell us that eating our greens and laying off the processed stuff is good for us. Instead of piling money into yet another pill that distances us further from truly looking after ourselves, why not spend more money on making good food more affordable, and promoting a culture where eating well and being knowledgable about food is the norm? And not in a poncey, pretentious way. Real food as a right, not a privilege.
This all may sound elitist. And I admit to being able to afford most things I wish to eat, and of having a reasonable level of food and nutrition knowledge. But back in the 1960s and earlier, those eating what we now proclaim in capital letters as the Mediterranean Diet were not elitist. And they probably had very little money, nor formal education on these matters.
Sure it was a simpler time. But can we afford to stay hooked to our electronic devices 24/7, hoping that what Big Food offers us will sustain and nourish us? Or that pills borne of sterile studies will save us?
The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet start in the kitchen. Not with a pill.
I’ll step off the soap box for now. I’m starting to make a habit of this (rant + another Mediterranean-ish recipe).
Mediterranean Roasted Broccoli and Olive Quinoa Salad
To roast or not to roast, that is the question.
You can of course steam the broccoli, and just throw in the olives at the end. But my oh my, a little roasting certainly ups the taste ante. Smoky and sweet.
This would also make a great raw salad. Use 2-day sprouted quinoa, and obviously skip the veg roasting. Never sprouted quinoa or other pseudograins? Here’s a link to Sprout People instructions for sprouting almost anything, including quinoa.
½ red onion, peeled
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
pinch of raw sugar or dash of honey/maple syrup – optional
90g (1/2 cup) uncooked quinoa or other pseudo grain, like amaranth or buckwheat
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
150-160g (5 ½ oz) young broccoli or Tenderstem ® broccoli, cut into manageable pieces, shaving the stem as required (stems are quite sweet)
10 dry-cure black olives or Kalamata olives, de-stoned with your fingers
½ red pepper, deseeded and sliced
10+ cherry/grape tomatoes, halved
2 good handsful watercress or other ‘nippy’ leaves, like rocket or mizuna
2 heaped tbsp pumpkin seeds
Peperoncini, or other brined hot peppers (eg Greek-style peppers, rather than Italian), about 4 peppers
Fresh young oregano leaves to garnish – optional
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
2. First of all, slice the red onion rather thinly – you may not want all of it. Pop it into a glass bowl, along with half of the olive oil, the red wine vinegar, dried oregano, and sugar. Mix it up with your hands, cover and leave it while you get on with the rest. This step mutes the ‘oniony-ness’ but still leaves all the vital goodness intact. This is also the dressing.
3. Now, let’s cook the quinoa. Many of you will have a preferred method. Mine is simply to rinse it very well in a sieve under the tap, pop it into a small lidded pan along with the bashed garlic, pour over double the volume of water (ie 1 cup) and bring to the boil. Turn down to simmer and cook for eight minutes with the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave for a further eight minutes. It shouldn’t need draining. Set aside to cool, then pull out the garlic. I usually decant it into a wide bowl to hasten the cooling.
4. While the quinoa is simmering, toss the broccoli with the remaining olive oil and lay the stems on a baking tray; add the torn olives. Place the tray in the preheated oven and lightly roast the broccoli for 10 minutes – just until it starts to colour in patches. Remove from the oven to cool a wee bit.
5. Now it is just a matter of assembling. Into a large, wide serving bowl, toss the roasted broccoli and olives with the cooked quinoa, red pepper, tomatoes, watercress, the soaked onions, pumpkin seeds. Squeeze over the lemon and mix lightly with your hands, adding extra oil if you like. Lay on the pepperoncini: I do this rather than slicing it so those who don’t like them can easily fish them out.
Serve as is, or with selection of dips (such as hummus) and breads. A scoop of homemade red-skinned potato salad on the side would be nice, too. You could protein this up some more with the addition of cooked chicken; beans, lentils or chickpeas; more seeds; or grilled shrimp. This will keep for a day boxed up in the fridge, so keep a wee bit back for a bagged lunch. Or make more!
Miss R’s Special Bonus Track is My Silver Lining by First Aid Kit. Oh my days, I LOVE this song. I think it fits in quite well with the tone of this post too. Sorta.