G is for Greek: the Mediterranean Diet Part Two

Greek saladEating a diet with a higher ‘Mediterranean diet’ score reduces the risk of further heart problems in those with established (but stable) coronary heart disease, according to a new study, writes HS guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The research covered 15,482 people in 39 countries. In lifestyle questionnaires, they were also scored on their consumption of a ‘Western diet’ (refined grains, deep fried foods, sweets and desserts, sugary drinks). Surprisingly, perhaps, the study showed no link between the Western diet and the risk of further heart problems. This finding led lead researcher Ralph Stewart of the University of Auckland to comment. “The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart problems to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods.”

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – France, Spain, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

Greek olives
Restaurant and ready meals from the Mediterranean countries are, of course, readily available in the UK. But how healthy are they? Think greasy kebabs, pizzas with thick crusts stuffed with cheese….

So, I’m going to visit each of the four Mediterranean countries and come up with three new healthy recipes for any of you that want to start (or continue with) the Mediterranean diet. And I’ll include a new piece of research with each one. This week we are in Greece.
Extra protein hummus

Add some texture with the chick peas, and protein with the nut butter.

Serves 4–6 (and keeps for up to a week)

400g tin of chick peas
200g tub of your favourite/high-quality hummus
Two tbsp. nut butter (look out for mixed nut/seed butters and butters with different nuts – I used mixed peanut, almond and cashews but there are lots of other options)
Flaxseed/olive/rapeseed oil – whatever high-quality oil you like
Lemon juice
Garlic cloves, crushed

Mash the drained chick peas and then mix with the hummus and nut butter to make a smooth paste. Add oil, lemon juice and garlic to taste. Serve with crudites, pitta bread and my special Greek salad. Add the falafels (recipe below) for a Greek feast!

Special Greek salad

I’ve added some healthy pomegranate seeds and chunks of watermelon for sweetness and texture to this classic Greek salad.

Serves 4 and keeps well

100g pomegranate seeds
Quarter watermelon, cut into chunks
Half cucumber, chopped
One or two chopped red onions
Bag or bunch of watercress
Handful of pumpkin/sunflower seeds
220g cherry tomatoes, halved
200g mixed olives
200g barrel-aged feta cheese, cut into chunks
Cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Flaxseed or olive oil
Fresh chopped herbs

Mix main ingredients in a big bowl and toss with oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Dress with herbs.

Baked falafels

I like the idea of baking falafels rather than deep or shallow frying them. First, I’ll confess I’m not good at frying stuff – I tend to over or underdo it! Second, baked has fewer calories than fried. This is a good chance to experiment with different herbs and spices in the falafel mix (I noticed the Moroccan spices hadn’t had an outing for a while).

Makes 16

One small onion, finely chopped
One garlic clove, crushed
400g can chickpeas
Two tsp ground cumin
One tsp sumac
One tsp ras el hanout
One tbsp finely chopped mint
One beaten egg, beaten

Fry the onion in the oil till softened and then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes (watch that the garlic doesn’t go too dark). Remove from heat. Cool and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drain the chickpeas and add to the onions and garlic. Mash up the mixture to a rough paste. Add the herbs and spices (plus salt and pepper to taste, if you like). Now mix in the egg. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and shape into falafel-size balls on a baking tray. At this stage, pop the falafels in the fridge for a bit and heat the oven to 200C. Then bake for 25 minutes, till brown and crisp and golden-brown, turning from time to time.

Coming next: S is for Spanish

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