The Mediterranean and its many delicacies
Grilled prawns, spaghetti aglio e olio, bruschetta, olives and feta are just a few of the array of exquisite foods that originate in the Mediterranean region. Think of countries like Spain, Greece or Italy, and it’s not just languid summer days that come to mind. Your mind will soon wander to the sights, smells and tastes of dishes that are so redolent of Mediterranean cuisine. This article sets out which foods these are and why Mediterranean cooking is so very healthy. And it goes without saying that we’ll be serving up a couple of mouthwatering Mediterranean recipes for your Monsieur Cuisine.
What is Mediterranean cooking?
Essentially, all the countries that border the Mediterranean contribute their very own cooking traditions to what we collectively term as ‘Mediterranean cooking’. Europeans will tend to think immediately of Italy, Portugal, Greece and Croatia, but we shouldn't forget that North African countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are part of the region, too.
Every country has its own signature specialities: just think of Spanish tapas, Italian pizza, Greek olives or Portuguese bacalhau :-). That said, there are certain foods that appear in kitchens across the entire region.
- all sorts of fruit and vegetables, e.g. aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes and courgettes
- olives and olive oil
- plenty of pulses, e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas
- fish and seafood
- all manner of herbs, e.g. rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage
- pasta, rice and white bread
- garlic and onions
- good wine ;-)
In recognition of what makes the cuisine of this region so special, it was named an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO in 2010. This came about following a proposal by Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco. In 2013, the designation was extended to Cyprus, Croatia and Portugal. Other countries around the Mediterranean are bound to join them in the near future.
What makes the Mediterranean diet so healthy?
Vegetables, fruit, vegetables, fruit, vegetables, olive oil ... Vast quantities of such produce feature in Mediterranean cuisine; indeed, they make an appearance in almost every dish. That’s one reason why this diet is so healthy. Among their many qualities, tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines and peaches are low in calories but fill you up. Best of all, they supply your body with vitamins, secondary plant compounds and minerals.
Another reason this cuisine is considered so healthy is that it uses lots of plant-based fats like olive oil. Butter and other animal fats don’t make much of an appearance. Your cardiovascular system and cholesterol levels benefit from the high-quality fatty acids found in olive oil.
Meat is eaten less often than elsewhere, too: meat consumption in the Mediterranean region is far lower than in parts of northern Europe like the UK or Germany. Fresh fish and seafood are far more popular. Pulses like beans or lentils are eaten instead of animal proteins.
Of course, there are also high-calorie foods like pasta, pizza, white bread and dairy products like feta and mozzarella, and these are no less iconic when it comes to Mediterranean cuisine. It’s just that people don’t consider spaghetti Bolognese everyday fare. The healthiness of this cuisine often comes down to the way that different foods are combined.
Lots of fruit & veg, fish and seafood
Some dairy produce and a little rice, pasta and bread.
Lots of pulses, herbs and nuts. Very little meat, but lots of olive oil.
The main components of the Mediterranean diet are positively bursting with good stuff:
- Fresh fruit & veg provide vitamins (A, B, C), zinc, magnesium and micronutrients. The more colourful the variety of fruit and veg on your plate, the more vitamins, minerals and secondary phytochemicals you’ll be ingesting.
- Pulses supply your body with valuable plant proteins and complex carbohydrates like fibre. They stimulate digestion, reduce the risk of intestinal diseases and prevent obesity.
- Herbs not only smell amazing, but also stimulate the metabolism, promote digestion and reduce inflammation. Garlic has an antibacterial effect and prevents your body from storing cholesterol. Dishes with lots of herbs also tend to need less salt.
- Fish gives you top-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and zinc. These protect against inflammation, strengthen the immune system and improve brain function.
- Olive oil provides mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids. It improves the flow properties of blood, lowers blood pressure and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Of course, we don’t eat food for its health properties alone. Taking time to savour and enjoy a meal together is an indispensable part of the Mediterranean approach to food. The odd glass of wine doesn’t hurt, either. Feeling content, unhurried, relaxed and without a shred of guilt does your body good in its own way.
With that in mind, have fun cooking with your Monsieur Cuisine and enjoying the results!