May used to be “National Mediterranean Diet month” but what a great idea to make it the “International Mediterranean Diet Month”! This campaign was created in 2009 by Oldways (a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, known for the introduction of the Med Diet Food Pyramid in the U.S) and the Mediterranean Food Alliance to promote delicious foods and the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
It doesn´t matter where in the world you live, you can always have a Mediterranean way of eating and living. The Med diet came out of the combination of different cultures that lived around the Mediterranean Sea and it remains to be dynamic and vital. In my country, Argentina, because of the massive immigration from Europe during and after the World Wars, we have a huge cultural influence from the Mediterranean. But, I have to say, it got mixed with the gaucho heritage of beef. Many families gather around to eat pasta one Sunday (very Italian) and “asado” (Argentine barbecue) the other Sunday. Italians introduced lots of pasta dishes and also the pasta industry in Argentina. From them we also learn how to enjoy food and to take the time to share meals with family. My dad, who is Italian, taught me how to plant herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and others in the backyard. The Mediterranean Diet is a valuable piece of cultural heritage that from simplicity and variety has resulted in a complete and balanced combination of foods, known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Fresh and local ingredients (like olive oil, legumes, lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts), cooking methods, shared meals, celebrations and moderate physical activity makes this lifestyle one of the healthiest in the world. In my country (as in many others), to eat Mediterranean way we have some work to do… for example, we need to eat more legumes and fish and less red meat.
Check International Mediterranean Diet Month for more information and resources. This year they organized a virtual dinner party: people from around the world can share photos of themselves enjoying Mediterranean dishes at home or at restaurants and win prizes!
To start, here you have the 8 basic tenets of the Mediterranean diet from Olways:
1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes topped with crumbled feta cheese to healthy pizzas, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes of the Mediterranean Diet. The recommendation is to fill half your plate with them.
2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, add small strips of sirloin to a vegetable sauté, or garnish a dish of pasta with diced prosciutto. As a main course, eat 3 ounces or less of chicken or lean meat.
3. Always eat breakfast. Start your day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains that can keep you feeling pleasantly full for hours. Layer granola, yogurt, and fruit, or mash half an avocado with a fork and spread it on a slice of whole grain toast.
4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Now, try two nights per week.
6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados.
7. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Save sweets like cookies and ice cream for a special treat.
And here is my Mediterranean recipe (modified from my mom´s recipe):
Spinach and ricota cannelloni (Developed by Romina Barritta Defranchi)
For the crepes:
1 cup low fat milk
½ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
1 teaspoon butter
For the filling:
1 or 2 bunches of fresh spinach (about 1 lb), stemmed and washed
2 cups of low fat ricotta
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 ½ cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F
1. Cook the spinach in boiling water until just wilted. Drain and cool.
2. Meanwhile make the crepe batter by mixing the low fat milk, egg, flour and salt with a whisk, until smooth.
3. Heat an 8 inches non-stick pan over medium high heat. Melt the butter in the pan and pour about ¼ cup of batter into the pan with one hand, and with the opposite hand, swirl the pan until the batter coats the bottom of the pan. Cook the crepe until patchy light brown on the bottom, about 20- 30 seconds. Loosen the edges of the crepe, flip it to the other side and cook until golden brown, about 15 seconds. Remove the crepe and keep cooking the rest of the batter.
4. To make the filling, squeeze up spinach moisture very well and finely chop. Combine spinach with the ricotta, egg, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
5. To assembly, spread half of the tomato sauce on a gratin dish. Spoon some filling (about 2 tablespoons) in the middle of the crepe, roll up and transfer to the gratin dish (do not overlap; cannelloni are baked on a single layer). Ladle the rest of the tomato sauce and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until bubbling. Let rest a few minutes and serve with extra parmesan cheese and/or sauce if desired.
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