Mediterranean food and the Mediterranean diet is recognised around the world. The Mediterranean itself can be divided into different regions:
- North Africa: Morocco
- Eastern Mediterranean: Egypt, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey
- Southern European countries: Italy, France and Spain
A typical Mediterranean diet consists of grains, vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts, plenty of fish, but very little meat and olive oil as their main source of fat. There is great diversity between the different Mediterranean countries and their culinary traditions; there are also a number of similarities in ingredients, dishes and styles found. This could be a reflection of the shared climate and produce throughout the Mediterranean.
It has long been accepted that the Mediterranean diet is the model of healthy eating. This has also been reflected in health statistics, Nationmaster statistics reports that in the UK , 122 people per 100,000 die of heart disease each year, while in many Mediterranean countries it is about half this amount.
Morocco is said to provide a doorway in food between Africa and Europe . Moroccan cooking is characterized by rich spices. Differing to other Mediterranean countries, Lamb is a principal meat; Moroccan roasted lamb is cooked until it is tender enough to be pulled apart and eaten with the fingers. It is often topped with raisin and onion sauces or apricot puree.
Couscous is the North African staple, it is hard wheat ground down, moistened and coated with fine flour often flavoured with dried or fresh fruit or vegetables. This is a common trend amongst many Moroccan dishes, enhancing savoury foods with sweet flavours. Another such example is pickled lemons, which are used to bring a unique twist to many Moroccan chicken and pigeon dishes. Commonly amongst many Mediterranean countries, nuts are often used and appear in many dishes and are also recognised for their health benefits.
Eastern Mediterranean Food
Eastern Mediterranean food found in Egypt , Greece Israel, Lebanon , Syria , and Turkey is always prepared in a way that is mild and fresh. Distinctive flavours of the region include pomegranate sauces, pepper spreads, walnut flour (particularly in Syria diet), ground pistachios and mint. Yogurt and white cheese like feta, halloumi, or the Israeli lebanah, are commonly used in soups and sauces or eaten alone with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers. Olives and olive oil are pervasive and vary greatly across the different regions in both flavour and scent. Chickpeas, fava beans, and lentils are also found in soups and stews.
They are also widely available in the UK for home and restaurant cooking. Kibbeh, which takes a slightly different name in each country, is a stuffed, oval-shaped meatball. It has a shell made out of bulgar wheat and its stuffing is seasoned ground meat. Kibbeh is often deep-fried. It is also cooked in yogurt, boiled as a dumpling in soups, steamed, pan-fried, and even eaten raw.
There are many variations of kibbeh, but the classic is made with lamb. Kebabs, which are marinated meats, fish, and vegetables, cooked on a skewer over an open flame, are another well-known preparation. Kufta (seasoned ground meat), is also cooked on a skewer. The kufta kebab is then served over rice, vegetables, or in pita bread with yogurt and tahini sauce.
Southern European Food
The Southern European countries, including Italy, France and Spain use wine and herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, bay laurel, parsley, and sage) to flavour their food, as opposed to the spices used in North African cooking. Tomatoes and garlic are used in many dishes in this region and are both recognised for their health-giving properties. Other distinctive flavours include saffron, mustard, anise, capers, olives, anchovies, and pine nuts. Food is savoury, and not sweet, and unlike North African cooking, fruits are rarely used when cooking a main course.
Seafood is a central part of the diet. Shellfish and squid are lightly enhanced by lemon juice and olive oil, or simmered into tomato-rich stews and topped with a crusty crouton or a spoonful of pungent aioli (garlic-infused mayonnaise). Pork is a main part of Southern European cuisine as pork animals are easy to raise on the land.
Adopting a Mediterranean Diet
A recent diet study in ‘Now’ Magazine reported that the Mediterranean diet has been proven to increase weight loss, more than doubling the amount of pounds lost by dieters. The research compared low fat diets, low carbohydrate diets and Mediterranean diets. Those on the latter lost 60 percent more weight.
To adopt a Mediterranean diet, you could restrict calorie intake to 1,500 per day. Eat lots of oily fish, some chicken but little red meat and dairy. Accompany meals with Mediterranean vegetables including peppers and aubergine and onion. Use olive oil and olive spreads recognised for its health benefits.
Swap potatoes for brown rice and pulses to maintain energy levels in a healthier, more nutritionally balanced way. Many of the Mediterranean ingredients including various varieties of couscous, olive oils and many of the fish and herbs are available in the UK and often feature in restaurant menus.