The Mediterranean Diet: Plant-based with a little meat on the side!

Quite possibly many people have grown up with meat being the foundation of their meals and just a little bit of greenery on the side.

For some it may have been bangers with mash and maybe a serve of beans or peas; for others it could have been roast lamb, lots of potatoes and a little broccoli. And as I write this, I can hear my son in laws cheering for the concept of consuming lots of meat morning, noon and night!

It’s interesting though how as you get older, the desire for lots of meat seems to wane and having more vegetables and salads becomes a priority not only for health, but also for taste.

And with research studies coming through advising us to cut down on red meat consumption because of the link between red meat and bowel cancer, a plant-based diet is very appealing to me!

But not all is lost meat-lovers, apparently marinating your meat in olive oil and lemon causes a chemistry change on the outside therefore makes it less likely to produce any toxic compounds! 

How fabulous is that? I’m super excited because in our way of cooking, we always marinate everything!! Lemon and oil or vinegar and oil, is like salt and pepper… you add it wherever you can! Salads, meats, pastas, even our yummy cakes!

But wait there’s more!!

Recent research suggests, when you pair your meat with starches such as beans, legumes, wholegrains and seeds, because of the high-fibre content, it helps lessen the amount of time the meat makes contact with the bowel wall and reduces the risk of bowel cancer.

What I am hearing or reading is that increasing our consumption of vegetables, which have lots of fibre like legumes, can help against bowel cancer.

Bowel Cancer Australia encourages people to increase their physical activity and consume food with dietary fibre to reduce our bowel cancer risk.

Okay…so now what?

This is where the Mediterranean diet comes in to play. There are so many fabulous dishes to choose from and your problem is not what should you cook; it’s going to be how do I choose from this wonderful and vast cuisine!

Well, my advice to you is start easy.

For example, marinate your chicken or lamb or even better some barramundi or salmon in oil, lemon and dried herbs and while that’s doing its thing – cut up a fresh Greek salad, dress it with lemon, olive oil and salt and you are good to go! It won’t take too long and it isn’t too hard to do! Woohoo! There’s your first idea!

Go a little deeper and layer some vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, capsicum and red onion in a tray with tomato passata, herbs and a dash of oil in between the layers and bake. This time prepare a Lebanese salad called Fattoush. This consists of shredded lettuce, cubed cucumber, spring onions, fresh herbs and toasted pita bread broken into small pieces. Dress it with olive oil, lemon and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Another fabulous idea!

And here’s another handy hint to help you along your new pathway!

Cut up all your vegetables and place them in sealed containers with a layer of kitchen paper on the bottom to absorb the moisture and you will be ready to cook up a storm when you arrive home and are pressed for time. Not only is this great organization but it also helps to keep you focused and use up all your vegetables before needing to purchase some more! Minimising wastage right there!

You know we don’t need to be extreme and turn our lives upside down and scare our families. Step by step, and a little at a time and before you know it, plant-based foods will be the foundation of every meal and you will hardly have noticed the change over! And don’t forget, drinking lots of water and increasing your physical activity is going to help in your pursuit of a healthier and happier lifestyle.

My recently published and released cookbook, In Sofia’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Flavours Down Under is filled with fabulous recipes, it’s family friendly and easy to follow. Check it out on my website – www.insofiaskitchen.com.au/store.

And just to tie you over…here is a favourite recipe of mine adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Tami Tamimi.

 

Fish in Chraimeh Sauce.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

¼ cup plain flour

1 kg salmon or barramundi

½ cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon caraway seeds, toasted and freshly ground

2 teaspoons ground cumin

pinch of cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 Jalapeno, coarsely chopped

2/3 cup water

¼ cup tomato paste

1 lemon, cut into wedges

juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup freshly cut coriander

salt & pepper, to taste

Method

1. Place flour in a shallow bowl and coat fish pieces. Season.

2. In a large frypan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat and sear fish for a minute or two on each side. Remove fish and wipe pan clean with kitchen paper towels.

3. Add garlic, spices, jalapeno and a couple more tablespoons of oil in food processor and blend until a thick paste is formed.

4. In pan, heat rest of oil on medium, add paste. Stir and fry for just under a minute, without burning spices. Gently add water and tomato paste, bringing to a gentle simmer. Add lemon juice and season.

5. Place fish in the sauce, covering pan and cook for 8-10 minutes or until just cooked through. Once cooked, remove pan from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes.

6. Add coriander and lemon wedges and enjoy.