I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Diets just ain’t my thang. As the saying goes, rules are meant to be broken. If you decide to follow a diet with strict guidelines, more than likely, you’ll do a better job finding the loopholes than following the actual diet. On your fat free diet, you pass on French fries, only to binge on fat free cookies and jelly beans. You decide to take the Atkins approach, until your portions of meat start to look like Fred Flintstones. Okay, so it wasn’t the carbs, but rather the gluten. Pretty soon, you’re spending your life savings to fuel your addiction to gluten-free pretzels and gluten-free cookies, all made with refined gluten-free flour of course.
Always extra-virgin. Used as both a cooking fat but also a flavoring ingredient. Olive oil is often used as a substitute for butter in both baking and for dipping bread.
Flavored Olive Oil
Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
Spanish Mashed Potatoes with Olive Oil
The Olive Garden version of the Mediterranean diet may be based on white pasta and all you can eat breadsticks, but real Mediterranean cuisine is rich in whole grains. Although now most bread and pasta is made from refined flours, traditionally, whole grain flour was used. Despite the increase in refined flour, many other whole grains have a starring role in Mediterranean cuisine including faro, barley, brown rice, bulgur and polenta. Whole grains are often tossed with other flavorful ingredients, like aromatic vegetables, spices, herbs, dried fruit, and of course, olive oil. Grains are often served as a side dish, stuffed into peppers or eggplant, or in a stew.
Naturally, being located on the Mediterranean sea, fish and other seafood is consumed regularly in Mediterrean cuisine, at least twice a week. Oily fish, with their higher omega 3 content, are preferred. Most frequently, fish is grilled, stewed or roasted. If they fry it, generally it’s a light pan fry with a thin, flour crust.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts are seeds may be used as a snack, but more commonly, as an ingredient in cooking. Nuts may be mixed into pilaf or salads. Nuts are also used to thicken sauces. The most popular nuts in the Mediterranean diet are pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios.
Bean are a daily staple, not only as a side dish but also as the protein food in meals. Common beans include chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils and my personal favorite, gigantes beans, which I know my brother wants to bring me back a huge bag of from Italy for my Christmas stocking (hint hint). Beans are often pureed into dips, like hummus or cooked with other vegetables in a casserole, stew or soup, as in the recipe I’m sharing today.
- ½ lb (a rounded cup) dried giant lima beans
- 1½ quarts water (10 cups for those of you who can never remember conversions, aka me)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 onion, peeled and halved 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 10-ounce bags frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess water
- 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 leek, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ½ cup chopped dill
- 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- ½ cup chopped kalamata olives
- Combine the beans, water, bay leaf, onion, and garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes. Add salt, and simmer about 15 more minutes until al dente - tender, but firm in the middle. Remove from heat. Using tongs, remove the bay leaf and onion. Leave the garlic in. Place a strainer over a large bowl and drain the beans, collecting the bean broth in the bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot. Add the leek and scallions, cooking until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the spinach, parsley, dill, half the tomato puree, 2 cups of bean broth and half of the olives. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in another tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the remaining tomato puree over the top and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the remaining olives. Cover and place in the oven.
- Bake 1-2 hours (I baked mine about an hour and fifteen minutes) until creamy, but not falling apart. Add a little more bean broth if it dries out too much - you want it casseroley not soupy or stewy.
- Remove from oven and serve with a crusty, whole grain bread for wiping the bowl clean.