You can spot someone freshly vacationed from a mile away… Shoulders are at ease, they’ve got a glow that really brings out their rested eyes, and slight smile that looks as if it may never go away (yes, even amidst the madness at whole foods on Sunday evening).
I’ve been back from Greece for a few days now and I’m doing everything I can to hang on to a little of the joie de vivre they’ve got over there; the word Opa has managed to linger alongside my tan.
One of my favorite things about Greek culture is their relationship with food. Not only what they eat, but also how they eat. Meals are an event, enhanced by the company, and the energy at the table. The food is straightforward – nothing too complicated or over the top –the way they eat just makes sense. Pre-Atkins or Master cleanse there was a fad called the Medditerranean Diet – which was a plan inspired by the traditional eating habits of the Greek, and surrounding medditerainena locales. Their diet includes high consumption of fresh veggies, fruits, legumes, unrefined cereals and grains, and heart healthy doses of fresh (wild) fish and olive oil. There isn’t a a large presence of dairy, aside from yogurt and the occasional sprinkling of cheese –usually sheeps milk, which is thought to be easier on digestion than cows milk. It’s not just what they are eating but how they eat it. Rather than starting a meal with a basket full of empty calories like bread and butter, they usually start with hummus or tstataki and pita.
Traditionally hummus consists of chickpeas. Olive oil, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice –there are endless variations of the basic recipe that are delicious too. Chickpeas are low in fat, a great source of protein and high in fiber, which when consumed regularly helps your body regulate proper blood sugar and insulin levels – read: no spikes and crashes. It’s remarkable how starting a meal with something like that can change not only how you eat the rest of your food, but also how much you eat.
Another mainstay on the table is Tabouleh. Usually made with a mixture of green onions, tomato, parsley, mint, and bulger –a wheat kernel that has been cooked and smashed – that is tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Again, high in fiber and low in fat. Bulgur wheat is loaded with potassium, calcium and magnesium – in addition to being great for your heart its also contains properties that protect your internal organs from environmental toxins. * Gluten allergy?? Swap quinoa for the bulger.*
After the initial round of starters, main dishes like whole branzino, grilled swordfish , lamb or rabbit are placed in the center of the table alongside a variety of veggies or delicious sides like spanakopita or dolmas. You serve yourself on plates that would seem small by American standards – but make portion control a no brainer. By the end of the meal you’re full, but not in the same way you would be had you ordered 3 dishes for yourself.
I would love it if my tan and rested eyes stuck around for a while longer, but if anything lingers beyond my freshly vacationed state I hope it’s the magic of meal time that I was lucky enough to experience.
Below are a couple of my favorite Greek recipes that you can make at home, both traditional and some of my favorite variations.
2 cans of chickpeas, drained ( reserve some liquid to thin out the mixture later)
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice from 2 lemons
1 tablespoon of good olive oil
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1. Using a food processor fit with the metal blades, thoroughly mince the garlic until it is uniformly smooth. Then add the chickpeas, lemon juice tahini, salt and pepper. Add 2-4 tablespoons of the reserved chickpea liquid and the olive oil and continue mixing. Adjust seasonings and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.
Roasted Garlic Hummus
1. Swap out the 2 fresh garlic cloves with 3 roasted garlic cloves. Heat oven to 400.
2. Make a foil pouch and place 3 unpeeled garlic cloves inside, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Place the foil pouch on a baking dish and roast for 5-7 minutes. Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel back the skin of the garlic or simply squeeze it out with your fingers.
Black Bean Chipotle Hummus
1 ½ cans of chickpeas
½ can of black beans, rained and rinsed
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped green onions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1. Repeat same as above.