In ancient times, the Greeks were known for their exquisite cuisine. Most famous for their puff pastry recipes, you can be sure that just about all puff pastry recipes from Mediterranean countries are of Greek origin. They ate pork from the oven, stuffed with apricots or plums, which by the way, was already eaten in Egypt thousands of years before our era. Also smoked fish, game dishes, ground peas, pine nuts and bulgur. This included all kinds of sauces, made from pomegranates, capers, apricots and herbs such as thyme and cardamom. They also knew mustard back then. In the Persian Empire, kings often brought a cook from Athens.
Much of our modern food is of American origin!
Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, courgettes and all kinds of beans came to Europe from the Americas with and after Columbus. Modern Mediterranean cuisine consists for at least 50% of these vegetables and because the Italians, Portuguese and Spanish were the first to come into contact with them, they are the cradle of today’s Mediterranean cuisine. Marco Polo got the pasta from China a little earlier – in the 13th century – and the Italians continued to fantasize with it. Rice was added in the 17th century and so modern cuisine was born.
It is striking that you see a lot of the same dishes from Morocco to Greece. They know syrup cakes, white bean soup, lentils and stuffed tomatoes in all these countries except Italy and the Iberian peninsula. At that time you still had the remnants of the Byzantine Empire, which was partly controlled by Venetians, who passed on the new eating habits and vegetables to the Greeks. They started inventing other things with it, which the Turks, who occupied the rest of Greece, passed on to the rest of the Ottoman empire that reached all the way to Algeria. They also passed it on to the Persians with Turkish and Arabic names of course and that is why many modern dishes in the Mediterranean regions often have the same name everywhere.
I want to take you through a few more ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine, which are really super healthy and sometimes even have healing properties. So you have sesame, which is used a lot, especially in the Balkans. Halva, for example, is made from ground sesame seeds and is full of magnesium, iron and phosphorus. It’s medicine for the liver. It also contains sugar syrup, so you should not eat too much of it. We usually eat it with yogurt (or cottage cheese). There are also sesame seeds on all kinds of cookies and bread. If you eat the wrong fats, you have intestinal leftovers and in that case you cannot tolerate seeds too well. But that’s why I already talked about the power of olive oil in the previous article !
In Greece and in the Middle East, they make tahini by crushing sesame seeds and doing a lot of more work. It is similar to peanut butter, but has a very different taste and you can make salads with it.
Pickled food for a strong intestinal flora
Pickled vegetables are also available in many Mediterranean countries. Toursí is the name in Greek and many other countries as well and they are a lot more sour than the European sweet and sour pickles or onions. Greek pickles are cucumbers in brine by the way. In the Netherlands they use pickles and that is not exactly the same as a mini cucumber. Pickled vegetables are very good for your gastro-intestinal tract. They untangle your entire gut, at least that’s how it feels. They dissolve your intestinal leftovers, put your digestive tracts to work and make you completely healthy and powerful.
Fresh coriander is also particularly good for your health. Coriander keeps your vitamin B12 level at the right level and therefore ensures that you do not suffer from allergies. If you want to use it for that purpose, it’s best to take it fresh. It is difficult to keep the plants alive in winter though, because they need a warm climate. Coriander can be chopped in your food, in salads or uncut in your drinking water together with lemon and lime slices.
Olives and capers also belong in this list. After all, they are also salty and acidic and ensure a good intestinal flora, just like pickled vegetables. This also includes feta: white sheep’s cheese. If you like a sandwich meal, you can eat olives, capers, feta, coriander and possibly a simple salad of cucumber, lettuce and tomato with that flat bread from the Mediterranean shop or with a bbaguette. You can safely eat white bread, as long as it does not contain that chemical bread enhancer like the bread from the supermarket, but brown or whole grain variants are of course good too. Keep in mind that the husks of the wheat remain in your small intestine like leftovers and you can get a lot of trouble with a food allergy by eating dark bread. But you will notice that automatically, because that allergy starts with a food intolerance so you can no longer eat anything healthy. Then you know what time it is and you can still use this article and the previous one to solve the problem.
More American vegetables
Just like tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, you can also fill zucchini with rice, herbs and optionally minced meat. You hollow them out, make a filling sauce and let them simmer in the oven. This is a very healthy dish that you can also make vegetarian and it is easy to digest. Children usually like it very much! Just don’t forget you do need some meat and fish to stay healthy. Being completely vegetarian let stand alone veganist is not healthy!
They also make tzatziki at home, a salad of yogurt, cucumber and garlic. You can eat it with everything and you can also use it as a sauce, as long as you know that it is actually a salad! There are many more salads like this that you can buy or make yourself. Such as aubergine salad for example, fish roe salad and small snacks such as fried shrimp or squid rings and so on. That way you always have something healthy at home that won’t make you fat and you don’t need to buy any ready-made food.
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Vegetarian food from the Mediterranean countries
There are also many vegetarian recipes in the countries around the Mediterranean. There is the famous Italian spaghetti with simple tomato sauce, but there are also many bean dishes. These are stews of different kinds of beans in fresh tomato sauce. I see I’ve already mentioned those in part I of this article, so I’ll move on to the lentils. Ordinary lentils, also called brown I believe or green, can be cooked with olive oil and water. Add a little onion, add a few cubes of potato and carrot and a few bay leaves and you have a nutritious dinner without meat with a lot of iron, vitamins B and B12. There is a similar dish, preferably fresh and different from the thick ones from the foreign shop: peas! It’s called arakás and you make it the same way, only with dill instead of bay leaf. Why don’t you get fat from all those peas on your plate? Because you eat bread and salad with it and therefore you do not eat a plate full of only peas. I almost forget the red lentils, which you can also cook with olive oil and fried onion. Furthermore, only salt and pepper and with a salad and bread a great hot meal with a lot of iron, vitamins B and B12.
Last but not least there is something in the south that has nothing to do with food, but is very healthy: a siesta! An afternoon nap is not only good for older people, but also for young people. The advantage is that you are fitter in the evening. In the northern countries you come out of work at 6 o’clock deadly tired and you still have to cook. Unless you have a partner who is at home and does that, of course, but not everyone has that advantage in life. The Mediterranean long afternoon breaks are not only healthy in the warm weather! In winter, people also rest after lunch and it is very good for your digestive system to rest for a while. It’s not without a reason that you feel somewhat drowsy after a hot meal! That’s because your bowels have to do a lot of work to digest your food. I know it really doesn’t fit into the daily routine here in the north, but I also see trends that people crave it and still try to take a break, despite their busy working schedules.
You can also easily hold your siesta after dinner. You can prepare or even cook dinner the night before, so that you can eat right away and then rest. Then you’ll be fitter to do other things afterwards and you won’t doze off at 9 o’clock. Half an hour of rest is enough for that. Running and rushing all day is not good for your health! An hour in the morning in a traffic jam, in the evening again and in between doing stressful work for 8 hours with only half an hour break demands a lot from your body. Don’t underestimate that and be kind to yourself.
I have one last comment: you may be wondering why many Mediterranean people still have stomach ulcers and are overweight sometimes. That is largely because they often put bouillon cubes in the food for better taste! Those things are full of MSG, monosodium glutamate, and if there’s one thing that makes you fat, it’s that. It also has an impossibly high amount of salt in it, which causes overweight. So if you want to flavour your food, it’s better to add some meat or the right seasoning. Celery helps very well for soups and the plant grows 12 months a year in your garden or on your balcony. Another reason why Mediterranean people get fat and sick sometimes is that they often put butter in their food in addition to olive oil, do sedentary work and drink too much alcohol. If you don’t move a lot on top of that, you will definitely get fat and sick, with whatever diet!
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