Food and Diet: Ancient Greece vs. Modern Greece

September 28, 2012 15 Comments

When you live in Greece you are reminded everyday of the history of this land. Not only by the ancient temples and ruins scattered all over the country, but by almost all aspects of the culture here; language, music, art and of course the food.

A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation about the continuity of Greek cuisine from antiquity to the present. While doing research I came across four excellent books (they are cited at the end of this post) and I wanted to share some interesting facts (as far as we know) about the food and food culture of the ancient Greeks and the similarities with today’s Greeks. Read more »

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Simple Mediterranean Sardine Spread

September 18, 2012 4 Comments

I’ve been mentioning and posting quite a few photos of sardines these past few weeks on the Olive Tomato facebook page, grilled or marinated these are great little fishes. And while they are super-healthy and tasty, what can you do if fresh sardines are not available or you just don’t really cook fish? Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, canned sardines are just as fine.

A simple recipe that you can make at home is a spread that is an alternative to the traditional tuna salad. You can spread on bread for a sandwich or as I did here on little pieces of whole wheat bread topped with a slice of cherry tomato for a tasty but healthy appetizer.

There are versions with cream cheese or mayonnaise, I use Greek style yogurt (strained) instead, to give the creamy texture but without all the fat.

Try and choose sardines canned in olive oil rather than some generic vegetable oil. Read more »

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Fish oil supplements may not be the answer, but fish is. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: One of the secrets of the Greek-Mediterranean Diet.

September 14, 2012 3 Comments

A recent study or actually an analysis of previous studies showed that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements (fish oil supplements) did not lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.

However, that does not mean that fish or omega-3 fatty acids are not protective. The researchers (which happened to be Greek) studied supplements, not food. I am just clarifying, as many media outlets are saying that fish in general do not do anything.

Of course, the supplement industry was quick to react saying that study was flawed, but even if it is not clear if the supplement form of fish oils is effective, we know that getting nutrients from foods-not supplements is what is associated with all the health benefits we keep hearing about, whether that is Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins or antioxidants.

And that’s what the Mediterranean diet is all about; time and time again studies show that the combination of foods will result in protection from chronic disease and not individual nutrients. There is an interaction among the different components of a meal or a food that cannot be replicated in a supplement. Read more »

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Tomato Paste, a Mediterranean Staple and Why You Should Use It

September 11, 2012 2 Comments

In my mother’s descriptions of my grandmother’s cooking and her own, one ingredient would come up that seemed odd to me: tomato paste. I would wonder: why would you use all these fresh ingredients and then add a canned tomato product?

Well, in the olden days it served a purpose: it was used as a substitute for tomatoes, when fresh ones were not available. Tomato paste was made at home as a way to preserve tomatoes to use during the winter. I read somewhere that tomato paste originated in Italy and and then its use spread across other areas of the Mediterranean, which makes perfect sense considering how important tomato is in the Mediterranean cuisine.

My mother remembers as a little girl in the 50’s, going to the local deli (in Greece) and getting 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff on a piece of wax paper so her mother could use it for cooking. What did they do with it? Well they made the known kokkinista, which translates as the “red ones”. These are dishes either made with tomatoes or tomato paste, hence the name referring to the redness.The tomato paste along with olive oil is warmed up (or almost sautéed) in a pot or pan, and the vegetables or meat are added and cooked. Of course it is also used in pasta and sauces and basically when you want to give a little color or added flavor. Read more »

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Caponata, a Real Sicilian Appetizer

September 7, 2012 1 Comment

Ok, I promise this is the last eggplant recipe I will be sharing this year. But seriously you cannot talk about eggplant and not mention this delicious, not to mention healthy Sicilian dish. Eggplant is probably the most popular vegetable in Sicilian cuisine and when you cook it in olive oil along with tomato, onion, olives, capers, celery and a bit of sugar it makes an ideal accompaniment to good hearty bread and some red wine. Once again a typical Mediterranean dish that makes you want to eat a bunch of vegetables.

Apart from the fiber that you’ll be getting from the eggplant and tomato, you also will get plenty of antioxidants from the eggplant, tomato, oregano, onion and the olive oil. Well, actually almost every single ingredient is a source of antioxidants.

I’ve tried several recipes and this is a combination of a few of them that had the best results. Read more »

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Briami (The Greek Ratatouille)

August 30, 2012 7 Comments

I don’t like to describe a dish using the name of a dish of another culture, but if you ask someone (who is not Greek) what briami is they willl probably just give you a blank look. If you ask them what ratatouille is, well… there are more possibilities that they will know that it’s not just a cartoon.

So today is briami or briam day. This is another summer favorite, although I have to admit, I also make it during other seasons without eggplant. Briami is basically chunks of vegetables cooked in olive oil, and it belongs to the lathera family. But you don’t just add any vegetable you want, there are certain vegetables that make up briami: potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onion, tomato, sometimes okra and bell pepper. You can make briami in a pot just like you would make ….let’s say fasolakia lathera (green beans with tomato and olive oil), or in the oven which is how I like it. With the roasted version, the vegetables become crispy and in combination with feta cheese and a fresh bread, this is a perfect meal. Read more »

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Chios Mastiha: A very special Greek ingredient

August 27, 2012 3 Comments

Last week the summer forest fires ravaged many areas of Greece including the island of Chios. Chios is home to mastiha also known as mastic and unfortunately the fires destroyed almost 30% of the rare and difficult to cultivate, mastiha trees. But why is mastiha so special?

Mastiha is basically resin from the mastiha trees and appears in drops (see photo). While these mastiha trees may grow in other areas in the Mediterranean and produce resin, only the Chios trees produce the mastiha “tears” that have the characteristic aroma, taste and health benefits. Mastiha from Chios also is a P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) product, which means that its name (and reputation) is protected and only mastiha from Chios can carry this name. Read more »

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