Mediterranean diet brims with goodness

March 19, 1997|By Elizabeth Hiser | Elizabeth Hiser,EATING WELL

There's something magical about the Mediterranean.

A mystique seems to pervade the golden sunshine, the salty sea air and, especially, the food. The way the Mediterranean diet fuses flavor and health seems almost too good to be true. Throughout the 16 countries that border the Mediterranean, death rates from heart disease are half to one-third that of northern Europe or the U.S. And according to a recent study in Lyon, France, there was a 76 percent reduction in heart attacks and related complications in heart patients who followed a Mediterranean diet compared with those who ate the American Heart Association diet.

Actually, there's nothing supernatural about the power of Mediterranean food. The Lyon study suggests that Mediterraneans owe their good health to a combination of a few simple ingredients: lots of grains, ample fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, some nuts, olive oil and a little wine. And as more and more research shows, each component contributes its own specific disease-fighting characteristics.

Best of all, it's easy to incorporate these ingredients into a real-world lifestyle; the key elements of the Mediterranean diet are all readily available here in the United States.

The ingredients at the heart of the Mediterranean diet offer endless possibilities for creative cooks. The recipes here, by Ruth Cousineau, illustrate this diversity in easy main-course dishes for any night of the week.

Sweet-and-sour barley-bean stew

Makes 6 cups, for 4 servings

2/3 cup pearl barley

1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, slivered

1 clove garlic, minced

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus whole leaves for garnish

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons mild honey

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook barley until al dente, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place eggplant in a large colander and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water and squeeze firmly to remove excess moisture.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until beginning to color, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in prepared eggplant, tomatoes, 2 tablespoons basil, lemon juice and honey. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until eggplant is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in reserved barley and beans and heat for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons chopped basil. Serve hot, garnished with whole basil leaves. (The stew can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.)

Per serving: 425 calories, 16 g protein, 4 g fat, 86 g carbohydrate; 720 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 16 g fiber.

Lentil and bulgur pilaf with squash

Makes 8 cups, for 6 servings

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, defatted

1 cup bulgur, medium- or coarse-grain

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

1 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

lemon wedges for garnish

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine broth, bulgur, lentils, onion, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, allspice and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until liquid is absorbed and bulgur and lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Remove pilaf from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash, garlic and lemon zest; saute for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir into pilaf. Serve hot, with lemon wedges.

Per serving: 250 calories, 13 g protein, 3 g fat, 43 g carbohydrate; 740 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 10 g fiber.

Chicken and farfalle with walnut sauce

Makes 8 cups, for 4 servings

2/3 cup walnuts

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, defatted

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat

1 teaspoon walnut or olive oil

1/2 pound dried farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

2 cups broccoli florets

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a blender, combine walnuts, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cayenne and pulse until finely chopped. Add broth, parsley, cilantro and lemon juice and blend until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. In a small nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until well browned and no longer pink inside, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Slice into thin, diagonal slices and place in a large serving bowl. Toss with reserved walnut sauce.

Boil farfalle for 12 minutes. Add broccoli and bell peppers and cook until pasta is al dente and vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes more. Drain well, transfer to bowl with chicken and toss to coat. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Per serving: 435 calories, 27 g protein, 15 g fat, 49 g carbohydrate; 385 mg sodium; 37 mg cholesterol; 3 g fiber.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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