The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

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At the Market This Week: Desperado Chefs and Salade Niçoise Royale

MY FRIDAY MORNING RITUAL is to visit my neighborhood farmers’ market on West 97th Street, often with one friend or another who lives nearby. Today—because it was pouring rain of course—I decided to switch things up a bit and make the trek down to Union Square Greenmarket. I have to say the sights just made me feel like singin’ in the rain.
I was early enough to bump into (be run over by) chefs foraging for the day’s ingredients. You can learn a lot from how they eye the produce and then hone in on, say, the romano beans and buy four big bags of them. Plus perfect bunches of dandelion greens. You look at what they choose and see that, yes, it is at its peak of perfection that day, at that farm stand. (And as Mario Batali once pointed out—in encouraging people on all sorts of budgets to shop at farmers’ markets—when you buy a particular crop at its season’s peak, it’ll also be at its cheapest.)
One hyperfocused chef/cook (maybe he was running late and worried he’d miss out on a crucial ingredient) rushed into the Migliorelli Farm stand and said, “I want all your Tuscan kale, all of it. I’ll take all you have.” Now this is not a small farm stand, so that’s a big load of kale! Tuscan kale soup? Sautéed Tuscan kale? Maybe the menu will reveal all.
As usual, I bought enough beans and tomatoes and potatoes and greens to feed an army and give me a good upper body workout at the same time. With a lovely piece of Yellowfin Tuna from Mermaid’s Garden in my fridge, I have all the makings of a Salade Niçoise Royale, as Nancy Harmon Jenkins refers to the new-fangled version of this dish that includes tuna. In The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, she reminds us that traditionalists don’t include tuna, or even potatoes. I guess in this case I’m not a traditionalist.
On the way home, I stopped by Eataly to refuel with a latte and apricot croissant. It was just after opening hour and the place was amazingly calm. I relaxed for a while and then strolled through the store, spotting the frisée (above) I needed and hadn’t found at the market. That will be for a salad with golden beets. But more about that another day.  

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 3

These are the books I find myself turning to again and again, despite all the temptations on bookstore shelves. Chefs and scholars, cooks and storytellers, the authors are the perfect guides for anyone setting out to explore the Mediterranean diet. Perhaps someone you know?
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
My navigator and my anchor in all things Mediterranean. I like her common sense, her knowledge and perspective on the Mediterranean diet and her dishes. And she tells it all so beautifully.

by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
OK, so I try not to cook out of this book every night, but it’s hard to resist because the dishes are exciting—and doable—and Jenkins, chef-owner of Porchetta and the just-opened Porsena, writes intelligently so you’re always learning—about cooking, ingredients, culinary traditions—as you go along.
by Martha Rose Shulman
This Martha’s recipes were my early inspiration for a new (for me) Mediterranean way of eating. Thank god they’re now in a book so I can throw out my stained computer printouts from her online column—and keep wowing my guests with the cooking.
by Clifford A. Wright
An 800-page intellectual and culinary feast, indeed. If you like the stories of history—and good recipes to boot, this is the book for you. Wright was inspired to do his culinary study, in part, by Fernand Braudel’s landmark history of the Mediterranean. Now Wright inspires us.
by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner
Despite the famous photo of Batali with a string of sausages around his neck, in this book he shares lots of easy-to-make dishes starring vegetables and grains. I’ve especially enjoyed the salads and vegetable antipasti. Not a vegetarian cookbook, by any means, but we hear that’s coming next.
by Claudia Roden
Born and raised in Cairo, Roden shares recipes for tagines, eggplant dishes, mezze—all informed by her deep background in Middle Eastern cooking (her 1972 A Book of Middle Eastern Food was a groundbreaker) and the stories she has to tell.
So many cookbooks, so little time—I know I have so much more to explore. Do you have a favorite cookbook full of recipes for a Mediterranean diet? (With inspired ideas for vegetables and fruits, grains and legumes, and, of course, a great love of olive oil.) Let us know in the comments box below. Here’s what I plan to dig into next. Maybe you already have?
Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking 

In case you need other gift ideas with a Mediterranean flavor:
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 1
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday List, Part 2

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s not a diet as in “regimen to lose weight.”

It’s a diet in the sense of a customary pattern of eating—in this case, the traditional eating patterns of people living around the Mediterranean Sea.

Documented in the famous Seven Countries Study led by Ancel Keys, MD, in the 1960s, these eating habits (particularly in Crete) were found to have all sorts of health benefits that have been confirmed and expanded on in many subsequent scientific studies. (More about that later).

The word diet, in fact, comes from Greek diaita—literally, manner of living. That sums up the Mediterranean diet perfectly. The food pyramid devised by Oldways, a culinary think-tank that has played a central role in bringing the Med diet mainstream in this country, tells the story. 

Moving up from the base of the pyramid, here are the basics:  

Sit down to meals with others. Linger over them with friends and family. Dance a little (or a lot). Or walk, run, cycle…
Bring fresh vegetables to the center of your plate. Eat an abundance of plants—vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly whole), pulses (legumes like beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, fruit as daily dessert.
Substitute olive oil for other fats (margarine, butter) as your major fat.
Eat fish, seafood, poultry a couple of times a week (especially fish).
Add some every-other-day-or-so eggs, cheese and yogurt.
Eat red meat less often (a few times a month).
Drink wine with meals (in moderation—one or two glasses for men, one for women), unless it puts you at risk, of course.

You’ll find more details about the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid here.

Choose your flavor. If you take a look at a map of the Mediterranean—and the 15-plus countries along its shores—it’s not surprising that the Med diet expresses itself in all sorts of flavors and cuisines. 
The common patterns are there, yes, but they take on the character of many different lands and cultures—North African tagines and couscous, taboulleh and falafel from Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Greek mezes, Italian risotto, Provençal ratatouille and bouillabaisse, Catalan chickpea and chorizo stew. Clearly, the Mediterranean diet is no one set of dishes, but rather an approach to eating, adaptable to many different tastes and local produce—especially your own. That’s why your local farmers’ market is a good place to start!
One of the best introductions you could get to the Med diet is The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, first published in 1994. I have the revised and updated 2009 edition, which has a foreword by nutrition professor Marion Nestle and an appendix by two longtime researchers on the link between diet and health. Jenkins is a great storyteller and cook. She’s lived and worked in Mediterranean countries for years, and so she brings to life the culture—and shares the recipes—of this world. But her common-sense approach makes it work for this North American cook, too. 


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