Hey, sunshine!

It may be winter outside, but here in the Appetite kitchen, we’re soaking up the Mediterranean diet. Jane Pikett serves up sunshine on a plate

Are you still juicing? Souping? Paleoing? Fasting? Really?

The world of dieting is one of fads and fancies, but one far more achievable – and enjoyable – lifestyle is back in favour, a good 25 years after it came into vogue as the key to a longer, healthier life. The Mediterranean diet has been named 2019’s best overall diet in rankings announced by the US News and World Report – an annual analysis which this year studied 41 eating plans.

This diet, which is high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre has long been credited with reducing the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, depression and some cancers. It’s also delicious – but what does it actually contain?

Plant power
The Mediterraneans eat significantly less meat and dairy than we do. Their dishes are high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. Meat is eaten, but portions are significantly smaller than we are used to, taking equal or lesser billing to the rest. Fish and chicken – lean sources of protein – are served, but again in smaller portions than we have come to expect. Ditto eggs and dairy. Even best Greek feta is taken in more moderation than you might imagine.

Good fat
Olive oil, olive oil, and more olive oil… Apart from baking, forget butter in Mediterranean cooking. In this diet, olive oil is all, hence most dishes are based on vegetables and or grains and lots of oil. The intake of vegetables is so high, it is said that the oil is essential in making them digestible. Rich in monosaturated fatty acids (that means it’s good for you), use olive oil in everything, experimenting by using it in dishes where you would habitually add butter. You can drizzle it on finished dishes for flavour and use it instead of butter in mashed potatoes, pasta etc.

Whole grains
The ‘whole’ in whole grains refers to those in their whole form, rather than refined. Quinoa is versatile and satisfying, barley is a fibre-filled soup and stew staple, and whole grain rice and pasta are way better for you than the refined types. All are key components of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

In the red
The vibrancy of the Mediterranean diet is typified by shades of red, orange and yellow. These colours come from the generous portions of vibrant tomatoes and bell peppers used in dishes which form the mainstay of the lifestyle. The tomatoes and peppers we can source here are nothing like the juicy beauties you can buy over there, but you can draw out masses of flavour by pre-roasting all your sauce/base ingredients. Get into the habit of roasting a big tray of tomatoes, onion, garlic, red/orange/yellow peppers with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil to use in dishes over the following days. Whiz together in a food processor and use as a base in soups, stews and sauces, adjusting quantities, consistency and herbs as per the dish. Cook this base mix out with stock and lentils for a fantastic Bolognese sauce – no meat required.

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