Mediterranean Food: A Beginner’s Guide

The Mediterranean Sea helped the first great
civilizations blossom. It was (and still is) the trading route that
bound together West Asia, Southern Europe, and North Africa. Across its waters, ships carried spices, recipes,
and cooking techniques from one land to another. Despite this connection, it seems a little
silly to lump the cuisines of Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt… Greece, Israel, Turkey, and all these other
countries under the umbrella term “Mediterranean Food.” It’s sort of like using “superstar athlete”
to describe Serena Williams, Lebron James, and the best recycling-bin three-point shooter
in the office. The Mediterranean’s sunny, equatorial climate
makes for some common ingredients, but each of these countries boasts its own distinct
cuisine. In the restaurant world though,the term “Mediterranean
food” has come to mean a cuisine that borrows mainly from southeastern countries, such as
Greece, Turkey, and Israel. Their menus tend to be defined by fruits and
vegetables: grape leaves, olives, lemon, and lentils… Grains such as rice and couscous… Herbs including cumin, oregano, rosemary,
and parsley. Dairy such as feta cheese and yogurt… And meats such as spit-roasted lamb, and char-grilled
beef and chicken. Nutritionists have touted the value of building
a food pyramid the way the Greeks would: Lots of fruits and veggies is good for everyone. Using olive oil instead of butter makes for
lower cholesterol. Fewer portions of red meat make for lower
risk of heart disease. And wine is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory
qualities. All of these health benefits add up. Research has shown that people around the
Mediterranean stay healthier, physically and mentally, as they age.

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