A Mediterranean diet, specifically a traditional Greek diet is famous for providing all the right nutrients for a long and healthy life.
The Cretan way of life has been praised many a time by researchers, Cypriot cuisine is among the healthiest, Lesvos offers an abundance of Asia Minor and Aegean flavours, while Ikaria holds the secrets to longevity and a stress-free life.
Hellenic cuisine has been receiving considerable attention for years, with Ikaria recently entering the Blue Zone —a region of the world where people tend to live unusually long and healthy lives, often past the age of 100.
Unlocking the mysteries of such a life does not come without sacrifice, however; Greeks have come up with the most imaginative combinations of fresh ingredients that can make anyone’s taste buds explode.
A traditional Greek diet is usually non-meat based with minimal intake of high-fat and high-sugar processed foods. Greek cuisine is an ode to legumes, vegetables, rice, veggies, nuts, and herbs, olive oil and wholemeal grains.
People living in the villages on Crete, Lesvos, Ikaria and in Cyprus are often forced to become self-sufficient, with the great majority of the population relying on local produce instead of heavily processed foods. Islanders consume fish more than twice a week on average, receiving valuable protein and oils not to mention improving kidney function.
Members of small communities support each other still exchanging home grown or organic products, locally caught fish and scarcely consume meat that is usually home or farm grown.
This diet, combined with moderate exercise and enough rest, is proven to prevent wight gain, diabetes, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Compared to other ethnicities or urban centre residents, people living in those areas, with Ikaria topping the list, live significantly longer, stress and disease free lives.
A beer or a glass of wine (sometimes two) are not missing from the daily menu; Greek coffee, herbal beverages are a tradition intertwined with Greece’s food culture, complimenting a diet and not overtaking it.
Meanwhile, greens like spinach and zucchini are very common, often combined with fresh herbs like mint, parsley, coriander, oregano, basil and dill that have antioxidant and diuretic effects. When consumed as a beverage, mint, alongside rosemary, marjoram, sage, mountain tea and dandelion can be anti-inflammatory and help alleviate IBS, colds and allergy symptoms.
In an effort to reintroduce a healthy diet into our jam-packed every day, we dug up some easy-to-cook but very tasty healthy recipes, inspired by those very areas: Crete, Lesvos, Ikaria and Cyprus.
CYPRIOT POTATO SALAD
From the stunning island of Aphrodite comes one of the most mouth-watering and filling recipes bringing a classic taste of the Mediterranean to your plate.
1.2kg Cyprus potato , or other waxy potato such as Jersey Royal or Charlotte
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, juice of
Extra virgin olive oil
50g Greek olives
2 tbs capers, rinsed
1 bunch of fresh coriander or parley
6 spring onions
1. Scrub the potatoes clean, then cook in a large pan of boiling salted water for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender but still holding their shape.
2. Drain and set aside until just cool enough to handle, then slice into rough chunks, flaking away the skin as you go.
3. Place into a large bowl with the lemon juice and a good lug of extra virgin olive oil. Season lightly, then toss well so the potatoes absorb all those lovely flavours. Season to taste, then leave to cool completely.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat.
5. Crush the olives with the flat side of your knife, tear out and discard the stones, then roughly chop the flesh.
6. Add the olives and capers to the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp.
7. Meanwhile, pick and roughly chop the coriander or parsley leaves, then trim and finely slice the spring onions. Stir them through the salad, sprinkle over the olives and capers, then serve.
GREEN ‘TARAMA’ PIE
A next level take on the classic Lesvos island cheese and herbs pie with zucchini, spinach and garlic. A minty quick dish with high nutritional value and excellent taste.
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups zucchini, thinly sliced, unpeeled
1/2 cup goat cheese or feta
1/3 cup yellow cheese
A small bunch of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
A small bunch of fresh or dried mint leaves, crushed
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 large bowl of baby spinach thawed and drained
2/3 tsp unrefined sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
A pinch ground nutmeg
1. In a non-stick pan, heat oil over medium heat.
2. Add onion and cook until tender. Add zucchini and garlic, cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
3. In a bowl, combine the cheese, parsley, eggs, spinach, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
4. Once it is all mixed evenly, stir in the zucchini mixture.
5. Spoon the thick mixture into a lightly greased non-stick 9-inch pie plate.
6. Bake in 180-200 C for 35 to 45 minutes or until set making sure there is still some moisture in the center.
7. Serve hot or cold; makes 4 main-course servings.
This Greek-style fisherman’s soup offers a great low-calorie vitamin boost on cold winter days
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 sticks celery, trimmed and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, whole or chopped
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
500g potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
3 bay leaves
1 L vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
700g fresh fish fillets, scaled and pin-boned
1 lemon, freshly squeezed
Parsley, roughly chopped
Dill, roughly chopped
Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 loaf of warm horiatiko, rye or sourdough bread to serve
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on medium heat before adding the onions and celery and cook for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 5 stirring occasionally, until soft but not caramelised or brown.
2. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and bay leaves and pour in the stock.
3. Season lovingly with salt and pepper and bring it all to the boil.
4. Reduce to a low heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Add your fish fillets and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for a further 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the fish is cooked through and flakes apart.
6. Stir in the lemon juice and herbs, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, then have a quick taste to make sure you’ve got a good balance of acidity, freshness and seasoning and serve with chunks of rustic bread.
This delicious vegetable bake holds a special place on Jamie Oliver’s list of healthy Greek cuisine dishes featuring simple and fresh ingredients. Much similar to the French ratatouille, the Hellenic version has its roots in the Greek coastal towns facing Turkey. Briam is also very popular in Ikaria, equally delicious when topped with feta cheese or on its own.
150 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed
1 large aubergine
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
800 g large potatoes
6 medium tomatoes
12 cherry tomatoes
300 g tomato passata
1 tbs dried oregano
½ a bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C
2. Halve the aubergine lengthways and thickly slice.
3. Drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the aubergine in batches for 5 to 7 minutes, or until softened and golden, adding a little more oil, if needed. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl.
4. Peel and thinly slice the onion, and peel and slice the garlic. Add the onion and garlic to the empty pan, with a little more oil if necessary, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until softened. Transfer to the bowl with the aubergine.
5. Chop the potatoes into 1cm cubes, thinly slice the medium tomatoes and slice the courgettes.
6. Add the potato, all the tomatoes, the courgette, passata and 200ml water to the bowl. Sprinkle with the oregano, then pick, finely chop and add the parsley. Season generously with sea salt and black pepper.
7. Combine well with your hands and transfer to a large ovenproof dish. Drizzle with any remaining oil.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200°C. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top has browned and vegetables are tender. Allow to cool slightly before serving.