Christmas we feasted, we were merry. New Year’s we feasted and toasted in 2014 with a glass of bubbles, or ouzo – whatever tickled our fancy on the night. And now, as all the festivities are done and dusted, one thing is for certain, we need to detox. Simples. We’ve indulged in meats, alcohol and sweets – delicious desserts have appeased our sweet tooth. But now as we face 2014 head on, we have to look at a way to detox the indulgence we’ve partaken in the past week. Lucky for us, the Greek diet is rich in wholesome and nutritious foods that will allow us to undo the damage done over the festive season.
If you eat like a Greek, you will feel the health benefits immediately. A Greek diet is predominately a vegetarian, and at times vegan diet, jam-packed with fresh fruit and vegetables. High in green leafy vegetables, legumes, olive oil and fish, following the way your yiayia and pappou ate far outweighs fad diets and the like.
Olive oil is the basis of nearly every meal in the Greek diet. From a salad dressing, or used for the braise of a soup or stew or even simpler, just used to dip fresh bread in, it’s a staple in every Greek Australian household. Olives have been cultivated in Greece since ancient times. The golden green oil extracted from the first cold pressing of olives is called extra virgin olive oil, and it is used in some form in most traditional Greek dishes. As well as being used for their richly flavoured oil, olives are also eaten whole. The most frequently eaten type is the plump kalamata olive which is added to stews and salads or eaten as part of a meze (appetizer) dish.
Being a Mediterranean country, that has a sunny climate ideal for growing vegetables and fruits, the Greeks have mastered farming to a fine artform. With a myriad of fruits and vegetables that are cultivated in the country, they have become a fundamental part of the Greek diet. Home-grown tomatoes make up salads, or form the basis of sauces in stews; zucchinis are turned into fritters, or grated for salads, or sliced and fried as a meze; eggplants are braised, or are stuffed to create a meal in itself. Garlic and onion become the foundations of all meals but also feature alone. Sliced red onion served with peeled and quartered oranges and plump black olives drizzled in olive oil, become a healthy and light summer meal. Garlic can create the basis to a variety of healthy dips from tzatziki to melitzanosalata. Wild greens (horta) have an abundance of nutritional value. When boiled, the water that comes from the green goodness can be cooled and drunk alone as a perfect accompaniment to any detox diet. Wild greens are boiled down, then drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. They are traditionally served with fish.
Fruit trees are scattered all over Greece, just as they are in Greek Australian backyards – or front yards. Apricots, nectarines, apples and pears. Fruits are eaten either fresh, preserved or are dried. But of all, fig is the king and is used in a variety of meals from simple breakfasts served with yoghurt and drizzled with honey, to sliced open and used in salads, or even used in stews with pork, all of which provide an abundance in nutritious flavours. Grape vines adorn yards. Not only are the grapes themselves used in cooking, but also to make beverages, the vines are used in cooking to wrap dolmathes.
Lemons are great when you are detoxing. Just a simple squeeze of their juice in the morning in hot water provides a great boost to your metabolism and a healthy way to start your day. But because they feature highly in the Greek diet, you can find a variety of ways to incorporate lemons in your detox. Lemon juice are great to season all vegetables. When combined with oregano, lemon becomes the perfect dressing to all proteins from pork, chicken and beef and lamb. And, as always, lemon and all seafoods are a match made in culinary heaven.
Speaking of seafood, fish and shellfish feature highly in the Greek diet because Greece is almost entirely surrounded by the sea. And this part of the diet features strongly in Greek Australian cooking. Simple fish dinners make the best alternative for a detox. Grilled or baked with lemon and potatoes are a great way to lose weight but also enjoy a wholesome meal.
Legumes such as chickpeas, lima beans, split peas and lentils are widely used in traditional Greek cooking. They are eaten either whole in stews, bakes, pilafs, soups and salads, or pureed and used as a dip or spread such as fava. Many types of nuts are used in cooking or eaten as snacks particularly pine nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios.