The Mediterranean diet is not a “diet” in the way that so many Americans perceive the term -- a quick-fix to drop weight before resuming unhealthy eating habits. Instead, the Mediterranean diet, modeled after the eating habits of people in Greece, southern Italy, Morocco, Spain, Portugal and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is a long-term way of life that can improve the chances of enjoying a long and disease-free life! After the study of more than 1.5 million healthy adults, the Mayo Clinic reports that eating a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as lessen the chances of being afflicted by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Check out my past blog post on this healthy lifestyle and get a good look at the Mediterranean Food Pyramid; I especially love how the “base” is built on daily exercise and social interactions. People of this culture put a priority on making eating healthfully an experience to share with family and friends – and even over a glass of red wine! Now don’t get too excited, just one glass of wine is recommended daily, not the whole bottle! The remainder of the Mediterranean diet focuses on an abundance of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. Lean proteins are consumed with a light touch, focusing on local seafood, poultry and the occasional serving of red meat. Many Mediterranean devotees meet their daily protein needs from non-animal sources such as the chickpea, a much-loved legume.
Whether you call them chickpeas or garbanzo beans, there is no arguing that this ancient legume which was cultivated more than 7,500 years ago is a nutritional powerhouse. Found in many healthy and tasty dishes served across the region, chickpeas are an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamin B6 for vegetarians. Vitamin b6 helps to stabilize blood sugar, metabolize foods and make antibodies to ward off disease. Chickpeas are delicious roasted and herbed as a snack food, pureed into soups and hummus, tossed atop salads, and mashed into veggie burgers. Because chickpeas have a mild, slightly nutty flavor, they don’t compete with the predominant flavor profile of a recipe. My recipe for Chickpea, Cucumber & Kale Tomato Cups dressed in Litehouse Food’s OPA Feta Dill Greek Yogurt Dressing, makes a nutritious light lunch or side dish that doesn’t mumble “maybe Mediterranean” but, instead, puts the exclamation point in “OPA!” If you can’t find large, ripe tomatoes for the tomato cups, the chickpea mixture can be topped on a green salad or spooned into a pita pocket. Enjoy!