Meditating on the Scrumptious Mediterranean Cuisine
Mediterranean cuisine, which does not belong to any particular culture but refers to culinary styles of people living in regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, is popular in India due to the huge variety it offers.
Mediterranean food has developed not as national cuisine of any country but as a variety of regional cuisines based on diversified regional influences. Since olive oil is the most commonly used ingredient in Mediterranean cuisines, it is considered to be healthy.
There is no traditional way of serving the Mediterranean food. This cuisine is a popular genre for dining out in India.
Ashok Malkani examines various aspects of this cuisine and the reasons for its popularity in the country.
Mediterranean cuisine, which does not belong to any particular culture but refers to culinary styles of people living in regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, is popular in India due to the huge variety it offers. Mediterranean food has developed not as national cuisine of any country but as a variety of regional cuisines based on diversified regional influences. Since olive oil is the most commonly used ingredient in Mediterranean cuisines, it is considered to be healthy. There is no traditional way of serving the Mediterranean food. This cuisine is a popular genre for dining out in India. Ashok Malkani examines various aspects of this cuisine and the reasons for its popularity in the country.
Popularity in India
Mediterranean cuisine is believed to be extremely popular in India as it has a lot in common with the Indian cuisine. It is perfectly suitable for the Indian climate as well as palate. Light and healthy, the ingredients for this cuisine can be easily found in India. And what is more, it satisfies the principle that Indians love most: taste!
Kamlesh declares,” The Mediterranean cuisine is a very popular genre for dining out in India. The majority of the clientele for this food is well travelled and understands the depth of the cuisine. This cuisine, which has a large repertoire of dishes to offer also, has a health element attached to it because most of the food is grilled and oil is used in minimal quantity. Another factor is the variety of vegetarian options available, which makes Mediterranean cuisine a welcome dining out option for Indians.
“Sourcing the ingredients for any specialty cuisine is not a challenge any more, due to the present meticulous transport facilities. We have multiple options and choices available for the best ingredients required to keep the Mediterranean cuisine as authentic as possible. All kinds of cheese, olive oils, pastas, vinegars, meats, and seafood are readily available. If there is a ban on import of certain products into India, menu-making does become a bit difficult.
“The repertoire of dishes and flavours is huge and widely accepted by both locals and expats alike. The key is the consistency of food and the quality of the ingredients used. This cuisine, I may add, is preferred by the age group between 25-45 years of age.”
Sathiyaraj states, “The cuisine is mostly popular in tier one cities and their urban areas. This cuisine is popular amongst the 18 to 35 age groups and also with those who have travelled extensively and appreciate the different cuisines.”
Indian and Mediterranean Food
Although the two cuisines – Indian and Mediterranean – are from different parts of the world they have a lot in common. While the ingredients may differ a bit, the main theme of both cuisines is to use fresh ingredients along with flavourful spices and herbs.
Kamlesh is of the view that both have similarities, as far as cooking is concerned. He says “There are many similarities in the preparation and ingredients used when it comes to the preparation of these two delicious and healthy food traditions, but each cuisine has its own distinct taste, thanks to the native flavours of the regions surrounding the Mediterranean and India.”
He adds, “Both Indian food and Mediterranean food revolve around the usage of ripe fruits and vegetables, rich and flavourful dips and sauces, and soft, oven-baked bread. The distinct and succulent flavours of their dishes reflect the tradition of their individual cuisines.
“One can incorporate the influence and inspiration from Indian food and Mediterranean food alike. Although the dishes are reflective of their origins, you’ll notice many similarities in menu offerings.
For example…..Naan from India, and pita from the Mediterranean region both types are made to be flat for dipping in curries, sauces, and dips, yet have their own distinct texture and flavours.
“Consider our Indian veg pakora, which consists of Indian-spiced chickpea flour, potatoes and other veggies, fried together and paired with a yogurt and mint chutney. Similarly, dolmades, a veg-based Greek favourite, is a Mediterranean dish. It consists of rice, dill and lemon, wrapped in grape leaves and finished off with a tangy Greek yogurt sauce.
“Most popular Lamb dishes, Lamb biryani, and Lamb kofta kebab, are inspired from both Indian and Mediterranean flavours. The Lamb biryani consists of tender chunks of lamb simmered in a traditional Indian broth of fresh spices, herbs, raisins, and cashews. Lamb kofta kebabs are made from freshly-ground lamb meatballs with potatoes, onions, and garlic, served in a tomato-onion sauce.”
Sathiyaraj, however, differs, and asserts, “Mediterranean cuisine is not at all similar to Indian cuisine, as the spices used in preparation of Mediterranean food are completely different to those in Indian cuisine. Where Indian cuisine uses extensive hot spices, Mediterranean cuisine uses more herbs and subtle spices to lightly season the dish.”
Ashish Kumar is also of a similar opinion. He says, “As a Chef I don’t find a lot of similarities in both the Cuisine. I do agree that there are few concepts which have similarities such as Kebab and Biryani.”
Commonly used Ingredients
Though the main theme of both cusines – Indian and Mediterranean – is to use fresh ingredients paired with favourful spices, each cuisine has its own distinct taste. So what are the main ingredients used?
Sathiyaraj disclosed, “The prime ingredients used in cooking are olives, olive oil, couscous, fresh garlic, feta cheese, eggplant, capers, chickpeas, arugula leaves, fresh herbs (like rosemary), sheep and goat dairy products.”
Ashish adds, “The ingredients commonly used are olives and olive oil, herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, fennel, saffron, garlic, mint, thyme, sage, parsley, and more. Some nuts which are used are pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, and walnuts. Besides this Feta Cheese is also a commonly used ingredient. Fish and Lamb are widely used.”
Kamlesh is more elaborate. He states, “The Mediterranean diet is more than just a collection of foods and nutrients—it's an integral part and expression of the Mediterranean history and culture. It's also based on home cooking using local ingredients, which means that not all foods associated with the region are used in all areas. Even though each Mediterranean country has its unique foods and dishes, different foods provide similar nutrients, so the mechanistic effects of the nutrients and bioactive compounds are retained. Olive trees, vineyards, and wheat have been present in the Mediterranean region since the beginning, but because the region has been a geographical point of convergence for many different cultures, religions, and traditions, typical Mediterranean foods include those that are native to a particular area as well as those that were imported long ago.
The following are some of the superstar foods in this delicious, nutritious, and health-promoting diet:
Olive Oil: Italy, Spain, and Greece are the top three producers of olive oil in the world, and olive oil is the common denominator in the varying dietary patterns that make up the overall Mediterranean diet. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in carotenoids, and polyphenols, giving it antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil is the principal source of dietary fat. Olive oil is also used for cooking and baking. Olive oil has a high smoke point because of its lower free fatty acid content
Olives: Table olives, especially Kalamata olives, also are rich sources of antioxidant polyphenols. Olives are universally eaten whole, and are widely used for cooking and flavouring. Put pitted olives in a food processor with olive oil, garlic, and your favorite seasonings for a simple tapenade that makes a delicious dip, sandwich spread, or topping for fish and poultry. Toss pasta (cooked al dente) with chopped olives, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs of your choice. Add chopped olives to your favorite tuna or chicken salad recipe.
Wheat: Wheat is the foundation grain of the Mediterranean. One traditional grain is Farro, an ancient wheat with renewed popularity in Italy and the United States. Bulgur is made from whole wheat berries that have been steamed, dried, and cracked, then used in pilafs, tabbouleh, and kibbe, a traditional Lebanese dish of minced meat with bulgur and spices. When choosing bulgur, use coarse for pilafs, medium for tabbouleh and other salads, and fine for making kibbeh. Breads often use unrefined wheat and barley flours. Durum, which has a creamy yellow color from the natural carotenoids, is the quintessential Mediterranean wheat, used for bread, couscous, and Italian pasta
Wine: Alcohol consumption was common in the traditional Mediterranean diet, but generally in moderation and in the form of wine and, as a rule, during meals—in the spirit of the ancient Greek word 'symposium. Wine, red wine in particular, contains antioxidant polyphenols and the flavonoid resveratrol, and may help increase HDL cholesterol while decreasing LDL cholesterol levels.
Wild Greens: Savory pies, tortes made with greens are a staple dish in Greece, southern France, Italy, and other areas of the Mediterranean. Dandelion greens, fennel, cardoon, rocket, purslane, and chicory are just a few, and there are more than 140 types of wild greens on the Greek island of Ikaria alone. Although exact nutritional composition varies between species and cultivars, wild, dark leafy greens are rich in carotenoids, vitamins C and E, and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium. Greens are rich in flavonoids, but not all greens are equally rich in the various flavonoid classes, so eating a variety of greens is optimal.
Capers: Capers generally are used as a flavourful, antioxidant-rich seasoning or garnish, and are an important ingredient in tapenade. Quite often salad is sprinkled with oregano and olives, and capers and feta cheese are added. Capers are fermented in sea salt, so while they are low in calories. Rinsing capers under running water before using will remove some of the sodium. The caper's pungency lends an appealingly sharp flavour to many sauces and condiments. They often can be used in place of olives.
Chickpeas: A half-cup of cooked chickpeas (82 g) is an excellent source of fiber folate Dand manganese and a good source of protein and copper, iron and magnesium One of the earliest known cultivated legumes, chickpeas are the key ingredient in hummus. A soup of black and regular chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, and whole wheat is an important traditional dish in Puglia, Italy. Chickpeas have a stronger inherent texture and aroma than many beans, which means they need fewer aromatics when cooking. For a Mediterranean-style snack, roast cooked chickpeas and salt them like peanuts.
Lemons: Acidic foods lower glycemic response by slowing stomach emptying. The acidity and high flavonoid content of lemon peels may have a beneficial impact on blood glucose, helping to control or prevent diabetes. Lemons and oranges originate from the Far East, and Arabs originally brought them to the Mediterranean. A common Mediterranean habit is to squeeze lemons on salads, fish, soups, and beans, and into drinking water, lowering the glycemic load of the entire meal. Lemon juice is a staple ingredient in hummus. Squeeze lemon juice over roasted broccoli or use it as all or part of the acid in a vinaigrette.
Garlic: Garlic is an essential ingredient in all Mediterranean cuisines. It varies from province to province. Tzatziki, yogurt mixed with garlic, cucumbers, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt, is a common sauce in many Eastern Mediterranean cuisines. Mixing garlic with eggs and olive oil produces aioli. The sulfur compounds in garlic are responsible for both its pungent odor and most of its health benefits, which include anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. To maximize garlic's benefits, crush or chop the garlic and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before using it.
Herbs: Herbs are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, especially polyphenols. They contribute significantly to the overall dietary intake of flavonols and flavones in the traditional Greek cuisine. Each region in the Mediterranean has a different flavor palette, but herbs and spices are universally important in the Mediterranean cuisine. Do as they do in the Mediterranean and add fresh herbs to salads to increase the antioxidant capacity.
Feta and Yogurt: Traditional feta and yogurt are fermented, making them rich in probiotics. They also provide additional protein to a diet that's largely plant-based. In addition to being found in the classic Greek salad, feta cheese often accompanies stews. Authentic Greek feta is made with goat's milk or sheep's milk. The Turks probably introduced yogurt, and it's more commonly used in the eastern Mediterranean (the old Ottoman Empire). Yogurt with honey is a common Greek breakfast.
Is Mediterranean Diet good?
It is believed that Mediterranean diet, with greens and other healthy ingredients, not only ensures weight loss but also improves cardiovascular health, besides keeping cancer and depression at bay.
Ashish avers, “It is a healthy diet. Extensive usage of fresh ingredients and more of vegetables, herbs and fish it makes a healthy Choice.
Sathiyaraj states, “The diet is good when anyone would want to reduce their weight. The leafy green vegetables from Mediterranean cuisine have a lot of health benefits and ensure a healthy diet.”
Kamlesh is more forthright. He declares, “The word “diet” is most commonly associated with losing weight and counting calories. However, let’s not forget the other meaning of “diet” – the food and drink we regularly consume. That’s exactly what the Mediterranean Diet is for the people of Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the “diet” they use to nourish their bodies that also happens to be a “diet” full of health benefits.
“Because of the proximity to the sea, frequent consumption of fish and seafood is an important part of the Mediterranean Diet. Seafood is, as everyone is aware, healthier than red meat.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the primary source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet, followed by fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. These foods offer “good” (monosaturated) fats that actually help reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
According to new research, eating a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruit, fish, and olive oil may help preserve brain cells as we age. Dr Yian Gu, from Columbia University in New York, disclosed that a study undertaken of 674 people with an average age of 80 showed that those following a Mediterranean-like diet had larger brains.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer's Society, adds, "There is an increasing amount of evidence that eating a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, legumes and nuts is good for your brain.”
So let’s raise a toast to your good health, while consuming Mediterranean cuisine, comprising of fish and other healthy ingredients!