As far as diets go, the Mediterranean diet is one of the few which truly stands the test of time (and scientific research).
The Mediterranean diet emphasises eating primarily plant-based foods -- such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts -- as well as olive oil, herbs, spices and fish. The diet tends to limit red meat and salt consumption.
If you've ever wondered how you can incorporate a Mediterranean diet into your everyday meals, these Mediterranean-inspired recipes from Better Brain Food have got you covered.
Imagine potato and ricotta pancakes with smoked salmon, rocket and farro Greek salad, lamb kofta, and yoghurt with savoury granola.
1. Rocket and farro Greek salad
First cultivated 2000 years ago, pearled farro (spelt) is an ancient grain related to wheat, that is also called emmer wheat in some places. Even though pearled farro has had the bran layer mostly removed, it's still quite high in fibre and remains a good source of protein, some B vitamins and the mineral zinc. More importantly, it has a delicious nutty flavour with a chewy texture. You can also buy whole grain farro which is higher in fibre, but it needs soaking overnight before cooking.
If you can't find farro, you can replace it with pearl (or pearled) barley, which has the same amount of protein, close to the same amount of fibre and is usually quite easy to find.
- 125g pearled farro (spelt)
- 1 Lebanese (short) cucumber, chopped
- 100g baby rocket
- 1 spring onion, sliced
- ½ cup cooked/tinned chickpeas
- 40g (¼ cup) kalamata olives
- 100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ½ bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, roughly chopped
- 100g feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 80ml (⅓ cup) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons honey
- To make the dressing, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Rinse the farro and put it in a medium saucepan, then add 625ml (2½ cups) of salted water. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 15–20 minutes or until the farro is tender, but still has a little bite left.
- Drain the farro, drizzle with a little of the dressing and set aside.
- In a medium serving bowl, combine the cucumber, rocket, spring onion, chickpeas, olives, tomatoes and parsley. Add the farro and pour the remaining dressing over.
- Scatter the feta over the top and serve.
2. Red potato and ricotta pancake with smoked salmon and quick pickled radish
Try to find red-skinned potatoes: don't peel them, as you'll get the added benefits of the anthocyanin antioxidants in that lovely red skin. There is good protein in this dish from the ricotta and salmon, along with some bonus omega-3 fats. The zing of the pickle tops this dish off nicely.
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 60ml (¼ cup) apple cider vinegar
- 60ml (¼ cup) hot water
- 4 radishes
- 2 red-skinned potatoes, such as pontiac, scrubbed but skin left on
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- Handful of dill, chopped, reserving 1 sprig for serving
- 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- Olive oil, for frying
- 80g smoked salmon
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche or sour cream
- Handful of green salad leaves
- First make the pickle. In a small bowl, dissolve the caster sugar in the vinegar and hot water. Slice the radishes and put them in the bowl, making sure they're covered by the pickling liquid, then set aside.
- Grate the potato, wrap it in a clean tea towel and squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the spring onion, dill and ricotta. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and mix well to combine.
- Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil, then pour the potato mixture into the hot oil. Smooth into a pancake shape about 1cm thick. Reduce the heat and cook gently until the underside is golden, then carefully flip to cook the other side.
- Place the potato pancake on a serving plate and top with the salmon, crème fraîche and drained pickled radish on the side. Add a handful of salad leaves, decorate with the reserved dill sprig and serve.
3. Yoghurt and savoury granola
A delicious combination of the probiotic offerings of good-quality yoghurt, extra protein from eggs, nuts and LSA, and all those fabulous colours and good oils for antioxidants and their anti-inflammatory benefits.
- 130g (½ cup) probiotic Greek-style yoghurt
- Pinch of ground turmeric
- ½ Lebanese cucumber, chopped
- 3–4 cherry tomatoes, halved
- Handful of small black olives
- 1 tablespoon LSA
- Handful of chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
- A few chives, chopped
- 2 tablespoons savoury granola (see below) or handful of almonds, toasted and chopped
- 1 soft-boiled egg, peeled
- Olive oil, macadamia or flaxseed oil, to drizzle
- Salt flakes (optional) and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- 60g almonds
- 60g walnuts
- 60g pistachios
- 120g rolled oats
- 60g pumpkin seeds
- 30g sesame seeds
- 60ml olive oil
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- To make granola: Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Mix everything together in a large bowl, then spread the mixture in a thin layer over the prepared tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring once, until golden. Set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
- Spoon the yoghurt in the bottom of a serving bowl or plate and sprinkle with turmeric. Arrange the cucumber, tomato and olives over the yoghurt. Sprinkle the LSA over the top, then scatter the herbs and granola over. Cut the egg in half and place in the centre. An extra drizzle of oil is nice, then season with salt flakes (if using) and freshly ground black pepper.
4. Lamb kofta lettuce wraps
Juicy spiced parcels of protein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory goodness that use lettuce instead of bread. Adding yoghurt, nuts and fresh herbs makes this Mediterranean-inspired dish tick all the nutritional boxes.
- 400g minced lamb
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- Olive oil, for frying kofta
- 260g (1 cup) Greek-style yoghurt
- 8 large cos lettuce leaves
- 40g (¼ cup) hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed and roughly chopped
- 65g (½ cup) crumbled feta cheese
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- Handful of fresh marjoram, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Use your hands to knead together the lamb mince and the spices, garlic, lemon zest and mint until really well blended. Divide into eight portions and roll into football-shaped ovals with your hands. Put them on a plate in the fridge while you make the salad.
- To make the salad, put all of the ingredients in a small bowl and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Heat a barbecue, chargrill pan or frying pan to medium–high heat and smear with a little olive oil. Add the koftas and cook for 3–4 minutes. Don't move them until a crust develops, then turn over and cook each side. Remove from the heat.
- To assemble, place a spoonful of yoghurt onto each lettuce leaf, add a spoonful of salad and top with a kofta. Fold the lettuce around the filling and eat.
Recipes and images from Better Brain Food by Ngaire Hobbins and Michelle Crawford. Murdoch Book RRP $39.99 available from all good bookstores and online.