How did I switch to the Mediterranean Diet? Simple. I moved there.
In the 1990’s we moved to Israel. I became immersed in the Mediterranean Diet, in part because it’s ‘everywhere’. For fast food, the most popular item is the falafel in pita. As most readers know, falafel are made of deep fried balls of chick-pea paste, dropped in a half pita, topped with a variety of salads, pickles, tahina sauce and ‘hariff’ (really hot pepper mix).
Far more popular than burgers, falafel are filling and tasty, if a bit greasy and sloppy.
Better Choices – The Poor Man’s Plate
But my all time favourite food to this day is a bowl of “hummus, foul beans and egg”. It is simple fare and what most poor people across the Mediterranean and Middle East survive on (in some variation of the dish).
The bottom of a bowl is slathered with hummus, made of chickpea spread (rich in iron and protein). On top of that, a ladle or two of slow simmered fava beans, known as ‘foul’ (pronounced ‘fool’). Then a beautiful hard boiled egg, perfectly shelled, is placed on the side, or sliced into rings across the top. (Pale brown eggs are achieved by cooking them on top of the simmering beans.) A drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a shake of za’atar (hyssop) and you are set.
This bowl is accompanied by a small plate with hot peppers, sliced chunky onion, pickles perhaps, and a tiny condiment dish of zhug or hariff. Zhug is a Yemenite specialty – a hot pepper blend that will make you cry. “Hariff” is the term for hot sauce – this might include ‘harissa’ (a mix of peppers and tomatoes) or just a red chilli blend.
Add la piece de resistance – a basket of hot, fresh pita bread.
Rip the bread and dip in the mix, sprinkle with your favourite condiments while you dine and diet.
This is the food of peasants – people who don’t suffer from many Western diseases like plugged arteries, obesity, or high rates of cancer. It is simple fare, inexpensive and fairly complete in dietary needs.
If you add a side salad of fresh, finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and some herbs like mint, dill or both you have an excellent combo.
You can whip up a fair equivalent here in the West using canned foul medames beans. They lack that down-home simmered quality and the special spices each individual Mediterranean vendor uses, but they’ll do the job.
Live Dangerously – ZhugTry Helbeh with
If you are truly adventuresome, try some Yemenite Helbeh (or Hilbeh) along with it. This dipping sauce made of soaked fenugreek seeds looks a bit slimy, but with the right mix of parsley, garlic and lemon, (or tomato) it’s a delightful treat that is said to have endless health benefits – like warding off diabetes.
In fact the Yemenite elders are said to drink the sour water the seeds soak in, specifically to aid their health. Add a touch of zhug to it and live on the edge!
These age-old recipes are easy on the earth and helpful to your health. And you don’t have to move to the Mediterranean to try them.