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In our days many people are vegetarians or just try to reduce meals with meet. This choice often drives to boring plates. Let’s take a look to Greek cuisine and see how it works here.
While we know that the traditional Greek diet decades ago was mostly vegetarian due to the religious fasts, but also to economic reasons, today Greeks have moved away from their traditional diet, eating a more Westernized diet, but surprisingly still consume plenty of vegetables. Let’s see how we do it.
- Cooked vegetables as a main course.
This is probably the most important thing you can do to increase your intake of vegetables drastically without really noticing. I always found it ineffective the way Western diets try to increase vegetable intake by either trying to persuade us to eat boiled or steamed vegetables with some butter or loaded with melted cheese. That is not the way to go, for the simple reason you need tons of butter and cheese to make these boring vegetables tasty. Instead, as the Greeks do, it makes much more sense to cook vegetables such as green beans, peas, eggplant, zucchini, okra, and cauliflower together with olive oil, onion, tomatoes and herbs in a pot or in the oven. These vegetable casseroles are often called ladera, from the Greek word for oil, ‘ladi’. They taste marvellous; especially along with some feta cheese and a slice of bread.
- Seasonal salads with every meal.
For us Greeks we do not only eat vegetables as a main course but we always also have a salad in the centre of the table, regardless of what the main course is. However, it is important that the salads are made from seasonal vegetables. So, in the summer months there’s the famous Greek salad and a large variety of lesser known salads made with a combination of seasonal ingredients and spices, during the rest of the year. The taste oftomatoes and vegetables, grownina fieldin summer behind your house,is unforgettable.
- Weeds and other wild greens
Yes, these weeds are also known as horta. You have probably heard stories or witnessed this if you have Greek neighbors: grandmothers picking dandelion weeds from the backyard. This dietary habit is the secret to the famous Greek-Mediterranean Diet. While in the U.S. they recently discovered the wonder of leafy greens, in Greece these greens have been the basis of the diet because it was accessible to all and free — anybody can pick them. They have very few calories, rich in antioxidants and are filling. We lightly boil them and eat them with olive oil, lemon and cheese.
- Add tomato to everything
Tomato is a vegetable and tomato sauce or canned chopped tomatoes also count as a vegetable, and in Greek recipes tomato is added everywhere, even in meat dishes. In the vegetable lathera mentioned above, tomato is added to make the sauce, so you are getting another serving of vegetables there. This is the case with meat as well. Just one more way to get vegetables, plus tomato is rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect from certain types of cancer.
- Vegetable pies
Spanako-pita (spinach pie) is the most famous Greek vegetable pie among hundreds. We call them all pites, but they are very different from the well-known pita bread. Pita also means something wrapped in phyllo (aka filo pastry). Phyllo can be thin, like the one best known you often find frozen in super markets, but also thick, homemade phyllo, made with olive oil. Basically, pites would be made with a variety of vegetables and greens such as spinach, leeks, greens, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes, and the list goes on and on. Basically, anything in season. These pies were either vegan, especially during the fasting periods, so they were made with vegetables, herbs and olive oil. Or during non-fasting days, cheese and egg may be added. This is the original Greek fast food, because these were easy to carry with you and did not require refrigeration. Today, you find pites everywhere in Greece. They can easily make a filling lunch, plus it is another easy way to eat vegetables.
In this diet habits you can add healthy Mediterranean ingredients such as olive oil, lemon, honey, herbs etc. The best way to taste Greek cuisine is of curse to travel in Greece, but surely you can find Mediterranean ingredients in your country also.
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