I spent the weekend in Solana Beach inadvertently eating a Mediterranean diet, and came back feeling sharp and refreshed. Smoked salmon, white fish ceviche, tuna sushi, fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads were on the menu. I didn’t want red meat, wasn’t having a hankering for potatoes and I was uncharacteristically not in a huge cheese mood.
Then I read this article about how the Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by 53 percent. Apart from moments when I can’t find my sunglasses or remember George Takei’s name (that happened today), I’m not at the age where I’m terribly worried about losing my memory. But I found the article interesting because the Mediterranean diet has been known to be a heart-healthy diet, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that it can also lead to a healthy mind. Heart, mind, it’s all connected. You really are what you eat.
So what is a Mediterranean diet? Well, it consists of lots of seafood, occasional poultry and little to no red meat. It incorporates lots of simply prepared vegetables and fruits, with whole grains like quinoa or couscous. Olive oil replaces butter, herbs replace salt, and seeds and nuts are encouraged. And there’s so much you can do with these ingredients.
Take this couscous salad, for example. This was my first time making couscous, and I loved it. Couscous is sort of a hybrid between a whole grain and a pasta, and the pearl couscous I used has a nice light, chewy texture. It was refreshing and filling without weighing me down, and served as a perfect vehicle for fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Here’s how I did it.
- ½ cup pearl couscous
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup diced cucumber
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- feta cheese
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- pepper to taste
First I started by toasting the couscous to bring out its nutty flavor: I put 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan over medium heat and added the couscous, stirring for about 5 minutes until they started to turn a light golden brown. Then I added the water, reduced the heat to low and let it simmer per the package instructions (about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally).
While the couscous was cooking I diced my vegetables and put them in a large bowl. When the couscous was done, I poured the pearls into a strainer and ran them under cold water so they would stop cooking. I then added the couscous to the vegetables and mixed well.
For the dressing, I mixed the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil with the balsamic vinegar and pepper and poured it over the couscous salad. After tossing to combine, I added feta cheese on top. I found that I didn’t need any additional salt since the cheese added the right amount of saltiness.
And that’s it! It couldn’t have been easier. It’s a good side dish, and also a good foundation on its own for other vegetables and dressing. I also think that cold, grilled shrimp would taste great in it.
If you’re considering starting on a Mediterranean diet, don’t be daunted by it. I think the key is to focus on the simple preparation of vegetables, fruit, seafood and grains. I’ve been trying out different variations all week and I’ve felt amazing. I’m hoping I can keep it up!