Book Looks Beyond Images To Focus On Flavorful Recipes
Copyright 1994 The Chicago Tribune
From Knight-Ridder Newspapers/Tribune Information Services
Selected and Prepared by Tribune Media Services
By Steven Pratt
Not surprisingly, the cover of a new reference book on the Mediterranean diet is
illustrated with a fantasy food scene reminiscent of the Greek islands. Nancy Harmon
Jenkins' ``The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, a Delicious Alternative For Lifelong
Health'' (Bantam, $27.95) shows a table laden with bread, fruit, beans, olives, vegetables,
lobster, cheese, grapes, a cruet of olive oil and a glass of wine, all overlooking an azure
But though its recipes and health hints from the Mediterranean lifestyle won't
exactly transport you back to the Ibiza or Hydra of the '50s, they will take you closer to a
healthful meal than you get on a trip to an American fast-food restaurant.
Jenkins, a former newspaper food writer, has spent years living, traveling and
cooking in the Mediterranean. But it was a 1993 Boston conference on the ingredients
and the health ramifications of the Mediterranean lifestyle that was the impetus for her
book, whose recipes are inspired by the cuisines of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey,
Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
``It became clear at that conference that this was a diet and tradition that deserved a
closer examination by people who need to eat more healthfully,'' she said in an
interview. But while the epidemiologists and nutritionists analyzed and theorized why
the lifestyles of Mediterranean people seemed to offer them some protection from heart
disease and cancer, Jenkins said she already knew it instinctively:
``Mom always said eat lots of vegetables. I really learned early on in the
Mediterranean that this was a good way to eat.''
Although it contains a good outline of the nutritional benefits of Mediterranean
eating patterns, ``The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook'' is not written just as a
prescription for good health. It's also a cookbook of flavorful and interesting recipes.
```Diet' doesn't mean losing weight,'' Jenkins said of the title. ``That's confusing. I
would have called the book `Mediterranean Food,' but that doesn't establish that this is
a particular, healthful way to eat.''
Food not only can improve your physical well-being, she said, but your mental
``In the U.S. we are very embarrassed about food. But it is a natural part of the
``Italians, for instance, are accused of talking about what they ate the meal before and
what they are going to eat at the next meal. They take it seriously.
``And the food we eat establishes a sense of community,'' she said, ``not just around
the table but beyond that, with the providers, the marketers, the farmers and those who
are cooking it.''
It is those kinds of lifestyle concepts that Jenkins would like readers to take from her
book, along with the recipes.
``But I would be happy if people read the book and just learned to incorporate more
fresh food into their diet. One of the most powerful messages I can send is that the best
food is the freshest food. There's almost nothing in the book that a fairly ordinary
American cook would find bizarre or difficult or unapproachable,'' she said. ``I am
asking Americans to shift their perspectives rather than change the way they eat.
There's almost nothing in the book that can't be prepared by going to a well-stocked
That includes olive oil, the principal fat in most of the recipes. Although they are rich
in vitamins, fiber and complex carbohydrates, many of the dishes get 40 percent or more
of their calories from fat. But most of those calories come from monounsaturated olive
oil, which some researchers say has healthful characteristics.
Rather than striving to make the dishes traditionally accurate and regionally pure,
Jenkins says she has tried to make them appeal to ``people who know they want to eat
better and aren't sure how to do it.''
For appetizers (called meze, tapas or antipasti, depending on the country of origin),
there are tapenade, baba ghanouj, fattoush (black olive paste, roasted eggplant dip and
Lebanese toasted bread salad, respectively) and other ``small dishes.'' Soups run from
gazpacho Sevillano to a heavy Turkish multibean corbasi, and grains take many forms,
from pizza to couscous. Plenty of recipes use vegetables and beans and other legumes, a
primary protein source in the Mediterranean.
Jenkins says some of her favorites in the book are three Lebanese fish dishes she
learned when she was living in Beirut in the early 1970s. In addition to poultry
(including partridge), she has included dishes made with rabbit, a Mediterranean staple.
The desserts and sweets are exotic: citrus cake, apricots stuffed with yogurt, and
Turkish rice pudding. Cheese is common, as is yogurt, but milk is absent and butter
almost non-existent. ``They are just not eaten that much,'' she said.
Jenkins has taken pains to make the recipes clear and relatively easy, if not always
``My goal was not to educate people about the authentic ethnic food of those
countries, but to say, `Look at what they are doing and here's how to bring those kind of
foods and recipes into your home.'''