Mediterranean food helps to define the cultures and lifestyles of people who live on the lands that surround the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Land encloses the Mediterranean almost completely. It is bounded by Europe on the north, Africa on the south, and Asia on the east. Interestingly, it covers approximately 965,000 miles but its connection to the Atlantic Ocean is only nine miles wide.
Mediterranean food can be divided, somewhat crudely, into three regions: North African (particularly Morocco), eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey), and southern Europe (Italy, France, and Spain). Of course, the flavor and style of Mediterranean food varies from region to region. For instance, wine and herbs are key ingredients to Southern European cuisine, while intricate tasting and boldly favored spices define North African foods.
The flavors in Mediterranean food are robust, clear, and free of complicated sauces and heavy cream and butter. This uncomplicated preparation of food enhances goodness and taste. Vegetables play an important role in Mediterranean cuisine. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplants, squash, peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, artichokes, okra, and various greens and lettuces are mainstays in this diet. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, fava beans (Egypt), green beans (France), and white kidney beans (Tuscany) are also a fundamental ingredient in this cuisine. The use of fresh herbs including rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill, fennel, and oregano give flavor and color to dishes. Also, cooking with olive oil is very popular in some Mediterranean cultures.
Although the Mediterranean is increasingly over-fished and polluted with chemical and toxins, seafood is still at the core of traditional Mediterranean cooking. Shellfish is used in soups, stews, and pastas. Anchovies and white-fleshed fish (i.e., sole, flounder, and grouper) are very popular. Swordfish, monkfish, eel, cuttlefish, squid, and octopus are also eaten. Smaller animals such as lamb, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbit, and fowl are the main meat sources.
Diets rich in Mediterranean food are quite healthy. Extensive research has been conducted on the traditional diets of inhabitants of countries like Greece and Southern Italy because of the low incidence of chronic illnesses and the high life-expectancy rates of these people. Research has shown that traditional Mediterranean food has been essential to the long-term health and vitality of these populations. Although this diet delivers up to 40% of the total daily calories from fat, cardiovascular disease is low for people who eat Mediterranean food.
Mediterranean food helps define the cultures of many groups of people. This variety of tastes and preparation of food makes for a wonderful culinary experience. More importantly it is not only good to eat but it can be good for your long-term health and vitality.