By Carole Carson
How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? Will you be one of the people who collectively spend $671 million on greeting cards and $1.9 billion on flowers? If your budget is tight, why not grill a memorable Mediterranean meal for Mom (as well as the other women in your life—grandmothers, sisters, daughters and friends)? With a little planning, you can indulge your mother with sensational food that is quickly and easily cooked on a grill in your backyard or on a hot skillet.
Besides providing an occasion to honor our mothers, May is also National Mediterranean Diet Month. Carole Carson—dubbed “An Apostle for Fitness” by the Wall Street Journal and the author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction—says, “The Mediterranean diet is the single most scientifically studied diet in the world. It is credited with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Those who follow the diet also live longer, stay mentally sharper and enjoy better eye health.”
During May, Carole offers three FIT tips to improve your mother’s health and your own:
F = Find a local source (for example, a farmers’ market) to purchase produce for grilling, such as zucchini, squash, eggplant, onions and carrots. Replace processed foods with grilled vegetables. Simply toss the vegetables in olive oil and seasonings; then grill them separately or combine them into a grill basket. Replace hamburgers and steaks with grilled seafood. Add whole grains (for example, quinoa pasta) to round out the meal. For dessert, serve fresh fruit or yogurt sweetened with honey.
I = Integrate food preparation into your family life so the load is lifted off Mom’s shoulders. Turn off the television and make preparation and mealtime a special occasion to talk with one another. Assign the tasks of cutting vegetables and grilling food to family members. The tradition of family meals, especially on holidays such as Mother’s Day, becomes the glue that holds your family together.
T = Try new ingredients and recipes, from couscous to dorade fish, from figs to eggplant, from aioli to zucchini bread, from roasted beet salad to braised shelled favas. For a simple treat, wrap lightly oiled ears of corn or whole new potatoes in foil and place them on the grill. Or grill slices of lightly oiled eggplant to make ratatouille. Although the ingredients in the Mediterranean diet may be unfamiliar, meal preparation is remarkably simple.
You and your mother can find scrumptious recipes from the world’s greatest chefs on the Oldways website (www.oldwayspt.org). Oldways, an internationally respected nonprofit organization, will deliver one million Mediterranean diet pyramids in May to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s a simple recipe for eggplant that you can serve as a main course. I found the recipe in The Oldways Table.
Eggplant with Mozzarella and Fresh Herbs
3 large eggplants, trimmed and cut into 3/8-inch slices
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
Spread the eggplant on paper towels and sprinkle with the sea salt to release the bitter juices. After 30 minutes, pat the eggplant dry. Brush the eggplant slices with 5 tablespoons of the olive oil and cook over high heat on a gas grill or in a cast-iron skillet, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the grilled eggplant to a plate and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce is thick, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange a layer of eggplant in a lightly oiled baking dish and cover with ladles of the sauce, then a sprinkle of the basil and then a layer of the mozzarella. Continue until all of the ingredients are used up. Bake until the cheese starts to bubble, about 35 minutes. Serve hot.
With the Mediterranean diet, food morphs from being the enemy in the battle of the bulge to becoming our best friend. And didn’t Mom always tell us to eat fruits and vegetables? Who knew healthful dishes could be so delectable?
Carole Carson is the author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, available at www.fromfat2fit.com.