The Mediterranean diet, is a diet inspired by the eating habits of people from the Mediterranean in the1940s and 1950s. Current scientific thinking is eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, legumes, and whole grains has been shown to preventcognitive decline, heart disease, cancer, depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Whilst learning about plant-based diets and eating whole foods, I found myself sharing my new found information with my mother in law, Shengul (or Shirley to her friends). Now I’ve been blessed to marry into a lovely Turkish-Cypriot family. Life revolves around eating at the dinner table and my mother-in-law’s house is always open. Whenever you turn up, there is always food waiting, and as is the traditional way when she cook’s its enough to feed a small army.
Shirley was born in Padromi, in Southern Cyprus in the 1950’s. She grew up in a very rural area surrounded by green fields full of trees growing olives, almonds and figs. Her parents were farmers and herded sheep and goats. Her face always lights up when she tells us of her childhood; milk would be drunk directly from the goats, and her mother would use the freshly squeezed milk to make helim (halloumi) and ricotta cheese. Dinner would often be made from picking wild spinach or asparagus. Most meals would be accompanied by salad and bread. The salad would have been dressed with olive oil, made from olives growing in the garden and vinegar from the grapes on the vine. And the bread would have been made from wheat grown locally, which had been milled by hand and topped with sesame seeds or sometimes filled with cheese or even chickpeas.
When she moved to the UK she brought all her Turkish and Greek inspired food choices with her. For nearly 25 years she also helped run a popular Turkish restaurant in London.
So when we got talking about what foods should be eaten as part of a healthy diet, Shirley reeled off a list of amazing foods and dishes, many of them from her childhood days. These are simple, authentic dishes made from a wide variety of vegetables, packed full of nutrients and all the things that keep us healthy. They are cheap and easy to make.
With Shirley’s permission we are going to try and share these with you. Together we’ve tried to come up with food that is eaten in a traditional Cypriot diet and why it’s good for you.