I used to believe olives only had a place in martinis. Vinegar and olive oil salad dressing meant you wanted to lose weight. Fish was to be avoided for fear of mercury poisoning. Beans meant the equivalent of flatulence while wine used to alter one’s state of mind. Every day, my Señora cooks me wonderfully quick healthy meals that I previously believed consumed too much time and money, judging by the high price of fruits, vegetables, and natural unprocessed foods in the United States.
The adjustment to a Mediterranean diet of fish, olive oil and legumes from red meat, dairy and frozen food was a fluid, easy and a delicious change. Fortunately, Madrid is privy to the best and widest variety of fish, coming from the Cantabrian coast. Madrid is also known for gastronomía, or more simply put, according to the Royal Academy of Language: the art of preparing good food. La gastronomía española is based on the trilogy of wheat, olives and wine, supported by other notables such as rice, legumes, garlic, cheese, fish and eggs.
Every country has its own particular brand of gastronomy that is closely interrelated to its culture history. Many cultures contribute to the wide variety of Spanish fruits and vegetables, such as lemons, oranges and almonds exported from Arabic culture. The Christmas sweet made from almonds is known as turrón, from when Spain was once known as the peninsula of Al-Andalus via Muslim invasion. The widely used potato, well known in the very traditional tortilla española, and tomato arrived from the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The famous Mediterranean diet hails primarily from the costal regions of the Iberian Peninsula, such as Cataluña, Murcia and the Balearic Islands.
Aperitivos, or appetizers, such as fried mozzarella sticks, or a blooming onion, will not appear on any decent madrileño menu. What you will find are specialty black and green olives or tiny fish-topped tapas, such as bacalao de sardina or salmon ahumado. Meats, such as cochinillo (roast suckling pig) and fishes are cooked a la plancha, or grilled. Olive oil, or the more economical girasol (sunflower oil) are preferred instead of butter or animal fat for frying. Salads are simply adorned with tomatoes, onions and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A glass of wine like rioja, a famous Spanish red that hails from Rioja in the north, or beer accompany most meals. Café solo is taken after eating to aid digestion. The menu of my favorite tapas restaurant in Madrid, Lateral, takes the traditional Mediterranean diet and adds a sophisticated modern twist.
More than just delicious, the Mediterranean diet is also known to lower cholesterol levels, as well as the rate of heart attacks. According to an article in the New York Times, a 1999 Lyon Diet Heart Study found that within four years, the Mediterranean reduced the rates of heart disease recurrence and cardiac death by 50 to 70 percent among patients who suffered their first heart attack when compared with an American Heart Association diet.
When you cut out the American trilogy of excessive sodium, sugar and grease that comes in a paper bag decorated with a large golden arch and a smiling clown or king, you can start to appreciate the delicious simplicity- and health benefits- of whole, natural foods, the way people have been eating them for centuries. Eating the Mediterranean way is easy- if you want to give it a shot try this book or Mediterranean diet eating plan. As Dr. Michael Ozner, medical director of the Cardiovascular Prevention Institute of South Florida says, “the Mediterranean diet is one people can stick to… the food is delicious, and the ingredients can be found in any grocery store.”