When I heard the latest news about the Mediterranean diet and its importance for good health outcomes, I will confess to a slightly ho-hum reaction. For the last 25 years, through two major books, several minor ones, and countless articles, I’ve been preaching exactly that. It’s good to know that the rest of the world is finally catching up.
If I sound smug, honestly, I don’t mean to. It’s just that over the years more and more evidence has piled up that this is one of the best diets for Americans to follow, one of the best ways to eat—and to cook. What confirmed it most recently was a study compiled by researchers at the Harvard T. C. Chan School of Public Health and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study concluded that women who followed a pretty much Mediterranean eating style over the decades
were 40% more likely to achieve a healthy and vigorous seniority (that’s polite talk for old age), without the chronic illnesses, from Parkinson’s to cancer to cognitive disfunction, that often afflict aging Americans.
If you’re not yet convinced, consider this: It is also a delicious way to eat, an easy way to cook, and a no brainer on your shopping list. Almost everything you need can be found in a reasonably well-stocked American supermarket, and the prep techniques are no more complicated than chopping salad greens, boiling water for pasta, broiling a piece of fish, or baking vegetables in the oven with olive oil, garlic and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
In other words, eating well is not rocket science.
If you’re ready to make the change, one of the first things you can do is:
up the amount of vegetables you eat or put on your family table.
Here’s one of the easiest and most delicious ways to do that and it can be applied to all sorts of green, leafy vegetables–spinach, chard, broccoli rabe, broccolini, turnip greens, collards, kale, even Chinese bok choy or flowering broccoli.
For 6 servings, you’ll need about 3 pounds of greens. Remove any tough stems, stripping the leaves away, and chop the leaves coarsely. Fill a basin with water and rinse the greens, changing the water a couple of times to get rid of any sand. Add the greens, with the water clinging to the leaves, to a big pot and steam, covered, over medium-low heat until they are tender. This can take as little as 10 minutes or less for fresh, young spinach up to 30 minutes for more robust collards. You may need to add a little boiling water to keep the greens from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the greens are tender, drain them well and chop some more. You could do all this ahead of time and set the greens aside until you’re ready to serve.
At that point, peel three garlic cloves and chop them coarsely. Add to a pan large enough to hold the greens, along with ¼ cup or more of extra-virgin olive oil. Set over low heat and cook, stirring, just a few minutes until the garlic is soft—but don’t let the garlic brown. Add a dried red chili pepper, broken into bits (for less heat, discard the seeds and white membranes inside the pepper). Stir again and then add the greens, tossing and stirring to mix everything very well and warm the greens in the garlic-infused oil. Remove from the heat and immediately add some salt and a couple of tablespoons of wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice.
Serve the greens as is on their own, or make a nice first course for dinner by piling the greens on lightly toasted slices of country-style bread that you’ve rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and drizzled with a little more olive oil.