Healthy Sephardic Mediterranean Recipes

Bella and me in Tel Aviv, Israel

When I was in Israel, we had our second Passover meal at the home of a family friend named Bella Badner. Bella and her sister are both wonderful cooks who make all the traditional Ashkenazi foods… brisket, chopped liver, and gefilte fish that melts in your mouth. Of course, I couldn’t help making a total glutton of myself. The food was irresistible (and I plan to blog about it as soon as Bella sends me some of her amazing recipes!).  :)

Bella’s family reads my blog, so they know that I cook lots of yummy, caloric dishes. As I helped myself to a second serving of brisket, Bella asked me how I stay so trim and healthy with all of the rich foods I cook for the website. I explained to her that most of the time, I eat Mediterranean and Sephardic-style cooking. It’s a healthy way to live, and it allows me to indulge every so often on heavier dishes without packing on the pounds.

When we returned to Los Angeles, we were greeted by the warm and lovely weather that comes as winter turns to spring. I realized it’s the perfect time to begin exploring some of those healthier Sephardic and Mediterranean dishes as we lighten up our diet for the spring and summer seasons.

In recent years, the Mediterranean lifestyle has been recognized as a great way to increase heart health and longevity. It’s even been shown to reduce the risk of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The biggest difference between a Mediterranean diet and an American diet is the increased emphasis on fresh, natural, unprocessed foods. Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring healthy eating, has developed a helpful food pyramid that reflects a Mediterranean approach to eating. I’ve pasted the pyramid below. As you can see, fruits, veggies, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices are the big players in this diet, with fish being a close second as a protein source. Dairy and poultry can each be enjoyed a few times per week. Red meat and sugar are eaten sparingly. Red wine is enjoyed in moderation.

 

 

I’ve been eating a Mediterranean-style diet for years. When I was a child my family didn’t consume much red meat at all, preferring chicken and fish as our main protein sources. We were inspired by my grandma, who completely changed my grandpa’s diet when he had a quadruple bypass surgery at the age of 75. After the surgery, his doctor told my family that his life expectancy was greatly reduced, and that he’d probably only live about 5 more years (it was a very invasive surgery back then). My grandma switched him to a strict Mediterranean diet, cutting out all red meat and making most of their meals vegetarian. She even served a glass of red wine at dinner each night. Grandpa lived to be 93 thanks to her efforts in the kitchen, far outlasting the doctor’s original grim prediction.

As I grew older I cut out meat altogether and became a vegetarian for several years. Towards the end of college I began eating fish again, then I slowly reintroduced poultry and meat. However to this day I eat very little meat, preferring vegetarian and fish entrees to heavier meat dishes. The majority of my diet consists of vegetables, legumes, rice, fruits, and whole grains. It’s a great way to live… I have lots of energy, my weight is under control, my skin is clear, and most importantly I feel satisfied. I don’t need to overdo the exercise– I walk 4 or 5 times per week, but nothing too strenuous. And the best part is, I can enjoy those rich and wonderful Ashkenazi Jewish dishes on occasion without feeling guilty! (Bagels, lox and cream cheese, anyone??)

Fresh kibbutz-grown bell peppers at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, Israel

One of the reasons I fell in love with Jewish food was the healthier Sephardic Jewish cuisine, which fit in perfectly with my Mediterranean lifestyle. Sephardic Jews originally lived in Spain and Portugal. After being expelled from Spain in the 15th century, the Sephardim settled in warmer areas of the Mediterranean– countries like Greece, Turkey and Morocco (for the historians among us, I use the term Sephardim in a broad sense to include both Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews). Because of the sunny Mediterranean climate, they had access to fresh vegetables, fish, fruits, spices and olive oil. The Sephardic diet became a kosher extension of the Mediterranean diet, combined with culinary influences from Spain, Portugal, and Arab countries. In the new areas where they settled, the Sephardim adapted Mediterranean dishes to suit the kosher laws, which meant separating dairy from meat and using only kosher meat (no pork, shellfish, or other treif). They utilized the regional crops and natural resources to create seasonal, colorful dishes. This resulted in a bevy of healthy, creative and flavorful foods that are still enjoyed today.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve featured several healthy Sephardic- and Mediterranean-style recipes on my blog. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below– you can search for more by clicking on the Recipe Index at the top of the page. If you’re interested in adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle, give some of these recipes a try. I’ll be posting more light and healthy options over the next few months as summer approaches. Enjoy!

 

HEALTHY SEPHARDIC MEDITERRANEAN-INSPIRED RECIPES

Israeli Salad with Feta

Maman’s Moroccan Fish

Shakshuka

Mami’s Sopita

Green Bean Pepper Salad

Classic Hummus

Falafel

Jacob’s Lentil Stew

Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

Ful Mudammas

Ful Mudammas

Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Olives

Mujadara

 

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Category: Roundups, Tori's Corner

Comments (22)Post a Comment

  1. Julie says:

    Every fiber of my being yearns for this food!!! The colors, scents, textures…….ALL of it makes me happy!

  2. Coco Galvez says:

    I love all this recipes, I can’t wait for the new ones!

  3. Kevin C. says:

    All of these recipes looks so yummy!
    Love it!

  4. Carol Esther says:

    Tori, Your recipes and great information about food and nutrition just gets better and better. I love the food pyramid here. Thank you!
    Your Shiksa friend, Carol

  5. Kerrie Goldfarb says:

    All of this food looks so good! We had the Israeli salad a few months ago and it’s a definite favorite of my husband’s. We have adopted a more healthy diet, and all of these recipes fit in perfectly. As always, thank you for your lovely blog!

  6. Rita B. Davis says:

    Tori I just love all of the recipes you post! I was also very amazed hearing the story of your Grandfather with his triple quadruple by-pass heart surgery and how he lived to be age 93 after his wife put him on the Mediterranean Diet! Heart Disease follows in my family and I have more or less been eating everything you mentioned on this diet except I do have some lean pork occasionally. Thank you for all of the wonderful recipes and information you put on your site! Rita B. Davis

  7. So super cool to see the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.
    Living in Israel I really do end up eating that way and love it.
    Your recipes and photos look yum :)

  8. Janet brown says:

    Love the Pyramid and your recipes you post. Keep them coming.

  9. Linda Avey says:

    You are amazing, dear cousin! :) These beautiful recipes will be part of our summer menu…hope you can come for a visit and enjoy them with us!

  10. Pingback: How to Make Fresh Italian Basil Pesto

  11. Erika Davis says:

    Those pictures are heavenly! I’ll have to study your falafel recipe, though. I tried them for Pesach and they were a disaster.

  12. Amit says:

    I love your website, I was born in Israel and all your recipes are bringing back memories!! My Grandmothers have both passed and was never really taught how to cook. As i grew up I learned through cookbooks and websites!! I always wanted to know how to make many of the recipes you posted!! And I have only seen a few!! Can wait to start cooking!!
    Thank you for bringing back a piece of my childhood!!

  13. Karyn says:

    I’m making the Moroccan Lemon Chicken AGAIN tonight! The first time I made it, my boyfriend was worried (pretty much any kind of Jewish cuisine is foreign to him) – but he ended up LOVING it. Now it’s a favorite among us and our friends since it serves so many and is SO delicious. Thanks for this recipe. We love it :-)

  14. Stefany says:

    Tori, Could you possibly recommend a good cookbook for Sephardic cuisine. Thanks in advance…

  15. keren says:

    Hi Tori,
    I just bumped into your FB page and I loved it!
    After wandering around your blog a bit, I saw this post and immidiatly thought about THE BEST meditaranian cookbook that I know – Aromas of Aleppo. It’s a cook book that contains all Hallab’s best recepies! deeply recomended!

    Keren

    **Disclosure – I’m Hallabi, so these are the recepies I grew up on… I know, my reccomndation sounds not so objective now… but trust me! it is really really good! :-)

  16. I’m so happy I found your blog. My husband and I eat mostly Mediterranean style diet and I’m always looking for new recipe ideas and inspirations.

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