My New Years resolution is to eat healthier and live a fuller life. When my friend Christina Xenos sent me a copy of her Opa! The Healthy Greek Cookbook, I excitedly embraced this gift as a guide to fulfill my 2018 resolution. I decided to make a recipe a week from her book to get me and my family on track to eating well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. It’s been associated with a lower level of oxidized, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries. This way of eating has also reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
A Mediterranean diet is an eating plan incorporating fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains with a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine while limiting unhealthy fats.
Xenos learned how to prepare, eat and love food while cooking with her mother and yiayias (grandmothers). She always had a yiayia living with her while growing up, and fondly remembers her yiayia Chrysanthe sending her outside to pick grape leaves to help her make dolmathes.
As a professional chef, her company Sweet Greek Personal Chef Services hosts Greek-themed pop-up dinner experiences. She and Theo Stephan united to share their most beloved family recipes to help the world eat healthy Greek cuisine that is easy to prepare and full of exciting flavors.
The first chapter is all about understanding Greek Cuisine. “The essential ingredients of Greek cuisine are the same today as they were for the Bronze Age Minoans living on the island of Crete.” In the book is a map of the 8,498 miles of coastline around the peninsular archipelago. Readers learn about the food regions of Greece—Northern Greece, Central Greece, Peloponnese, the Greek Islands, Crete and Cyprus.
Chapter Two is a list of essential items in every pantry to prepare Greek food. “Healthy Greek cooking starts with certain key ingredients.” Olive oil, lemon, vinegar, tomatoes, cinnamon, mint, parsley, Greek oregano, dill and basil are a must.
Small plates called mezza are featured in Chapter Three. These are great starters or appetizers to serve to your family or at a party. It’s pages are filled with easy to make phyllo crackers to dip into Kalamata olive spread or eggplant dip, and tomato folderovers.
I found the recipes are easy to follow. At the top of each recipe is a guide telling chefs if the recipe is vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and nut-free. It will tell you how many servings the recipe makes, the prep time and cooking time.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make Greek penicillin, Chapter Four teaches readers how to make the velvety Egg-Lemon Chicken Soup. Other soup recipes include a gluten-free Greek gazpacho and lentil soup. Also in this chapter are a variety of healthy salads that include an arugula salad with oranges, fennel and pomegranate.
There is a chapter focused on beans, rice and pasta. Another offers a plethora of seafood main dishes, meat dishes and desserts.
What I liked at the end of the book was the Holiday Menu guide that include everything you need to make for the ultimate Greek Wedding. “Greek Weddings begin at sundown eating, dancing, drinking ouzo with plenty of Opas!” There is also a Christmas Menu, a New Year’s Day Menu typically served on January 6, Epiphany (Days of the Enlightenment) a major Greek Orthodox holiday.
Did you know that Easter is the most important of all the Greek holidays? It’s usually the biggest feast of the year. Xenos and Stephan offer a menu that you can prepare for your next Easter family and friend get together that will impress everyone at the party.
So for 2018, I will be living a good and healthy life more, while saying Opa each week as I make a new dish from the Healthy Greek Cookbook.
OPA! Healthy Greek Cookbook can be found on Target, Amazon or Xenos website My Sweet Greek.