We’ve heard the evidence and seen the proof: the Mediterranean Diet is best for our health and well-being. Patricia Moore-Pastides whole-heartedly believes in this concept, and is starting a “Greek Revival” of sorts, generating new enthusiasm and practice for this way of eating, with her book Greek Revival: Cooking for Life.
Ms. Moore-Pastides is an accomplished cook and writer. She earned a master’s in public health at Yale University, and worked for years in the field of public health. She is also the First Lady of the University of South Carolina (USC); her husband Harris, a Greek-Cypriot, is the president. We recently spoke with the author about her forthcoming book.
When did you start cooking Greek food?
In 1987, a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship took our family to Athens on sabbatical. I found some cooking classes, taught in English by a Greek-American woman from Chicago. I thought it would be fun, since I always loved cooking. It was then that I fell in love with Greek food.
Why another “Greek cookbook?”
Working in public health, I’d read much about the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. There are so many life-giving elements to the traditional Greek diet and way of life. I wanted to highlight all of the benefits, but in layman’s terms, not clinical or scientific. Life is long for followers of the traditional Greek peasant diet. It’s is so salubrious, but it’s not measured. I hate counting calories.
How did it come about?
To develop the recipes, I took what I knew about Greek food, plus notes from my in-laws, and got creative on my own. I wanted to be true to this approach to eating that is so life-giving, in a traditional Greek way. I want to show Americans how this diet, with no processed foods, is the best way to eat.
How long did it take to write?
I started three years ago, on a three-month sabbatical in Cyprus. There, I began researching and testing new recipes. Then I began reinventing, substituting whole grains for white, such as making stuffed grape vine leaves with bulgur instead of white rice. In ancient times, they used barley a lot. I thought, let’s revisit some of these elements that were the healthiest, those used before all this processing.
Where did the title come from?
From a friend. She invited me to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard to see their extensive cookbook collections. I read many old cookbooks that filled in gaps in my knowledge. I saw how whole grains were used. I wanted the public to know the book promotes health but I didn’t want it to be perceived as a self-help or diet book. This book is about health and life. She came up with an idea, connecting it to the Greek Revival in architecture. This is the revival of the older way of eating. It’s cooking for life; it’s traditional, emotional and spiritual.
How should we eat?
We eat so fast, we’re always in a rush. We don’t take time to really chew and savor our meals; thus we’re never satisfied. I speak to this in the book, encouraging people to slow down, enjoy a meal, and be surrounded by people. Mealtimes are an event. Don’t rush. Our family is always the happiest when the kids are home, and we’re sharing a long, leisurely meal. Also, we promote cooking with olive oil. It’s a simple switch that gives people the potential to be so much healthier. We should cook at home more, then we know what’s in the food. The portion sizes are way out of control, too. Instead of having mostly vegetables and perhaps a bit of meat on the side, we’re doing just the opposite. I’m a strong advocate for growing your vegetables when possible, using organic ingredients, as well as shopping locally.
You teach Greek cooking classes.
Yes, at a program called “Columbia’s Cooking!”, part of USC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program. All styles of cooking are taught. We bring people into the kitchen; get them in groups working on different recipes. Then we eat together and even enjoy some wine. This is really a way of life, and it has to be explained that way. If you enjoy eating there’s nothing that can take away that joy as fast as trying to quantify everything – how many carbs, how much fat, how many calories. If the doctor tells you to lose weight, you get a list of foods to avoid. I believe that if we want behavior change, we must work with people and get their hands in the cooking and of course they must like the food; nobody will eat it if it doesn’t taste good!
What kind of recipes are in the book?
Look for renovated classics like Moussaka, as well as many delicious new creations made from traditional ingredients. I incorporate things like broccoli rabe, which isn’t typical in Greece. With its bitter taste, it’s reminiscent of horta. Instead of boiling it, sauté it with garlic and olive oil. There are simple, easy and tasty dishes, plus health information and the nine basic characteristics of the traditional Greek diet. Plus history is also infused throughout.