My oven has seen better days. Well, to be frank, it has never seen a pan without cookie dough. I can make a killer boxed macaroni and cheese, and buttered pasta is my specialty (hold the eye roll, they are different cuisines!).
Each Sunday, I go to the grocery store with the best of intentions, and each Sunday I come away with nothing but the basics, which for me is cheese — a lot of cheese — crackers, pasta, milk and eggs.
At 25, I am completely aware this is an unsustainable diet, but cooking is not … fun. Groceries are overwhelming, and recipe-picking has been known to cause mini-breakdowns. Not to mention, by the time I get home, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking (and I always change my mind about what I want).
All of this being said, I am determined to improve my eating habits. Watching my mother over the holidays, I became intrigued. A breast-cancer survivor, she overhauled her post-treatment diet following dietician recommendations to start the Mediterranean Diet — research shows a connection between the Mediterranean Diet and a reduced risk of common cancers. It has also been linked to reduced heart disease thanks to decreased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol.
And the interest and support for the diet only continues to grow: U.S. News ranks the Mediterranean Diet as the number one diet for 2019.
Opposed to an elimination diet — where you cut out certain foods — the Mediterranean Diet is not about counting calories or restricting yourself. Instead, the food pyramid recommends eating more plant-based foods, whole grains and healthy fats, consuming fish at least twice weekly, having less chicken and dairy, and limiting meat to about once a month. And, unlike some well-practiced diets, wine is allowed — in moderation.
So, I decided to put my big girl pants on and commit to five nights of cooking Mediterranean Diet-approved meals. How hard could it be?
Night One: Farfalle with Zucchini, Tomatoes, Olives and Feta
Drew’s easiness scale: 4/5
Pro-tip: Repurpose for a cold pasta salad next day Mediterranean lunch
All I want to do is order pizza and watch The Bachelor, but for the sake of journalism, I carry on. I am pleasantly surprised that the Mediterranean Diet is grain based, meaning a majority of the recipes I found contained pasta — my specialty!
Breaking out of my comfort zone is hard, so I am starting off with a pasta: a farfalle, with zucchini, tomatoes, olives and feta, dish I found in The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen (where nights one, two and three recipes came from). Baby-steps people!
After a longer-than-ever-before trip to the produce aisle — an early negative to this diet are the high grocery bills due to the continuous need for fresh, high quality ingredients — my fridge is bursting with so many vegetables that I am almost sad to use them.
I grab my recipe, and instantly realize I have made a mistake — at the grocery, sure enough. The recipe calls for two pounds of zucchini (which seems like A LOT), but I only bought one pound. With a “screw it” attitude, I start rinsing, chopping and dicing and the ease of this recipe becomes mildly overshadowed by all of the prep work.
But upon completion, I have a tangy (thanks to the lemon zest) and hearty (looking at you, zucchini) pasta dish that was filling and delicious. Maybe this cooking thing is not so bad after all.
Night Two: Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Drew’s easiness scale: 3/5
Pro-tip: Baby broccoli ≠ broccoli rabe
I love red meat. If I could live off of a cheeseburger-based diet I would. Alas, that is obviously not an option if I want to keep my heart healthy. Since the Mediterranean Diet pyramid dictates that dishes should be meat-based “less often,” I decide to make one meat-based meal this week and settle on an orecchiette pasta — shout out to Barilla’s artisanal collection for making me feel fancy — with broccoli rabe and sausage. The best of every world.
Halfway through, I begin to doubt this recipe. Apparently, broccoli rabe is not the same as baby broccoli (what I am currently holding in my hand). A full tablespoon of salt feels like a lot (it is). And there is no sauce (it needs it).
Completed, the dish is just … fine. After the effort, I was hoping for a knockout, but instead end up wishing I had not wasted my meat dish on this.
Night Three: Orzo with Shrimp, Feta and Lemon
Drew’s easiness scale: 5/5
Pro-tip: check instructions before cooking to make sure you have the necessary tools
Fish is a large portion of the Mediterranean Diet, and since I do not feel confident cooking filets (nor do I like most fish), shrimp — aka the only seafood I like — is on the menu tonight.
Always read the recipe, my friends. Three cloves of minced garlic, one chopped onion and boiling orzo in, I realize I am missing a key tool (I even bought a lemon zester) for this recipe: a lid for my pan. The lid I have been meaning to order for months but never got around to. Go me.
And this is where I lose it. OK, so it had already been a bad day and I might have been teetering on the edge anyways, but this cooking thing is stressful and why does nothing ever go right in the kitchen? *Sigh*
After a few tears, a frantic call to my mother and a deep-breathing exercise in the middle of my kitchen (I really like to succeed), I decide to improvise! I manage to get through the recipe with a baby lid, and oh my gosh is it good. The nuttiness of the orzo balances out the lemony shrimp for a filling and satisfying meal. And it was not even that hard.
Night Four: Instant Pot Mediterranean Chicken
Drew’s easiness scale: 5/5
Pro-tip: Instant Pots are really an acquired taste
Weekly, I have a stare down with my Instant Pot — a cyber Monday purchase that shows I do not know how to shop sales. With an actual hatred for crock pot food, I struggle to find recipes to make in the monstrosity that takes up so much room in my kitchen. But I do try, at least, to use it. And what better time than post-workout with a Mediterranean Diet recipe?
After an hour of searching the Internet I settle on a Mediterranean chicken dish. In the diet, chicken is allowed in moderate portions, and I am craving some meat. This was an easy meal, but I have nothing to say about it because it was unmemorable and tasteless. Instant Pot-1, Drew-0.
Night Five: Shrimp Scampi
Drew’s easiness scale: 5/5
Pro-tip: shrimp are easy to overcook!
It is finally here! My week of cooking is coming to an end, and I am almost … sad? While it has definitely been an experience (and the most action my kitchen has ever seen), cooking every night is exhausting.
I decide to wrap up this week with an uber-healthy dish from The Mediterranean Diet Weight Loss Solution: shrimp scampi over zoodles. I have tried zoodles only once before — and I hated them. But that was years ago, so they must be better now, right??? Turns out, they are. Or, maybe over the week my palate has become refined. Regardless, the whole dish came together in a final “wow I can actually cook” plate.
Aside from adding fish into my diet, I did not have to adapt my lifestyle that much to incorporate the healthy meals. And in a moment of final clarity, I realized I did not use butter once this week — a typical staple in my meals — as the component was abandoned to the refrigerator and replaced with olive oil (a Mediterranean Diet staple known for its health benefits).
But what I learned the most is that succeeding with this diet is pretty easy. I was never starving, always satisfied and had more energy than usual. Over the course of the week, I made quite a few mistakes when cooking — you do not have to be a chef to pick up this diet. But, for the most part, each dish turned out perfectly fine. In fact, most of them were good. All it takes is one decision to improve your life, and the Mediterranean Diet is an easy (and delicious) option. So, is this my last “mandatory” Mediterranean dish? Yes. Will it be my last? Definitely not.
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