A Mediterranean Journey
About 30 years ago, my mom started visiting Portugal. She fell in love with this Southern European country. She started taking my stepfather, Christian there. After some time, she fell in love enough to make Portugal her home.
They chose the Algarve region of Portugal, the most southern part of the country that faces south into the Atlantic Ocean. I remember visiting this region as a teen when Portugal recently entered the European Union. The Algarve region was still very rural. So rural that we took a dirt road from Faro airport, a tiny one terminal building, to our hotel in Monte Gordo, a small town not far from the Spanish border.
My folks lived in Portugal for a few years and then relocated to Northwest France. Then they moved back to Portugal. Then back to France. After a brief excursion to England, they made Spain their permanent home in 2017. The Mediterranean, they decided, was their life.
Mediterranean - the more things change, the more they are the same
So many parts of the Mediterranean today have been discovered. The once quiet rural villages and coastal hamlets are now populated with sun-seekers traveling for a vacation or spending time in second homes. Golf courses and condominiums now replace the once-quiet streets and local markets. You no longer see local farmers riding to the local town markets on their mopeds with the market fare, including animals, strapped to their backs.
The Mediterranean is a vast region – more than 25 countries that expand 3 continents.You will find most tourism in coastal areas. If you drive a few miles from any coast and you embed yourself in the authentic Mediterranean where its people go about their daily lives.
My parents have spent many years in the Mediterranean region, including Portugal, France and now Spain. Granted, the part of France where they lived was not on the Mediterranean Sea, neither is the Algarve region of Portugal. But the rhythm of life and the sense of community still lie at the heart of these countries.
Community lies at the Heart of The Mediterranean
The Mediterranean is more than Santorini Sunsets
The Mediterranean region is a much-studied area of the world in the field of nutrition and medical science. Its “diet” is a gold standard among many scientists, even though most of the world will eat different food.
In my work, I have also studied the Mediterranean extensively through a different lens to the region called nutrigenomics. This lens allows me to talk about the value of Mediterranean food and life through its influence on our genes. Read more about it here.
You see, the Mediterranean is much more than olive oil, lavender fields, seafood, The Amalfi Coast, glorious sunsets over Santorini, and resplendent vineyards.
At the heart of the Mediterranean is the deep sense of local community where local cafes and taverna espouse village gossip and village life.
You only have to walk through a tiny village in Greece first thing in the morning, or around 6 pm to see gatherings of women and men drinking coffee or a small glass of wine and chatting.
Same thing in Italy (aperitivo) and in Spain (tapas). This sense of community is an important revelation of The Blue Zones work by Dan Buettner and something now captured in the emerging field of science, Human Social Genomics. In other words, the sense of belonging and the sense of community is as critical to longevity as food itself.
Conversations about Mediterranean Life
I have visited my folks many times over the years as they have lived and traveled in different Mediterranean regions. The Mediterranean courses in their blood. I innately know why, but I thought it would be interesting to chat with them about their journeys and what it is about the food, culture, and way of life that they find so appealing, and restorative.
I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in as I chat with them about food and life in the Mediterranean. We’ll be chatting about their life journey and about how things have changed or remained the same. Listen in as they talk about where they eat, what they buy, the markets and the people they meet along the way.
I’ll also be sharing some of the simple recipes and ingredients they pull together for quick meals. And by the way, my mom turns 90 this year. You think that the Mediterranean suits her well. Now listen in to our first conversation!
Tuna Salad with Bulgar Wheat and Lentils
My mom cooks with what is on hand and rarely with a recipe. Use the quantities you want in the following recipe, which is a quick lunch my mom threw together recently.
Cook 1 cup (or more) of bulgur wheat and one cup of green lentils according to package instructions. Drain.
When cool, fluff the bulgur wheat and toss with the lentils in a large bowl.
To the bulgur wheat and lentils mix, add finely chopped bell peppers and one hot chili pepper of your choice. Add a handful of finely diced celery and one grated fennel (if you have it on hand) and half a small diced red onion, or sweet white (Vidalia) onion if on hand.
Next, toss in 1 large can (or jar) of tuna and enough of its oil to gently bind the salad ingredients together. Add olive oil, or chili oil if you need more oil to bind the ingredients loosely together. Add a few grinds of black pepper and salt to taste.
Arrange the leaves of a fresh Boston Bibb or Cos lettuce in a bowl (or on individual plates) and arrange the tuna salad mix on top.
To add more brightness to the flavor, serve with a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the ingredients before eating.