Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet: Croatian Style
- 3 Minutes Read
Put your seatbelts on during this taste of Croatia tour and savor some of the unique aspects of this particular Mediterranean diet which includes pomegranates, lamb and fennel.
When you think of the Mediterranean Diet, you probably dream of heart healthy extra virgin olive oil, fish, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fruits and vegetables from the countries of Italy, Spain, and Greece. However, let's not forget that the mesmerizing blue Mediterranean Sea touches not only these vacation destinations, but also the Balkan states of Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro. While recently visiting Dubrovnik, the southernmost city in Croatia, I learned that Croatians add their own twist to the Mediterranean Diet with many unique culinary delicacies to offer.
Croatia has a mainland coast on the Adriatic Sea with over 1,000 miles in addition to over 1000 islands. This Mediterranean country not only emphasizes fish as part of the diet, but also pomegranates, lamb, and fennel.
Growing up in South Dakota, pomegranates were a unique red Christmas fruit which enhanced our snacks only in December. As a child, I enjoyed digging out the sweet bright red kernels with my tongue, being careful not to eat the bitter paper-thin white membrane that surrounded them. However, in Croatia, pomegranates ripen in the fall and are so inexpensive and plentiful that they are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. In Croatia, we hiked to the luring beach through groves of trees clustered with red pomegranates. This reminded me of the bunches of red apples we picked on my brother's apple orchard in Minnesota in the fall.
Pomegranates, whether eaten as a fruit or consumed as juice, have received a lot of press recently as a "super food" because of their high antioxidant properties. However, there are many other nutritional benefits.
In Croatia, pomegranates are offered fresh for all meals and snacks. In addition, most salads have a few pomegranates sprinkled on top. Our favorite dish while visiting was a pomegranate chutney which we used as a healthy and delicious topping to lamb.
Most of us think of lamb as a holiday affair; however, in Croatia it is a common menu staple. Lamb, similar to most meats, is an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
As with all meats, keep your serving size to 2-3 ounces which is about the size of a deck of cards. One day I had to gently explain this important detail to my husband when he proudly pointed out that his filet mignon was the width of one deck of cards. Unfortunately, the height of his piece of meat was four decks of cards. Much larger than the recommended serving size!
For healthier options, look for lean, loin or sirloin on the packaging and cut off extra fat. Cook by broiling, roasting, stewing or baking, as opposed to frying or sauteing.
I have always relished the licorice-like flavor of fennel, whether in tea, raw or roasted. In Croatia, fennel is a common and inexpensive vegetable. Not only is fennel a good source of antioxidants, it is also rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
Ways to use fennel in the kitchen
Enjoy the heart healthy benefits of the Meditarrean diet and add a Croatian twist by creatively cooking with pomegranates, lamb and fennel.