When I first started cooking, the biggest challenge I faced was figuring out flavor profiles (that is, the balance of flavors in one dish). I especially had to master deciphering which herbs and spices would complement each other in a well-rounded dish. Over time, I discovered that when I associate certain flavors with specific cuisines, I could more easily create a successful recipe and not be intimidated by mixing herbs and spices.
Learning this concept has been integral to my healthier cooking because a low-cal dish’s flavorful heart comes from its seasoning. To introduce you to some new flavor profiles, I’m focusing a series of blogs on different international cuisines. This way, next time you reach into the spice cabinet, you’ll feel more comfortable with the flavors looking back at you.
To kick it off, let’s sample Greece, where I spent two weeks last summer creating great memories and even better food! I fell in love with the taste of the Mediterranean because the area’s flavors are vibrant and naturally healthy.
Greek food, like many European cuisines, finds inspiration from the products grown and raised there, including tomatoes, eggplants, olives, fish, lemons, oregano, dill, thyme, mint and basil. These are common ingredients that show up in many Greek dishes and their flavors balance each other perfectly.
Here are two quick recipes that are recreations of what I savored in Greece – just with a healthier spin. They are easy enough to serve for dinner any night of the week.
Quick Shrimp Saganaki (shown above)
- 1 1/4 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined (tail on)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 ounces Greek feta cheese, crumbled
- 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (depending how hot you like your food)
- Pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the shrimp, tomatoes, olives and oregano and cook about 3 to 5 minutes until shrimp are pink and mostly cooked; stir occasionally. Add the fresh herbs and feta and cook 1 to 2 minutes to heat through. Serve with crusty bread.
** You can use a 15-ounce can of fire-roasted, diced tomatoes (strained) but it increases the sodium. In this case, add the tomatoes and oregano once the onions are soft and cook 5 minutes. Then, follow the recipe above to complete the dish.
Calories: 267; Fat: 11.5 grams; Saturated Fat: 2.7 grams; Protein: 31.8 grams; Carbohydrates:, 8.5 grams; Cholesterol: 226 milligrams; Sodium: 481 milligrams; Fiber: 1.41 grams
NOTE: The sodium in the actual recipe is less than what’s calculated because the juice from the canned tomatoes is strained. To decrease the sodium further, soak your olives in water prior to adding to the dish.
Chicken Gyros With Tzatziki
- 1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 lemon, juice and zest
- 1 1/2 cups non-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced finely
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh dill
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 large whole grain pitas, cut in half
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut chicken into pieces and place in a bowl. Add olive oil, oregano and zest and juice of one lemon. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (it’s even better overnight).
While the chicken marinates, combine the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, remaining lemon juice and zest (1/2 lemon) and dill in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate (you can refrigerate overnight).
Place chicken in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with oregano, 1 teaspoon dill and salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
Heat a large, non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and sauté until brown and cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to plate. Serve with onions, pita and tzatziki.
NOTE: You can add more or less garlic and dill to the tzatziki depending on your taste. Also, if you prefer a less chunky tzatziki, shred the cucumber or combine all the ingredients in the food processor.
Calories: 274 calories; Fat: 5.5 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 35 grams; Carbohydrates:35 grams; Cholesterol: 80 milligrams; Sodium: 338 milligrams; Fiber: 2.82 grams