Herb It Up

Many of you probably are familiar with Mediterranean Diet. It’s the diet that is rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil. It has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet’s main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols and essential minerals.

The original Mediterranean diet pyramid was developed by Oldways in 1993 after research showed that people who live in the Mediterraenean area lived long as the result of what they ate. 

Oldways, a widely-respected nonprofit "food issues think tank," now has come up with updated dietary recommendations to take into account a swathe of new studies that have demonstrated the benefits of the eating plan.

The three primary changes involve the prominence of all plant-based foods, increased recommendations for fish consumption and the addition of herbs and spices.

I find the third one most interesting. I’m a big fan of using herbs in cooking. It’s one of the ways I’ve been able to cut back on my consumption of red meat to once or twice a week at the most.

Oldways said it has included herbs and spices in the pyramid to reflect increased evidence of their health-promoting characteristics and the role they play in increasing the acceptability of foods.

We all know how good meat tastes, and many people feel that other foods are bland by comparison. But by cooking with herbs, you can immensely enhance the flavor of almost any meatless dish well beyond the point of palatability.

The following recipe for Oven-Baked Salmon hits on all three of Oldway’s suggestions for the updated diet — it has vegetables, fish and herbs.

I can’t wait to try it.

Oven-Baked Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato and Salsa Mayonnaise
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 (about 3 pounds) skinless, boneless salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1½ teaspoons salt, divided use
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided use
¼ cup hazelnuts
About 1 large slice country-style bread (enough to make ¾ cup fresh bread crumbs)
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
¾ cup store-bought fresh or homemade salsa
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Garnish: 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs (mixture of parsley, tarragon, chives, chervil)
Prepare fish: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Oil oven-proof platter large enough to hold fish in single layer. Place salmon on platter and sprinkle with ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Turn salmon over and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper.
Place hazelnuts in food processor fitted with metal blade. Process until roughly ground. Tear bread into pieces and add. Pulse until bread is in medium crumbs. Scatter mixture over fish. Bake 40 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare mayonnaise: Place sun-dried tomatoes and a little of their oil in food processor fitted with metal blade. Add salsa and process until smooth. Transfer to bowl and mix in salt, mayonnaise and chives.
When salmon is done, remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied with sun-dried tomato and salsa mayonnaise.
Yield: Serves 12.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving with 1 tablespoon salsa-mayonnaise: 290 calories (40 percent from fat), 13 grams fat (4.5 grams saturated), 11 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 1.3 grams fiber, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 750 milligrams sodium.