Sandlapper Society

Spring 2010

Sharing the Health

Patricia Moore-Pastides believes Mediterranean cooking can create better eating habits for South Carolinians. She teaches it, she preaches it, and now she's writing about it.

Ask Patricia Moore-Pastides to name a few of her favorite Greek dishes and her eyes light up as she goes through her mental food Rolodex. "I just made spinach pie, cheese pie, Greek salad, roast lamb, moussaka and baklava—a traditional Greek dinner—for my staff for our annual Christmas lunch, so they're on my mind," she says. "I realize those aren't the healthiest examples of Greek and Mediterranean cooking, but they're so delicious." Then she thinks a bit. "Actually, you might be surprised to learn that there are lots of Greek dishes that are really good for you."

While most casual eaters of Greek foods probably do associate the cuisine with creamy feta cheese and buttery filo dough, Moore-Pastides notes that in Greece, the day-to-day diet is much healthier. "A typical Greek plate is filled with fresh vegetables and fruits, beans and very little meat," she explains. "It's incredibly beautiful, flavorful and good for you." She also found that the Greek lifestyle, which includes taking the time to eat and enjoy a meal, perhaps with a bit of red wine, but always with friends and family, also made a difference. "Meals in Greece satisfy all your senses," she notes. "Since food is part of the experience you tend to eat more thoughtfully, savoring the flavors and setting your fork down between bites to chat."

Growing up in Connecticut, Moore-Pastides discovered cooking the way many baby boomers did: through a middle school home economics class. "It was amazing for me to discover that you could actually make something like cherry cobbler from scratch," she recalls. "Soon, baking became my creative outlet." Her love affair with Greek cuisine began during the late 1980s, when her husband, current USC President Harris Pastides, was on sabbatical in Greece. "I was at the gym one day and saw a sign for Greek cooking classes that would be conducted in English." Channeling her inner Julia Child, who took French cooking classes while her husband was stationed near Paris, she registered.

What she discovered intrigued her. "Besides learning that making a perfectly triangular pastry is a lot harder than it looks, I was amazed at how healthy the basic Greek diet is. "The food is unprocessed, seasonal, and uses herbs and spices like oregano and cumin, which have been linked to a number of specific health benefits. Olive oil makes it low in saturated fat and the variety of fruits and vegetables makes it high in fiber." Because she was living in Greece at the time, Moore-Pastides also was able to see the connection between the Greek lifestyle and good health. Being a public health specialist—she had run worksite wellness programs before heading to Greece—she began to wonder if there was a way to incorporate what came to be known as the Mediterranean diet into U.S. eating habits.

Today, Moore-Pastides is using her experience, passion, and position to work toward that goal, starting with South Carolina. Last year, working with the Capital Senior Center and Columbia's Cooking, a local cooking school, Pastides launched a series of classes designed not just to teach students about Greek cooking, but also how to incorporate the benefits of the Greek lifestyle as well. A program of USC's Cancer Prevention and Control Center, it was so successful that she's now teaching in a building in Innovista, the university's research campus in downtown Columbia. Built specifically as a teaching center, the Discovery Kitchen allows 22 students to cook at once.

"If you just hand someone a recipe, particularly one that uses unfamiliar ingredients or techniques, they might not use it," she explains. "But once they've seen it done, there's a better chance they'll go home and make it again." She's also branching out, teaching high school students. "People are tired of eating the same things over and over, and they want to branch out, but they're not sure how. The classes give them the tools they need."

The popularity of the classes motivated Moore-Pastides to write a book about the Greek lifestyle. It's part cookbook—there are 85 recipes—and part memoir about how she came to realize that both food and lifestyle can help disease prevention. The University of South Carolina Press plans to publish Greek Revival: Cooking for Life in January 2011. "Just looking at the photos—Greek food is vibrant—will make you want to try something new," she predicts. "If we can make a step toward lowering the rates of cancer, obesity and other diseases in South Carolina, we'll have done our job."

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Black-Eyed Peas and Swiss Chard (Lahana me Louvia)

If you are a garlic lover, an additional clove or two would be great – though the flavor of black-eyed peas is very good unadulterated. Serve with extra lemon juice or vinegar on the table as condiments. This dish serves 6 and may be served warmed or at room temperature. 

1 cup black-eyed peas
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard, wash, trim away tough stems and chop the leaves into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Rinse black-eyed peas and set aside. Boil water in a medium-size saucepan. Add peas and boil for 2 minutes. Strain the peas and discard this water, which will be black.

Return peas to the pan; add enough water to cover the peas by at least 2''.  Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes until peas are tender. Remove from heat, strain and set aside.

In a frying pan heat oil and sauté chopped onions until soft, then stir in minced garlic, stir and cook for a few minutes until it browns a bit. Add the Swiss chard and cook for just a few minutes until it is wilted, add remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and lemon zest and stir gently. Combine onion and Swiss chard mixture with black-eyed peas, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Pasta with Arugula, Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives

The blend of flavors in this dish belies the simplicity of its preparation. As with all Mediterranean recipes, the freshness of the ingredients makes the flavor. Freshly picked arugula from the garden is very peppery, and ripe grape tomatoes are sweet. Sheep's milk feta has a much deeper feta taste than cow's milk cheese, and kalamata olives have a rich briny taste. Together the flavors meld as in the classic Greek salad. This is a wonderful recipe for a fast weeknight supper, because the only thing you have to cook is the pasta!

1 pound whole-wheat penne pasta
1 pound sheep's milk feta cheese, roughly crumbled
2 cups grape tomatoes, washed
3 cups of arugula leaves; washed, dried and cut into 2'' pieces
1½ cups pitted kalamata olives

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, crumble the feta cheese and set it aside. Wash and dry the grape tomatoes and set them aside. Wash and dry the arugula leaves and roughly chop them into two-inch pieces. Strain any liquid from the kalamata olives and set them aside.

When the pasta is cooked, strain it in a colander and then return the pasta to the pan you cooked it in. Add all the remaining ingredients and toss well. The heat of the pasta and the pan will wilt the arugula a bit and blend the flavors. Transfer the pasta with the arugula, tomatoes and kalamata olives to a serving bowl and serve hot.

This pasta needs no sauce. The flavors are enhanced just from being blended with the hot pasta. It's tasty, healthy, and easy!
Serves 6-8.

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Cracked Wheat and Pine Nuts – Dolmades

Most dolmades are stuffed with ground meat and white rice or white rice and herbs, Moore-Pastides says. The following healthy recipe utilizes bulgur instead, which is a whole grain, (cracked wheat), and includes no saturated fat. The cumin and pine nuts add flavor and protein respectively. This dish is also a great source of dietary fiber.  "But the best recommendation for these dolmades," she adds, "is the number of Columbia's Cooking! students I've witnessed eating the filling, while at work stuffing the grape leaves!"

1 bottle cured grape leaves strained, stems trimmed
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper optional
1 cup bulgur*
2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons raisins
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Thinly sliced lemon for garnish

Remove grape leaves from jar, strain off liquid, and trim away stems. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook until the onions are soft and transparent. Add in the minced garlic, pine nuts, cumin, salt and pepper to taste and lower the heat to medium. Cook until garlic is light brown. Stir in bulgur, boiling water, raisins and half the lemon juice. Lower heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid is evaporated. The bulgur should be tender. (If it is still hard, add another ½ cup boiling water and continue cooking until the bulgur is tender.)  When the bulgur is fully cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro leaves to combine.

Prepare a medium-sized saucepan by lining it with grape leaves to cover the bottom.

Set a pile of grape leaves out flat in front of you with the stem end closest to you and the veins facing up. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling at the stem end of the leaf, then fold each side in toward the center of the leaf. When both sides are folded in, roll the leaf away from you as tightly as possible until it makes a small, approximately 3-inch log. Place the stuffed grape leaf into the pan lined with grape leaves.

Continue rolling until you have no filling left, and the pan is full of stuffed grape leaves. Pour water over the grape leaves to barely cover them and place a heavy plate on top to keep the grape leaves from unrolling. Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool. When cool enough to handle, take the stuffed grape leaves from the pot and arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle with remaining lemon juice and garnish with thin lemon slices. You may serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes about 25-30 dolmades.

* If you use Heartland Bulgur, cut the boiling water back to 1 cup. When you add water to the bulgur, cover the pan, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes. The bulgur is ready when all the liquid is absorbed.


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