Mediterranean Chicken, Sort Of
There isn't particularly any agreement on what actually constitutes a Mediterranean diet so I am using this recipe title loosely. Because I don't usually eat grains I make this recipe without but it ends up quite liquidy and thus would lend itself well to a layer of uncooked quinoa on the bottom to cook in the juices. I just save the liquid and freeze it for future soups.
12 boneless chicken thighs
1 large can tomatoes, drained
2 cups marinara sauce-homemade or from a jar, 1/2 cup reserved
fresh baby spinach-about six handfuls
garlic-three or four large cloves crushed1 sweet pepper any colour, chopped or sliced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 cup sliced, pitted black olives
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh parmesan, grated
Preheat oven to 350 F
I a rectangular casserole dish about 9x13 inches, spread the tomatoes and cover with 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce. Reserve approximately 1/2 cup of the marinara. If you are using quinoa, spread the uncooked quinoa over the tomatoes and sauce. Pile on the spinach next. It will cook down significantly so you really want to use about twice as much as you think you should. I could have used more than I did here.
On top of the spinach put the remaining vegetables and the crumbled feta. Layer the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and spread the remaining marinara sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle the grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over top of the chicken and bake about an hour. Because the marinara sauce is already likely to have herbs and salt, you don't need to add any unless you wish to add more. The marinated artichokes will also have some seasoning added and the olives and feta will add some saltiness.
I do not believe in preaching about food to people, and I usually find those who do so as annoying as those who preach their religion. I do get it, when you find something you really believe in, something that really works for you, you want to tell others so they can be as happy or as healthy as you are. We live in a world where people want to feel they have control over their health, mind and body. To some extent we have control but not as much as the people trying to sell you goji berry juice would like you to believe. For some, it's worth it just to take the chance that there is a miraculous cure in food, that the latest wonder food can cure or prevent whatever diseases we fear. Playing into that feeling are the many people who wish to sell us foods, drinks or supplements (not to mention fitness programmes) and in addition there is the confusing advice and the ever changing 'facts' from so called experts who are often mislead or confused themselves. The subject of nutrition has always been one that fascinated me and I read up on it frequently. I am interested in knowing which so called facts are actually supported by studies and just how scientific those studies actually are. Following that I am interested in how they apply to me and my body.
As someone living with a chronic illness, I would indeed like to be cured or even improved simply by adding supplement X or by juicing berries and kale. Wishing does not make things so. Once upon a time I was vegetarian and then vegan. I ate a very healthy diet rich in plants foods, vegetables and whole grains, ancient grains, very low fat and very minimal processed foods. Not only did this diet not cure me, it made me sicker. Please note I am not saying it would or does make everyone sicker. It made me sicker. Here is why. It is uncertain whether or not I have Coeliac Disease, and largely irrelevant because it is quite clear that I have a severe gluten intolerance so I have eliminated gluten from my diet. Could I do this and still be vegan or vegetarian? Yes. When eating vegan I was always hungry. I ate lots of food and it was healthy food. My staples were beans and brown rice. I gained weight, about 30lbs more than I needed, and I was still always hungry.
My journey to make my body as healthy as I could make it, despite knowing that there is no cure for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and knowing that I am not built like a runway model and super thin was not my goal, lead me to dive even more deeply into learning as much as I could about nutrition, about food and what our bodies do with it, and to apply this to my own body to find the way of eating that was best for me. What this eventually lead me to was a gluten free diet low in carbohydrate which makes it proportionately higher in protein and fat. It may well be low in calories as well though I certainly don't count them. It is practically the opposite of what I had been eating, believing myself to be doing all the right things for health. It is the opposite of what we have been told to eat for the past twenty or thirty years.
I had not become vegetarian for health reasons initially, I had simply gone off meat. Increasingly I found it disgusting and I didn't want to eat meat. I became vegetarian mostly for ethical reasons, not because I believed meat was bad for us. This made my transition back to meat eating a very emotionally challenging one. At one point even the smell of cooking meat nearly made me vomit. It was very obvious that I had to give up foods containing gluten, but what I eventually learned was that my own body has a very troubled relationship with carbohydrates. I love them. I really love them, like a drug addict loves her heroine. The more I ate of them the more I wanted them, craved and felt I needed them. This led to over eating and if I tried to eat less food I was ravenously hungry and cranky. I had a significant blood sugar drop every day in the afternoon which left me shaking, tired, dizzy and weak, and needing a carbohydrate fix.
So I made a radical change. Gluten is gone. I am so sensitive I am even affected by cross contamination from a cutting board or knife. The difference this made for me makes the sacrifice involved tolerable. Yes, there are gluten free baked goods available in the shops and recipes I can follow at home but most of them do not taste as good as the original. If they do, they are made with a bunch of starches and sugars I really do not need, so they are a very rare treat. But it's not just the gluten filled grains I have given up. Except for the occasional treat, I do not eat any grains and I feel so much better. No grains, minimal starches and very little sugar and the extra weight melted off, the insatiable hunger and the blood sugar drops gone just like that! It took my body about two weeks to adjust to the new way of eating, though closer to a month not to feel a little bit ill each time I cooked meat.
So what do I eat? I eat eggs, meat, vegetables, some high fat dairy, animal fats, nuts and a small amount of fruit. Fat is filling, fat is good for us unless we are eating trans fats, the man-made garbage. The satiating quality of fat does not allow me to come even close to eating enough of it to put on weight. I don't pay any attention to how much fat I eat, I use butter and never worry about it. I eat eggs, cheese, butter, cream or olive oil, and meat every day. I eat lots of vegetables but keep the beans to a minimum now as they are higher in carbohydrates which my body does not deal well with. I still love beans but I don't base my meals on them. I eat very little processed food and when I do buy it I read the labels carefully to avoid trans fats, sugars and sodium as well as gluten.
Okay, I may have come a little close to preaching there. It's difficult not to when explaining why I eat the way I do. In my opinion, the true research and the scientific studies support this way of eating but not everyone needs to avoid carbohydrates to the extent that I do and not everyone needs to avoid gluten. I have not cured my M.E. through diet. If I did it would not be M.E. But I have found what works well for me and am happy to explain it to anyone who is interested. The ethics of eating animal products is a whole other subject which I'm going to leave alone for now. I hear the collective sigh of relief!
Some sources that are clear and easy to read: