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When the Mediterranean Diet Meets the Californian Kitchen

I love to eat and cook when I have the time. I’m originally from Israel and was born in a kibbutz, surrounded by fresh foods all year long. As early as I can remember (around 3 years old), I was trying to “cook.” I would create new dishes and make my family eat them. I have to say, they cooperated with me even when it wasn’t very good. (I remember adding sand to one of the cakes I was making.)

Over the years, especially since starting my own family, I have been cooking “from scratch” based on the food ingredients that you can find in Israel. Most of my cooking has been influenced by the Mediterranean diet.

When I found out my family was moving to the US, I was afraid that I would not be able to cook our traditional foods that my family loves so much. Lucky for me, my husband was accepted to Stanford University as a Post-Doctorate, and we moved to California where I discovered that the “Californian kitchen” is not so far away from the Mediterranean diet on which my cooking was based.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is known to be one of the healthiest diets in the world and has been chosen to be one of the top 3 best diets overall by nutrition and health experts. It protects against heart disease, reduces the risk for diabetes and is based on healthy ingredients as opposed to processed foods. The diet includes plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. It includes moderate consumption of fish, eggs, small amounts of red meat, and low-to-moderate consumption of wine, mainly with meals. The Mediterranean diet also contains dairy products, but recommends the consumption of more cheese and yogurt and less milk.

What is the Californian kitchen?

The Californian kitchen is known for its fresh ingredients -- lots of fruits and vegetables, salads, fish, other seafoods, fresh meat and locally-produced wine. Nuts, seeds, legumes and dried fruits are also among the foods you commonly find in the Californian kitchen. Did you know that the Central Valley area in California supplies 8% of the nation's agricultural output by value? The agriculture in California is very diverse and supplies fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. When you dine in a restaurant in California, you will probably find food that is created from ingredients sourced locally and from nearby farmers' markets. Due to California’s proximity to Mexico, you will also find the influence of the Mexican kitchen: avocado, salsa, tacos, tortillas, beans and more.

When you come to think of it, the Mediterranean diet and the Californian kitchen are not so far away from one another. They have a lot in common! One reason is the climate. California weather very much resembles the Mediterranean weather: warm weather most of the year, a relatively small amount of rain and good conditions for growing fresh fruits and vegetables almost all year long. For example, both climates offer optimal growing conditions for olives, avocados, grapes for food and wine, different green herbs for seasonings and much more.

While there is a lot in common between the Mediterranean diet and the Californian kitchen, the traditional dishes are not the same, and eating habits can be very different. When I first came to California, I was so happy to find many fresh and healthy ingredients, but at the same time, I felt a little lost when it came to preparing the foods I used to cook in Israel. I felt I needed to find my own version, to create a mix between the Californian kitchen and the typical Mediterranean foods I cooked for my family.

This was the beginning of my book, “Raising Healthy Eaters.” I wanted to help my family and friends enjoy the foods that I believe are the healthiest and tastiest foods in the world, here in California. I began to modify my recipes to the Californian kitchen. My biggest challenge was to modify the recipes from my mother-in-law, Sara Saroussi, to the Californian kitchen. Her recipes are based on the foods of Tunisia where she was born, and my kids prefer her food above any other kind of food or candy. Yes, there is nothing better than a homemade dish that was created “from scratch” with fresh ingredients and a lot of love.

So, I started to play with the recipes. I translated them into English and gave them to my friends to try. It was a great success!

What is special about my book “Raising Healthy Eaters”?

I call it “When the Mediterranean diet meets the Californian kitchen.” As I was working on the recipes, I wanted to reach out to more families and help them to learn how to cook healthy, delicious homemade food for their kids. I also wanted to share my knowledge and experience as a children’s nutritionist and a mother of three kids.

I wanted to help parents understand what is important to a child’s nutrition and given them tips on how to help children build a healthy relationship with food for life.

I invite you to read, cook, and enjoy “Raising Healthy Eaters.

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Yael Dror

© 2016 by Yael Dror

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