This week I am excited to share an interview with Caitlin Weeks, a certified Nutrition Consultant, author of the blog Grass Fed Girl and co-author (with her professionally-trained chef husband Nabil Boumrar) of the newly released eBook, Mediterranean Paleo Cooking. This is an amazing cookbook, filled with over 125 unique recipes inspired by Nabil's Algerian background and crafted with traditional, yet easy-to-find, ingredients. The recipes are enhanced with beautiful pictures and “nutritionist's tips” from Caitlin and “chef's tips” from Nabil. You will want to makeeverything! Caitlin is also generously giving away a copy of Mediterranean Paleo Cooking to THREE lucky readers – enter the contest at the bottom of this post!
1. When people hear the word “Mediterranean,” they often think of Italian or Greek cuisine. How is your book similar or different from this perception?
The Mediterranean region is a melting pot of cuisines with thousands of years of rich culinary history. Our book does have some Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern recipes that people will be familiar with. We also include many recipes from North Africa, which use spices such as cinnamon, ginger, saffron and cilantro. The country in this region that is most well known for its food is Morocco, but Algeria and Tunisia both have similar cuisines. Many people have heard of a slow-cooked stew made in a conical red clay pot called a tajine. Our book includes 14 easy-to-follow tajine recipes that do not need any special equipment.
2. What is your favorite recipe from this cookbook to make and/or eat? What is Nabil's? Why?
My favorite recipe is the cinnamon beef. It is so simple yet it has a depth of flavor that is unexpected. It was one of the first dishes that Nabil taught me how to make when we were writing the book. I felt a sense of accomplishment that I could finally make something that he grew up eating. Nabil’s favorite recipe is the chicken and olive tajine that is featured on our cover. He likes that dish because it is something his mom made during holidays at home. Also because this dish is little bit salty from the olives yet sweet from the carrots at the same time.
3. You've included recipes for offal. What would you say to someone who is afraid of eating or cooking with offal to convince them to try one of these recipes? Which recipe would be the best to start with?
When someone looks at the nutrient density of organ meats compared to muscle meats it is a no-brainer (pun intended) to include these cuts into a real food/Paleo diet. Liver especially is known as nature’s multivitamin because it provides over 100% of the recommended daily Folate and Vitamin B-12. Folate is crucial for healthy bones, proper nervous system functioning, plus fetal growth and development. B-12 is very important for helping to prevent anemia, depression and dementia later in life. If someone wanted to try an offal recipe for the first time the best one to make would be the grilled liver on p. 118. We marinate the liver, which takes away the gamey taste, plus the grilling adds another dimension of flavor. Another tip is to try using chicken liver, which is milder in flavor than beef liver. Our chicken liver pate on pg. 65 is a great way to ease your way into offal. Plus, who doesn’t like a dip that has grass fed butter/ghee as the main ingredient!
4. Your book is called Mediterranean Paleo Cooking, but you have included principles from the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Mediterranean Diet. Why did you feel it was important to blend these three dietary guidelines?
I learned about Dr. Weston A. Price when I was in nutrition school and it instantly clicked, like an aha! moment. I realized a lifetime of low fat and processed foods had made me very fatigued and sick. Over the past three years I have been working on healing my own autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) and the idea of adding as much nutrient-dense food to assist in my healing made so much sense. Nabil grew up in a country on the Mediterranean Sea where following Weston A. Price principles was the normal way of eating. Combining these two approaches with the Paleo lifestyle seemed like a natural blend for us based on our life experiences. We were lucky to visit his home country together in April 2013 and were able to see first hand how traditional foods are still alive and well in other cultures. It was normal to see fresh seafood being sold straight off the boat by fisherman or grass fed animals being slaughtered by the local butcher. Farmers filled every parking lot selling seasonal vegetables from the back of their trucks. My husband’s immediate family of 11 actually harvested sheep in their own kitchen when he was growing up (now that is Paleo!). It was a stark contrast from the American grocery stores with their fluorescent grocery stores with wax-covered produce from all corners of the globe at anytime of the year. It is only in the last 50-100 years that Westerners have become so far removed from their food, and it was nice to take a step back in time when there was still a connection with where food comes from.
5. What traditional Mediterranean ingredients did you have to replace with more Paleo-friendly ingredients? What ingredients are used it Mediterranean cooking that may not be part of a typical American pantry?
We used cauliflower to emulate wheat couscous, which is a very common side item used in Mediterranean food. We included sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes to fit into a Paleo template because they are more digestible and full of anti-oxidants. We also made pizza and pasta out of tapioca and almond flour because we know people miss their comfort foods. We used arrowroot flour to make creamy gravies. We also have several decadent hollandaise and béarnaise sauces made with egg yolks that will make you seem like a gourmet cook. We used almond flour to recreate several tasty cookies that are common where Nabil grew up in Algeria, which was a French colony for 130 years from 1830-1962. We also used regional ingredients such as rose and orange blossom water (tastes like liqueur), pistachios, figs, pomegranates, apricots and dates to help our recipes taste genuine. The main ingredient that people may not have handy in their kitchen is saffron. This pungent herb is not hard to find, just expensive, but it only takes a pinch to give our dishes the beautiful orange color that is so appetizing. Turmeric can be substituted to give a similar color to the recipes. Another spice blend we use in the book is zatar, which is dried thyme, marjoram, oregano, sesame seeds and dried sumac. Zatar tastes awesome on meats and is easy to find on Amazon or at a Middle Eastern market. Even though we are a holistic nutritionist and professional chef pair, we wanted our recipes to be easy to follow and accessible to any novice cook. Our goal with project was to bring the flavors of the Mediterranean to life in your home kitchen. We want you to feel like you took your taste buds on a vacation after using our techniques. Your family and friends won’t even realize they are getting healthier with each bite of authentic Mediterranean Paleo Cooking!
Interested in learning more about these fabulous recipes? Inspired to get cooking with Mediterranean ingredients and flavors? Grab your free 5-page eBook sample of Mediterranean Paleo Cooking!