Five veg-packed heart-healthy recipes from The Heart Health Guide

Saucy and so so good: Skordostoumbi (eggplant with garlic and tomato).
Saucy and so so good: Skordostoumbi (eggplant with garlic and tomato). Photo: Rob Palmer/Macmillan

As the leading cause of death in Australia, heart disease is something that potentially affects every one of us. 

Many of us have common risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or know someone who does.

Fortunately, healthy eating can help prevent and reduce these risk factors. The plant-rich Mediterranean diet has been rigorously tested and proven to prevent heart disease and diabetes, and promote long-term good health. 

Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos's new cookbook.
Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos's new cookbook. Photo: Supplied

The Heart Health Guide is Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos' third book on the Mediterranean diet. Inside, the Murdoch University professor and dietitian shows how the diet can be translated to any cuisine, alongside 80 wholesome recipes and easy-to-follow meal plans.

Here, Dr Itsiopoulos shares some easy recipes specially adapted for Australian home cooks.

Skordostoumbi: eggplant with garlic and tomato

If you love eggplants and garlic, then this is the dish for you. Skordostoumbi is a classic vegetarian dish from the island of Zakynthos and resembles eggplant parmigiana – not surprising, as this Greek island has a strong Italian influence.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup (125ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 eggplants, sliced into thick rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup (250ml) pureed tomato
  • optional: ½ cup (125ml) dry white wine
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50 g feta
  • fresh herbs, if on hand
  • polenta or brown rice, to serve

METHOD

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  1. Heat ¼ cup (60ml) of the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat and gently fry the eggplant in batches until lightly browned on both sides, then set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large non-stick casserole dish, and gently saute the garlic for a minute or two, making sure not to let the garlic burn. Add the tinned tomatoes, pureed tomato and wine (if using) and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the eggplant and oregano to the dish and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat, crumble the feta on top and garnish with the fresh herbs, if on hand. Serve with polenta or steamed brown rice. 

Serves 4

Skordostoumbi: eggplant with garlic and tomato  Spicy green beansVegan pastitsio Spicy slow-cooked lamb with chickpeas 
This is an edited extract from The Heart Health Guide by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, published by Macmillan, RRP$34.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Single use only

Put a plant-based spin on pastitsio. Photo: Rob Palmer/Macmillan

Vegan pastitsio

​My daughter Vivienne and I designed this vegan version of a traditional pastitsio, which normally has a meat sauce, for a party with friends who were strictly vegan. Our non-vegetarian friends were also impressed.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 100g flat mushrooms, finely diced
  • 1 eggplant, finely diced
  • 500g vegan mince, such as Quorn
  • ½ cup (125ml) red wine
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup (250ml) pureed tomato
  • 1 small red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped or ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • ½ teaspoon mixed dried herbs
  • 500g penne pasta
  • 150g vegan feta
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
  • leafy green salad, to serve

Bechamel

  • 100g dairy-free margarine
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 cups (500ml) soy milk or other vegan alternative such as oat or almond milk

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion until softened and translucent. Add the garlic, mushrooms and eggplant and saute for 10 minutes. Add the vegan mince and red wine and simmer until the alcohol has evaporated.
  2. Add the tinned and pureed tomatoes and 500ml water. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then add the chilli and mixed dried herbs and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water with a few drops of olive oil until al dente. Once cooked, drain and then splash a little olive oil on the pasta.
  4. To make the bechamel, melt the margarine in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium-low heat, then add the flour to make a roux. Slowly add the soy milk until creamy, whisking as you go. If lumps form, whisk vigorously until they disappear.
  5. To assemble the pastitsio, layer half of the pasta around the base of a large baking dish. Spoon a thick layer of the vegan mince sauce on top, then crumble over the vegan feta. Cover with the remaining pasta, then spoon and spread the bechamel evenly over the top. Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
  6. Allow the pastitsio to cool slightly for 10-15 minutes, then cut into 4cm square portions, scatter over the parsley and serve with a leafy green salad.

Serves 8

Skordostoumbi: eggplant with garlic and tomato  Spicy green beansVegan pastitso Spicy slow-cooked lamb with chickpeas 
This is an edited extract from The Heart Health Guide by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, published by Macmillan, RRP$34.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Single use only

Chickpeas add extra fibre. Photo: Rob Palmer/Macmillan

Spicy slow-cooked lamb with chickpeas

A hearty lamb casserole with eastern Mediterranean spices to boost flavour and antioxidants, and enriched with chickpeas for fibre. Try serving this with lentil pilaf (see below). 

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced 500g lamb shoulder, diced
  • ½ cup (125ml) red wine
  • 250g French shallots, peeled
  • 250g button mushrooms, cleaned
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli powder
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs
  • 2 cups (500ml) pureed tomato
  • 4 cups (1 litre) boiling water
  • 2 x 400g tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • lentil pilaf, to serve 

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and saute the onion until softened and translucent. Add the lamb and sear on all sides, then deglaze the pan with the red wine. Cook for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate, add the shallots and mushrooms and allow to brown. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, cumin, chilli powder, paprika and dried herbs.
  2. Pour in the pureed tomato and half the boiling water, then reduce the heat to low and simmer the casserole for 1½ hours.
  3. Remove a piece of lamb from the pan and check it. If it's still tough, add another 2 cups (500ml) of boiling water and continue to simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with lentil pilaf, if desired.

Serves 6

Skordostoumbi: eggplant with garlic and tomato  Spicy green beansVegan pastitso Spicy slow-cooked lamb with chickpeas 
This is an edited extract from The Heart Health Guide by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, published by Macmillan, RRP$34.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Single use only

A hearty vegetarian dish. Photo: Rob Palmer/Macmillan

Fassoulakia pikantika (spicy green beans)

Fassoulakia pikantika is a dish best prepared when green runner beans are in season, and are fresh and crisp. The addition of borlotti beans and sweet potato make this a substantial vegetarian dish.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, halved, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 500g green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 1 purple sweet potato, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 orange sweet potato, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 cup (250ml) pureed tomato
  • 2-3 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 cups (1 litre) boiling water
  • 1 x 400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
  • dried oregano
  • fresh herbs, if on hand

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and saute the onion and chilli for 112 minutes. Add the green beans to the pan and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the sweet potato and saute for a few seconds, then add the tomato, parsley and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir well. Add enough boiling water to cover the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the borlotti beans and stir, then simmer for a further 10 minutes, or until the sweet potato is cooked. Add a few pinches of oregano, then taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary before serving. Garnish with the fresh herbs, if on hand.

Tip: If you have time, for better texture and flavour it is best to soak dried borlotti beans overnight and use those instead of tinned. If using this way, add the soaked borlotti beans at the start with the green beans.

Serves 4

Lentil pilaf

This dish is a variation of the classic Cypriot rice and lentil pilaf (fakes moutzentra) with added aromatic spices, currants and fresh herbs for flavour and a boost of antioxidants. It is also common in the Middle East where the dish is known as mujaddara and is topped with fried onions.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups (400g) basmati rice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 x 400g tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 5 cups (1.25 litres) hot vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 3 tablespoons crushed
  • pistachios
  • baby kale, fresh herbs and lemon wedges, if on hand

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and saute the onion until softened and translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, making sure the grains are well coated in the oil. Add the spices and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Add the lentils and vegetable stock, stir well and simmer with the lid on until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and cover with a clean tea towel, then place the lid tightly on top. Allow to sit for 15 minutes – this allows the extra liquid to evaporate and makes the rice fluffy. When ready, stir through the currants and pistachios, season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with the kale, fresh herbs and lemon wedges, if on hand.

This is an edited extract from The Heart Health Guide by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, published by Macmillan, RRP$34.99. Photography by Rob Palmer. Buy now