The removal of a sickly old oak tree from the grounds of the University of South Carolina’s President’s House a few years ago proved to be a case of one door closes, another opens.
The horticulturist at the time noted that USC first lady Patricia Moore-Pastides was making liberal use of the house herb garden as a proponent of healthy Mediterranean cooking.
He wondered if she would be interested in establishing vegetable gardens. After all, there now would be sunlight where the tree had stood.
He planned it all out, and “I started learning by osmosis,” she says. Before long, she was hooked.
“I’m out there twice a day checking it because I find it so exciting,” says Moore-Pastides, who holds a master’s degree in public health from Yale.
The stars then aligned for the publication this year of her second book, “Greek Revival From the Garden: Growing and Cooking for Life” (University of South Carolina Press).
“I wanted to do a sequel to ‘Greek Revival: Cooking for Life’ that would appeal to potentially a younger audience. And I thought about a book that could teach people how to grow their own vegetables organically. That was the hook to getting younger people more interested in eating vegetables.”
Moore-Pastides gives an example of the transformative effect of gardening, recalling her experience last year at Hursey Elementary in North Charleston.
Once considered a “failing” school, Hursey had used grant money to start a garden, she says. In a relatively short time, using the garden as a teaching tool and involving the students, the school turned around. Moore-Pastides gives a good share of the credit to the garden.
She was invited to a “family dinner night” at the school, and nearly 200 family members showed up. The vegetables from the dinner were grown in the garden.
Moore-Pastides demonstrated how to saute kale in olive oil with garlic, adding in white cannellini beans.
“You would’ve thought I was serving ice cream sundaes,” she says. “The children were coming back for seconds and thirds of this kale.”
Moore-Pastides says she is convinced it’s because the children were familiar and working with the vegetables. That gave them a stake or “investment” in them, she says.
Furthermore, she believes gardening boosts the self-esteem of people, especially children “where they can see a product come from their efforts,” she says.
The chief difference between the traditional Mediterranean diet, or TMD, as she dubs it, versus the typical American diet lies in the ratio of plant to animal products.
TMD is far more weighted with plant products, Moore-Pastides says.
“We (Americans) eat far too many animal foods that we’re coming to learn are not that healthy for us, especially in the quantities we’re consuming them.”
Moore grew up in an Irish family where potatoes ruled the starch roost. After she married her husband, now-USC President Harris Pastides, she was exposed to his family’s Greek heritage and became interested in their cooking.
The real turning point came in the late 1980s when the couple took a 10-month sabbatical in Greece. She says she’s pretty much eaten the traditional Mediterranean way ever since (and, combined with exercise, not gained a pound).
Her latest book goes well beyond its 50 very appealing recipes.
Moore-Pastides discusses the nutritional foundation of the Mediterranean diet and then segues into thoroughly practical chapters on starting a garden and learning to cook.
Whether new or experienced in either endeavor, you’re sure to come away better informed.
The book covers a lot of ground, but compactly, including how-to’s on everything from composting to container gardening to proper knife cutting.
The book retails for about $28 and may be ordered on the USC Press website, www.sc.edu/uscpress. It also should be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Charleston Cooks! and Carolina on King, among other stores.
Here is one of her favorite recipes from the book:
Serves 6 to 8
Large stockpot, cutting board, chef’s knife, fish knife, tomato knife, liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups, large wooden spoon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 ribs celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and roughly chopped
6 plum tomatoes, cut into chunks
6 small red potatoes, washed and quartered
4 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
3 medium zucchini, washed and cut into bite-sized chunks
2½ pounds fresh skinless fish fillets (such as halibut), cut into bite-sized chunks
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup chopped fresh parsley (or fennel)
Sea salt and pepper
Cover the bottom of a large stockpot with the extra-virgin olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and celery, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook another 2–3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, potatoes, vegetable stock and bay leaf.
Turn up the heat, bring the mixture to a boil, and cook it partially covered until the potatoes are fork-tender and the stock has been somewhat reduced.
Add the zucchini and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes.
Add the chunks of fish and cook covered at a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, just until the fish is opaque.
Lower the heat to simmer and add the lemon juice and fresh parsley.
Gently stir to combine all ingredients, being careful not to break the fish into little pieces. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Remove bay leaf before serving with crusty bread.
Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Features Editor Teresa Taylor at email@example.com or 937-4886.