When olive oil and vegetables meet in a Greek kitchen, the result is lathera, vegetarian dishes cooked in oil. They may sound fattening, but in fact they are extremely healthy. The cooking term lathera, comes from the word lathi, Greek for oil, and basically describes vegetables cooked in olive oil with a combination of herbs and tomato.

All Greeks have been raised on these simple to cook, but nutritionally complex dishes that remain a fundamental part of the Greek diet. Lathera, provide Greeks the advantage of consuming large amounts of vegetables effortlessly, therefore fulfilling the often elusive 5 servings a day recommendation. A typical serving can provide 100 percent of the daily recommended intake for vegetables.

These dishes consist of fresh seasonal vegetables and, with the exception of small amounts of potatoes or rice, they are low in carbohydrates. These vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants, and olive oil brings them all together essentially magnifying their nutritional value.

On its own olive oil is rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats, but in these dishes it interacts with other ingredients increasing the absorption of vitamins and antioxidants from the vegetables. As for the calories, don’t worry about the olive oil since the rest of ingredients have minimal calories the total count is low, averaging 300-400 calories per large serving.

Try these simple recipes for a taste of vegetarian Mediterranean:

Green Beans in Oil (Fasolakia Lathera)

1 pound green beans
1 sliced onion
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz chopped tomatoes tomatoes (fresh or canned) with their juice.
1 large potato

Sauté the onions for a few minutes in medium pot with the oil. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, parsley and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Add the green beans and let them simmer until soft and tender about an hour. Serve with feta cheese.

Makes 2-3 servings

Eggplant with tomato (Melitzanes latheres me domata)

1 pound eggplant
8 oz chopped tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 onion chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

Cut the eggplant in cubes, place them in a colander, salt and let them strain. Sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the tomatoes, a bit of water, the parsley and salt and pepper. In another pan sauté the eggplant in the rest of the olive oil. Once it starts to soften add them to the tomato mix and let them simmer for about an hour until soft. Makes 2-3 servings

Rice with Spinach (Spanakorizo)

1 pound spinach
2 1/2  tablespoons olive oil
1/2 diced onion
1 grated tomato
2/3 cup water
1/3  cup rice

Wash the spinach, cook in a pot until slightly wilted and strain. In another medium pot, sauté the onion, than add the spinach, tomato, water, salt and pepper. When it comes to a boil, add the rice, and simmer until rice is ready. Serve with lemon and feta cheese.

Makes 2-3 servings

* Eat these these dishes at room temperature, accompanied with feta cheese or strained Greek style yogurt and some bread.

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