‘Eat like a Greek’

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

No doubt you have heard the recent news that the Mediterranean diet can improve your health and save lives.

The results published in the New England Journal of Medicinewere so striking that the researchers ended their study early. They concluded that the only ethical choice was to encourage all study participants to eat a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, vegetables and plenty of wine.

New York Times foodie Mark Bittman summed up the findings with a simple prescription: Eat like a Greek.

When I read Bittmans advice, I wanted to know more. What does it mean to eat like a Greek? Fortunately, I was in luck. Blocks from my home, I happen to have my very own Greek expert, Pete Moutzouris, who owns a shop with his two sons called Petes Fruits and Vegetables.

I strolled over and found Moutzouris, 65, sorting berries. He greeted me with a grin and agreed to share his secrets for healthy living. He held up a newspaper clipping that hes been saving with news about the Mediterranean diet and gave his pronouncement with a strong Greek accent: Its truth.

Why Greeks Live so Long

Click here to read the New York Times story, The Island Where People Forget to Die

Tips for health and longevity (from the Ikaria study):

  • Drink wine
  • Enjoy your friends
  • Take naps
  • Walk up hills
  • Reduce stress
  • Plant a garden
  • Drink tea
  • Eat fish, greens, nuts, olives, whole grain bread, beans, lentils, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and olive oil.

Moutzouris came to the U.S. from Greece when he was 22. He was raised in a small village in the Kalamata region of southern Greece. His father was a butcher and the family lived over the shop. While Moutzouris likes meat, he really loves fish. And he says Greeks who live in his part of the country are so healthy because they eat plenty of seafood. Even those who have very little money subsist on a diet of fish, olive oil, wine and a vegetable Ive never tried: dandelion greens.

Not to worry. Theyre in season now. Moutzouris buys dandelion greens from Texas. In Greece, theyre cheap and easy to find.

They grow wild in the mountains (back home) and the villagers fill up big bags and sell them by the pound, Moutzouris says.

The Greek greens are smaller curly dandelions. Here he gets red dandelions.

They taste good and theyre good for your health, he says.

Moutzouris simply steams them for about 15 minutes, then drizzles the greens with olive oil. You can add some garlic and lemon or nuts and fruit. Click here for a recipe idea.

When Moutzouris visits family in Greece, he eats any fish from the nearby ocean.

If it swims, we catch it, he says.

In Denver, he watches for sales on frozen fish and stocks up on salmon, tilapia and flounder.

I always look for wild catch. I never get farm raised.

Pete Moutzouris, owner of Petes Fruits and Vegetables said Greeks are healthy because they eat plenty of fish and vegetables like wild dandelion greens. Here, Moutzouris and his nephew show off their catches of the day in Greece.

During the day at his shop, Moutzouris takes advantage of the fresh vegetables around him. On the day I visited, he had a pot of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower steaming on a hot plate in his back office. Once the vegetables were lightly cooked, he drizzled them with olive oil and salt and opened a can of anchovies. Voila! A healthy lunch.

See. There are the secrets, Moutzouris said.

Actually, theres one more secret. Moutzouris also sometimes pours himself a bit of wine with lunch.

Just a little glass. Nothing to get drunk. I tell you the truth.

He also snacks on almonds and olives Kalamata, of course, imported from his home region.

The soil and the climate make them best in flavor, he says.

Moutzouris occasionally enjoys one of the sweet Greek pastries he sells, but doesnt have much of a sweet tooth.

While he eats a healthy diet these days, he went on some fast food benders when he first came to the U.S.

Moutzouris sister had moved to Denver. Seeking greater opportunities, he followed her. He first worked as a tailor, but his fingers were too big to do the intricate work. He couldnt speak English or drive, but started working in a cousins restaurant, then began laying carpet for a $1.10 an hour.

His nemesis in those days? Whoppers with cheese from Burger King. He needed quick food while on the run and Burger King fit the bill.

Moutzouris eventually started his own carpet installation business. After more than a dozen years laboring on his knees, he happened to see a sign on the building he now occupies at South Holly and East Cedar Avenue. The owners of a previous fruit and vegetable market had moved. Moutzouris took over the space, starting with a tiny amount of produce.

His eyes well with tears when he remembers those early days. His wholesale supplier at Denargo Market in lower downtown met Moutzouris for the first time and agreed to give him one months credit, a lifeline that allowed Moutzouris to launch his business and survive.

I ask him later, why trust me?

At Petes, Moutzouris imports olive oil from his region in Greece and eats it with everything from fish to steamed vegetables to bread.

Moutzouris recalls the man telling him, As soon as I see you face to face, I can tell that I can trust you. I can see what kind of person you are.

Back among flowers and fruit instead of carpets and glue, Moutzouris felt at home again.

I used to have my own greenhouse in Greece. Wed grow tomatoes and flowers. I loved it.

Today, he sells flowers along with vegetables, cheese and fruit. He loves nothing more than visiting greenhouses to pick blooms for his store.

Little by little, Moutzouris took over the entire space that a barber shop and other small businesses used to occupy. Hi sons, John, 32, and Ted, 31, recently took over the adjacent meat market and deli, bringing the family full circle, back to their butcher roots from Greece.

Moutzouris says its tough to survive as an independent small grocer. All the others that used to surround him in East Denver have long since gone out of business. Along with affordable food, he offers plenty of samples of seasonal fruits and piping hot bread dipped in olive oil. And he offers the personal touch that has become rare in big stores today.

I say thank you to everybody who walks in my door. I always try to make them happy. My father teach me, you put out honey. You get the bees. You put out vinegar. They wont come back. You have to love what you do.