A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner Recipe, Spotlight on Allspice, and Following a Mediterranean diet to Reduce the Risk of Cognitive Decline
Sheet pan meals are still the rage, and the combinations are limited only by your imagination. My recipe focuses on a rich blend of spices to elevate everyday ingredients like chicken and cauliflower (it also works for a stir-fry and for lamb or pork). It’s a delicious way to follow the Mediterranean diet and get all its benefits, including brain benefits, which a new study has been able to pinpoint. Rather than relying only on study participants’ memories, these researchers found a scientific way to measure how well people stick to the diet and how that, in turn, can protect the brain by delaying cognitive decline. It’s one of the more potent benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean way of life.
A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner
- A Mediterranean-Spiced Sheet Pan Dinner
A highly spiced mixture gives deep flavor to this dish, which comes together very easily (toasting the seeds before grinding intensifies their flavor). The yogurt sauce delivers the perfect tangy balance.
For the wet rub:
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 12 allspice berries or 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoonVietnamese cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more for drizzling
- 2 tablespoons water
For the pan:
- 2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs, each cut into four pieces
- 1 medium head cauliflower, between 2 and 3 pounds, cut into florets
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
For the yogurt sauce:
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
Make the wet rub: Heat a small sauté pan and then toast the peppercorns, coriander, and cumin seeds, and allspice berries, if using, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a spice or coffee bean grinder, pulse to a powder, then place in a small bowl with the rest of the spices and salt; mix well. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and water, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Generously brush olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Arrange the chicken, cauliflower, and onions on the pan and brush liberally with the wet rub. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, turning the chicken and vegetables after 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
Serve the chicken and vegetables topped with pan juices as well as generous dollops of the yogurt sauce.
Yields 4 to 6 servings
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight
Go All in on Allspice
You know it as an essential for spice cakes and gingerbread cookies, but allspice also has a place in many savory spice mixes. It comes from an evergreen native to Jamaica called Pimenta dioica and was introduced to the Old World by Christopher Columbus. Europeans are the ones who dubbed it “allspice” because it’s reminiscent of a number of spices—notably cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper—all rolled into one. So flavorful, it quickly became part of Mediterranean and other European cuisines.
Most home chefs use ground allspice. But as with many other spices, it’s more potent when you crush your own as needed. In this case, we’re talking about dried unripe allspice berries, which look remarkably similar to black peppercorns, though there’s no botanical connection. The berries are readily available from spice merchants and will retain their flavor far longer than ground allspice. A few berries also add a wonderful aroma to drinks, like hot mulled cider.
For Your Best Health
Following a Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Risk of Cognitive Decline As We Age
The study: “A Mediterranean Diet‐Based Metabolomic Score and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults: A Case–Control Analysis Nested within the Three‐City Cohort Study,”Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2023.
While studies often report on the immediate benefits of following a Mediterranean diet, research done by scientists at the University of Barcelona and published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Researchfound that the benefits extend well into old age, lowering the risk of cognitive decline in older people. The specific biomarkers they evaluated also offer insight into the biological mechanisms related to the impact of the diet on cognitive health in later years.
The study, part of the European Joint Programming Initiative, “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life,” was led by Mireia Urpí-Sardá, adjunct lecturer and member of the Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics research group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences, the Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety (INSA-UB), the Food and Nutrition Torribera Campus of the University of Barcelona, and the CIBER on Frailty and Healthy Ageing (CIBERFES). Carried out over 12 years, it involved 840 people over 65 years of age, 65 percent of whom were women, in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France.
As the researchers reiterated in their paper, certain lifestyle factors have been associated with a delay in the age-at-onset of cognitive decline or with a slowing down of disease progression. “A healthy diet is thought to have great preventive potential for cognitive decline, both directly and through its role in reducing other risk factors, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Healthy dietary patterns have indeed been associated with a lower risk of dementiaand better cognitive performance.
“Also, several observational studies have concluded that high adherence to, in particular, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and with better episodic memory and global cognition. Two other related dietary patterns also associated with better cognitive performance are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diets. However, evidence of the associations between dietary patterns and cognitive function is still inconclusive partly due to self-reported dietary assessment.”
Their aim was to develop a Mediterranean diet-metabolomic score (MDMS) and use a set of dietary biomarkers to provide a more specific assessment of the participants’ diets and better evaluate the association between diet and health outcomes.
Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, gut microbiota-derived polyphenol metabolites, and other phytochemicals in serum that reflect individual bioavailability were chosen as biomarkers. Some of them not only show consumption of the main food groups of the Mediterranean diet but are also directly linked to the health benefits of the Mediterranean dietary pattern.
According to Mercè Pallàs, a professor at the UB Neurosciences Institute, “The use of dietary pattern indices based on food-intake biomarkers is a step forward towards the use of more accurate and objective dietary assessment methodologies that take into account important factors such as bioavailability.”
The metabolome, or set of metabolites, related to food and derived from gut microbiota activity, was studied through a large-scale quantitative analysis from the serum (blood) of the participants without dementia from the beginning of the study. Cognitive impairment was assessed by five neuropsychological tests over 12 years.
The results: Expert Alba Tor-Roca, first author of the study and CIBERFES researcher at the UB, explains that “we found that adherence to Mediterranean diet assessed by a panel of dietary biomarkers is inversely associated with long-term cognitive decline in older people.” These results also suggest that the biomarkers play a role in future research to ultimately help doctors personalize dietary needs of people at older ages.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!