Dining Out: Mediterranean, Middle/Near Eastern

How to choose healthy dishes when enjoying these cuisines

Olives and olive oil -- and lots of stuffed dishes are the signatures of this fare. Common ingredients include cheese (feta is extremely popular), bread (especially pita), grains and legumes (lots of chickpeas), eggplant, okra, garlic, lemon, lamb, beef, and yogurt.

Best bets:

Souvlaki: Greek dish of marinated, grilled meat served in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a yogurt-cucumber (tzatziki) sauce.

Gyro: Strips of lean, seared, spicy beef served in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Ask for sauce on the side.

Lah me june (Armenian pizza): Dough topped with ground meat, parsley, tomatoes, onions, and spices.

Couscous : Steamed wheat grain, usually served with fish, beef, chicken, lamb, or vegetables in a spicy red sauce.

Surprise thumbs-down to:

Falafel: A vegetable patty made with fava beans and chickpeas has to be healthy, right? Unfortunately, it's fried and full of fat. (Unless you make them at home, withour lighter version.)

Tips for the savvy Mediterranean or Middle/Near Eastern diner:

Recipes that use phyllo dough, such as baklava (pastry filled with nuts and honey) and spanakopita (spinach pie) generally contain lots of butter and oil.

Tahini, a ground sesame-seed paste used in hummus and other dishes, is virtually all fat. Ask for this on the side, if possible, and use it in small amounts.

Avoid bèchamel (a rich white sauce), which tops such popular dishes as moussaka (eggplant-and-ground-lamb casserole).

Watch for the Greek word lathera, especially with soups and stews -- it indicates a dish has been cooked in lots of olive oil.