The benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet have long been touted by many medical studies. As reported in The New York Times in February, new research concluded that about a third of heart attacks, strokes and heart disease could be prevented by switching to a cuisine “rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables.” Whether you're looking to improve your eating habits or just add some variety, the new Sabzee Mediterranean Market in Encino offers a chance to explore a healthful — and pretty delicious — world of food.

We popped in unannounced the other day to check out the market, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The place is bright, airy and immaculate, with a friendly staff. There are large bins of produce, shelves filled with intriguing cooking ingredients from around the world, a bustling bread bakery, desserts, daily specials of prepared hot foods, a deli with rows of colorful salads. It's no wonder the outside patio has become a go-to San Fernando Valley destination for lunch.

As we wandered the aisles, owner Hoss Zadeh came over and introduced himself, then gave us a tour of the store — complete with samples of kashk bademjan (Persian eggplant salad) and dolmas (stuffed grape leaves.) Zadeh explained that a traditional Mediterranean plate is comprised of 80 percent vegetables and grains and 20 percent meat or fish. The word sabzee is Farsi for “greens.”

Zadeh showed us the special herbs and vegetables, like fenugreek, essential to many dishes. (The cookbook Olive Trees and Honey describes fenugreek as a “member of the pea family native to the Mediterranean. Its celerylike aroma and mellow, slightly bitter flavor [similar to caramelized sugar] emerge when it is lightly heated.”)

In the hot foods section, there are a variety of Persian kabobs and stews. “I don't think any nationality has so many different kinds of stews. We make stews with walnut, with eggplant, with squash,” said Zadeh, who was born in Iran and has lived in Los Angeles for 37 years.

Owner Hoss Zadeh holding sangak; Credit: E. Dwass

Owner Hoss Zadeh holding sangak; Credit: E. Dwass

In the bakery — where the bread is made every hour — Zadeh proudly showed off a long stretch of sangak, a sourdough flat bread that's baked over a bed of pebbles, which gives it the distinctive texture. Another popular bread is barbari, which comes in both white and wheat versions.

There are local residents who stop by every day, to pick up bread straight from the oven. And as word has spread about Sabzee, people have started coming from outside the SFV.

“Five minutes ago a family was here, ordering food. I asked them if they live in the area and they said they're from Redondo Beach,” Zadeh said, adding that plans are in the works for two more locations on the Westside.

barbari bread; Credit: E. Dwass

barbari bread; Credit: E. Dwass

See also:

Q & A With Nancy Harmon Jenkins: On the Mediterranean Diet, Her Cookbook(s) + What Took Us So Long

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