Life Extension Magazine®
Sailboat near the Greek island of Ikaria with Mediterranean-style diet

Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone

In her book, Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone, Meni Valle reveals longevity secrets of this Greek island and its cuisine. Here are four recipes that promise age-defying flavor and vitality.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr Gary Gonzalez, MD, in June 2021. Written by: Meni Valle.

Ikaria is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea that is considered a Blue Zone. These are regions of the world with the longest lifespans and the lowest rates of chronic disease.

Most Blue Zones have one key component in common: a Mediterranean-style diet.

Meni Valle, cookbook author, and an authority on Mediterranean cuisine, traveled to Ikaria to learn the secrets of the Ikarian cuisine.

She shares what she discovered in her latest book, Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone.

As Valle learned, meals on Ikaria are rich in whole grains, nuts, and fish. Olive oil and vegetables are of prime importance, and salads made from fresh, local produce are eaten with every meal.

Just as importantly, meals are eaten among family and friends, highlighting another common denominator among the Blue Zones: social connections.

“Ikaria is a textbook example of the Mediterranean diet in its holistic sense: pure and honest food enjoyed with a community,” said Valle. “Most Ikarians grow their own food, giving them nourishment and a deep sense of satisfaction. Eating foods in season, as nature planned, produces mouth-watering, nutritious dishes. I think this is really the way we all want to eat.”

Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone features recipes that Valle learned to cook alongside Ikarian locals.

“These are not complicated recipes requiring hours and hours in the kitchen, but they are lovely, and I’ve sprinkled them with my own touch,” said Valle.

Here, Life Extension® features four recipes that promise to bring the flavor and vitality of Ikaria to your own dinner table.

—Laurie Mathena

Tabouleh Salad

Shallow dish with tabouleh salad

45 g (1½ oz / ¼ cup) fine burghul (bulgur wheat)

3 tomatoes, diced

¼ cup sliced spring onions

3 cups parsley, finely chopped

¼ cup mint, finely chopped

1 pomegranate (optional)

1 cucumber, seeded and diced (optional)

60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) olive oil

60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) fresh lemon juice (or white vinegar)

This simple salad is not only healthy but super delicious, and dreamy with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

It is important to chop the vegetables and herbs as finely as you can for this salad. You can use a food processor for the parsley if you like, but make sure to use a sharp knife for the tomatoes and spring onions to keep them in good shape.

In a large bowl soak the burghul with enough hot water to cover and leave for 30 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Drain any excess water.

Place the tomatoes, spring onions and herbs into a serving bowl and add the burghul. Combine gently with a fork.

If you’d like to add pomegranate to the salad, deseed it by first rolling it on a board to loosen the seeds. Cut in half. Over a bowl, hold one of the halves cut side down and tap the skin with a spoon to release the seeds. It will probably splatter juice, so be gentle and place some paper towel down to catch any juice. Repeat with the second half. Add the pomegranate seeds along with the cucumber, if using, to the salad.

Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together. Drizzle over the salad and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours and serve chilled.

Taro Root Salad

Dish with taro root salad with fork sitting inside

1 large taro root

1 red onion, sliced (optional)

2 celery stalks, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

12 pitted black olives

1 tomato, diced

60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) olive oil

60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) lemon juice

Kolokassi, or taro root, is a vegetable that is new to me. It is a root vegetable grown in ample quantities in Ikaria and Cyprus and can be found growing wild near riverbanks and streams. It is one of the main sources of starch in the Ikarian diet, especially in the cooler months. Kolokassi can be cooked in stews in tomato sauce, with beans or in a dip called Skordalia.

It is important to remember that you never wash kolokassi with water or it will become slimy; you scrub or wipe it with paper towel and peel with a sharp knife. Kolokassi is a mucilaginous food, so to prevent it from melting while cooking it is best to break it into large pieces. You do this by inserting a knife into the kolokassi and breaking off pieces, instead of slicing it.

Sweet potatoes or parsnips are good alternatives if you cannot get your hands on kolokassi.

Peel the taro root using a small sharp knife and break into small chunks. Add the taro root to a large saucepan and pour in enough cold water to cover completely.

Bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer until the taro root is tender.

Drain well, allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a serving plate. Top with the onion, celery, parsley, olives, and tomato and mix gently to combine. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice, then season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle over the salad.

Serve at room temperature with grilled meats or fish.

Mushroom Stew

Two brown bowls with servings of mushroom stew

60 ml (2 fl oz/ ¼ cup) olive oil

1 red onion, diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

600 g (1 lb 5 oz) mushrooms, thickly sliced or left whole if small

100 ml (3½ fl oz) red wine

3 ripe tomatoes, grated

2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano (use half quantity if using dried)

1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme (use half quantity if using dried)

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

pinch of ground cumin

150 g (5 ½ oz) baby green peas

Autumn and early winter, from October to December, create the perfect conditions for wild mushrooms to grow in Ikaria. The locals hope for rain followed by some sunshine, as this is the environment in which the mushrooms flourish.

Each variety of mushroom grows in its own terrain, either high in the mountains or close to the sea. This influences their taste, color and shape. Ikarians know where to hunt for them and also know which not to pick as some are poisonous.

There are dozens of varieties that are used in stews and pies.

This dish is particularly appetizing served with some homemade macaroni or Makaronia.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft.

Add the garlic and combine well with the onions. Add the mushrooms and gently combine with the onion and garlic mixture.

Cook for 2–3 minutes.

Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the grated tomatoes, red-wine vinegar, herbs and spices.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer gently for about 15–20 minutes, add the green peas and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

Serve with fresh bread, as a side or as a sauce over pasta.

Split Pea Dip with Caramelized Onions

Meal with split pea dip with caramelized onions

450 g (1 lb) yellow split peas

1 brown onion, peeled and diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

juice of ½ lemon

20 ml (¾ fl oz) olive oil

paprika (optional)

Caramelized Onions

60 ml (2 fl oz/ ¼ cup) olive oil

2 large red onions, thinly sliced

The caramelized onions go well with the fava, adding a subtle sweetness. It’s typically served with capers, but you can also use some pickled samphire or Kritamo, which is also lovely.

Rinse the peas under cold water, discarding any discolored ones. Place the peas and onion in a large saucepan and pour in enough water to cover completely. Place on the stovetop on a medium–high heat and bring to the boil.

Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the split peas are cooked through and the mixture is thick and chunky. Strain out any excess water.

Add the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and mix well until all blended. The mixture should remain fairly chunky. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with paprika, if using.

To make the caramelized onions, warm the olive oil on a medium heat in a deep frying pan and add the onions, coating the onions well in the oil.

Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring while cooking.

Slow-cooking the onions will produce a rich color, and the natural sugars in the onions aid in the caramelization. Season with some salt.

Serve the dip topped with the caramelized onions alongside crusty bread, olives and cheese.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

Cover of the cookbook Ikaria by Meni Valle

Recipes excerpted with permission from Ikaria by Meni Valle, published by Hardie Grant Books September 2020.

Photo credit: Lean Timms

To order a copy of Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone, call 1-800-544-4440 or visit www.LifeExtension.com

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