Blue Zones, the five recognized areas in the world where people live way longer than the rest of us, inspire a rabid kind of curiosity among researchers and health nuts.
After all, unless its the climate or elevation bestowing the benefits, we should be able to mimic some of the habits that are contributing to the populations’ longevity, right?
Chef Diane Kochilas has some serious insight into how to do that.
A native New Yorker who now lives between NYC and Athens, she’s spent her summers since childhood on the tiny Blue Zone island of Ikaria, where her family is from, and she recently published her eighth cookbook, Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die.
The region is deeply vested in food culture, says Kochilas, whose father was a chef, so she began cooking at an early age. She now consults for Greek restaurants like the upscale Molyvos in Manhattan and runs her own cooking school on Ikaria. So what does she think gives the Ikarians such extraordinary vitality?
“Well, it’s pretty remote, and everyone eats a plant-based diet from food that’s produced there,” she explains. Ikarians eat lots of greens, herbs, mushrooms, potatoes, fish, and olive oil. Everyone gardens, and everything is organic. There’s also no processed food, according to Kochilas.
“There’s also very little stress, which of course is really important, and a sense of community, purpose, and belonging that’s harder to quantify,” she says. (Jealous, much?)
We took a peek inside Kochilas’ Athens fridge to see how she invokes the Ikarian culinary spirit at home. —Jamie McKillop
What does a typical breakfast look like for you during summer on the island? In the summer it’s all about the fruit. We have our own figs, apricots, plums, strawberries, watermelon, and peaches. So, there’s definitely a huge bowl of fruit, and maybe some yogurt or cheese.
Crucial question: How much wine do people on the island drink? There’s definitely a lot of wine. Mainly red wine. You always have wine with food. Definitely at dinner, and in the summer when people are more relaxed, during lunch time. It’s used in cooking, too. A lot of people make their own wine, it’s part of the culture.
What’s in the jar on the top shelf? It’s sea fennel that I picked on Ikaria and pickled. It grows along the rocks near the beach and is almost like a vine. It’s so succulent, and has really juicy leaves. I blanch them, and I put them in salt and vinegar brine. They’re used the way capers are used, and we put them in a salad or maybe serve them with some beans.
Interesting! What about the white containers on the second shelf? That’s sheep’s milk yogurt. It’s really tasty. It’s sour and really thick, like a layer of cream. I eat it for breakfast, and I sometimes mix it with fruit and maybe some honey. My son also likes it in his sandwich as a spread.
What’s that shredded orange stuff in the container? It’s actually grated pumpkin. When I took that picture I had gone to the farmers market. Sometimes I mix it with fresh greens and herbs and use it as a filling for a filo pie. That’s huge on Ikaria. When I grate the pumpkin, I salt it with water and put it in a colander and let it drain and save the water. I’ll also make it a pumpkin burger with it.
What do you save the water for? I save it to make a sauce. I’ll boil it down and add honey and cumin and other spices.
That sounds amazing. So okay, where are all of your cheeses? We have tons in the veggie drawer! Fresh mozzarella, aged cheddar, Greek wine-soaked cheese, Parmesan, and feta, which is in a lot of dishes, of course. We’ll put it in salad or with greens in a filo pie. We always have cheese—it’s on the table during and after dinner. In Greece, people sometimes just pop over, and you have to have something to offer. We eat a lot of cheese. —Jamie McKillop
For more information, visit www.dianekochilas.com
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