There are five places on earth where the highest percentage of people who live to be 100, happily and healthily! These have been named as the Blue Zones. These five places share commonalities and eat predominantly plant based diets. Ikaria is one of these five places. Here are 5 simple rules:
1. Eat more greens Head to the farmers market, or better start growing your own vegetables at home. Nothing can beat seasonal produce. Simply buying more greens at the supermarket is a step in the right direction. 2. Cook with olive oil Greeks consume more olive oil than anyone else in the world. And there’s good reason: In addition to its great taste and incredible versatility, olive oil provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as antioxidants like vitamin E, and it has anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Eat little to no processed food Avoiding processed foods isn’t new, and the Ikarian diet offers yet another argument against them! As an island, Ikaria was long immune to modern food trends, and the inhabitants relied almost entirely on what they could grow and harvest locally. Despite modernization, eating local, fresh and seasonal food is still very much a part of the culture.
4. Enjoy beans and pulses Traditionally Ikarians do not eat significant amounts of meat or fish. Instead, much of their protein comes from beans and pulses, many of which are locally grown. Beans, including chickpeas and black-eyed peas, as well as lentils, a type of pulse, are low-fat, cholesterol-free protein sources, and provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They’re also versatile, easy to cook, inexpensive and filling. 5. Avoid excess The Ikarian diet is really about eating in moderation. Aim to finish every meal feeling satisfied but not so full that you can barely move! My great grandmother was right when she told me to get up from the table when you are still a little hungry!
A recipe to get you started: Soufiko
Soufiko is a traditional Ikarian dish, similar to Greek Briam. Below is a recipe from famed Ikarian chef Diane Kochilas
1. Olive oil for frying or brushing
2. 2 medium eggplants cut into 1/4-in/6-mm-thick rounds
4. 2 large green bell peppers/capsicums seeded and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm strips
5. 4 medium zucchinis cut into 1/4-in/6-mm-thick rounds
6. 3 large onions finely chopped
7. 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
8. 2 large potatoes peeled and sliced into 1/4-in/6-mm-thick rounds
9. 1/2 cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil
11. 3 large, firm ripe tomatoes grated
1. In separate colanders, lightly salt the eggplant, peppers, and zucchini. Drain for 1 hour. Wipe dry without washing. 2. In a large frying pan, heat about 1/4 in/6 mm of olive oil over medium heat. Lightly cook the onions and garlic until wilted, about 6 to7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain. 3. Replenish the oil in the frying pan if necessary. Add the potato slices and sauté lightly until their edges begin to color. Lightly sauté all the remaining vegetables separately and set aside to drain on paper towels.
4. Alternatively, if you don't want to fry, you can preheat the oven to 350F/170C, oil several baking sheets and spread each group of vegetables on individual sheets, brushing them with additional olive oil. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, turning once, to soften and color very lightly. 5. Next, layer the vegetables in a clay or ovenproof glass casserole: Pour about 1/4 cup/60 ml of olive oil into a large, wide pot or Dutch oven. Spoon two tablespoons of the grated tomato and then two tablespoons of the onion-garlic mixture over the bottom. Strew a layer of potatoes and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and dried oregano. Next, add a little more tomato, onion-garlic, and a layer of eggplant. Press down lightly with the back of a large serving spoon. Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and dried oregano, then strew a few of the cooked peppers on top. Then, layer the zucchini, and more of the tomato and onion-garlic-salt-pepper-oregano. Press down. Repeat the layering and pressing down, finishing with a layer of eggplant and some tomato-onion-garlic. Drizzle 1/4 cup of olive oil over the top. 6. Bake at 350F/170C for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until the vegetables are very soft and lightly caramelized. Remove, cool slightly and serve.