‘Adding life to years’: Cooking in Ikaria, the Greek island of longevity

The Red Tea Detox

Be it finding out, getting ready or instructing it, meals has been a giant half of Meni Valle’s life. And rising up as a Melburnian-Greek, it was solely pure to fall in love with the Mediterranean kitchen.

But it wasn’t till her mom’s passing that she began placing pen to paper to share her ardour and absolutely embrace her Greek heritage.

“The very first book that I did was after my mother died, that’s how it started because I really wanted to share with my children what yiayia used to do, and leave them a legacy about their culture and food,” Ms Valle tells Neos Kosmos.

“I always loved the time we used to spend [with mum] in the kitchen, so for me it was a healing process, the cooking and writing and learning about our heritage[…] And everytime I go to Greece, I discover something new and want to learn more, it’s a never-ending journey.”

She acquired her newest ‘learnings’ at Ikaria, a tiny island mendacity in the Aegean sea, dubbed as the place “where people forget to die.”

READ MORE: The island devoid of loss of life

A Blue Zone area of interest in the Aegean

“I’ve always been doing research on the Mediterranean diet and the Greek islands[…] so a few years I came across this video on Blue Zones.”

Coined by National Geographic Fellow, Dan Buettner, the idea of Blue Zones refers to locations round the planet the place folks reside longer and age higher.

Ikaria is one of the 5 particular areas, together with Okinawa in Japan, Italy’s Sardinia, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Loma Linda in California.

“They all have a plant-based diet, do daily exercise and they all have a sense a community,” Ms Valle says of the essential widespread threads.

But of course, the Aegean island was the one which intrigued her most.

Seychelles Beach, Ikaria. Photo: flickr/Vasiliki Theodoridou

Following two years of preparations and establishing connections with locals, her first go to to Ikaria mixed with a cooking retreat was made attainable in 2017.

Ms Valle has been returning yearly since, joined by folks from Australia, Greece and elsewhere for a hands-on “immersion into the culture and learning about the locals” by means of meals.

READ MORE: How a poor boy from Ikaria went on to develop into one of the most profitable businessmen in Australia

“I would present the cooking classes but the programming also involved things like foraging for wild herbs and greens, cheese-making and milking goats, checking out the honey and even on cooking days going… to a family farm and picking the vegetables ourselves[…] But, also part of the experience was visiting little villages in the area and talking to the locals.”

The expertise of the retreats, she says, was distinctive on its on, even “life-changing” for members, because it fostered the creation of a neighborhood feeling, in a perfect setting for this, and a present-moment mindset.

“We would go with the flow and that’s part of the Ikarian lifestyle.”

Capturing a glimpse of the island’s conventional weight loss plan and philosophy, solely emerged as an concept later, and fast-forward to as we speak ‘Ikaria: Food and life in the Blue Zone’ has simply made it to the bookshelves this month.

What’s in a cookbook?
The ebook brings collectively conventional recipes from throughout Ikaria that includes dietary practices of the genuine Mediterranean delicacies and delivered in the most intimate approach.

Photo: Supplied

“We did all the cooking there and I feel that made a distinction in the feeling of the ebook.

“I was cooking in the kitchens where the ladies I’ve talked to were cooking[…] and in fact I’d be picking things from the garden and cooking them straight away.”

Two weeks in the making, the crew concerned a photographer and stylist, Ms Valle and her youngest daughter.

Crucially, additionally on board, had been a number of locals, from ladies interviewed for recipes who would wholeheartedly ‘lend’ their kitchens, to individuals who would ship freshly caught octopus and fish on the day devoted for seafood.

“There’s a story behind every single recipe,” says Ms Valle recounting cases that instilled in her the perception that the character of the Ikarians is all about “generosity” and “trustworthiness”.

‘We don’t strive to add years to our life. Instead, we add life to our years’

No surprise the ebook goes past recipes, with the creator having integrated glimpses of the island’s philosophy and way of life.

“There was this older lady I interviewed[…] And we talked many mornings, I’d have coffee with her and she’d show me her flowers and one day she said to me ‘Meni, the most important thing is to be where your heart if full’,’.”

The creator’s recollections of time she spent with locals are crammed with phrases of knowledge like these.

Asked about her ideas on what’s behind the islanders’ longevity status, she says Ikaria is a ‘textbook example’ of Mediterranean weight loss plan and its advantages, she says, but it surely’s not simply the meals they eat however how they eat it and finally how the approach the conduct their lives.

READ MORE: Back to the fundamentals of the Mediterranean weight loss plan

“It’s pure sincere meals, loved with household and pals, however aside from a plant-based weight loss plan and consuming nicely, in addition they train naturally, in the backyard, they stroll all over the place. They have a slower tempo, they take the time wanted.

What stands out for her, in this “holistic approach”, is the “sense of community”.

“They take care of one another.

“They’re not immune to having stressors in their life. But they don’t deal with it on their own. They have a community that comes to help and alleviate some of that stress for them.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 delicacies: Food in the time of Lockdown

The panyiria feasts, she says, are a consultant instance.

“Just aside from being a enjoyable evening and having nice time, all the cash raised at the paniyiri goes to a typical trigger. So if a household wants some cash for medical consideration, or a faculty a neighbor wants a brand new fence or a highway wants fixing or no matter it occurs to be, all the cash raised goes to that.

This sense of neighborhood and well-being coupled with the weight loss plan are all half of the reply, Ms Valle says and cites the reply to the longevity ‘mystery’, Thea, one of the native ladies gave:

“She had a really good say about this, she told me ‘Here in Ikaria, we don’t try to add years to our life. Instead, we add life to our years’. And we make the most of every day. So don’t worry about tomorrow, let’s just worry about today and have a good time today.”


Soufico is one of Ikaria’s most iconic dishes. It was historically cooked each Saturday, the day when the ovens had been on for the weekly baking of bread. Leftovers had been used in omelettes, or generally sausages had been added.
The story instructed is of a lady requested by her husband ‘what are we going to eat today?’ She goes into the backyard to gather greens and locations them in her apron to put together a easy dish in the kitchen. Once cooked she replies, ‘Soufica,’ which suggests ‘I left you some’.
There are a pair of variations of this dish, and lots of of the native ladies inform me that is the unique. You minimize all the greens into chunks, frying every individually. The secret is the caramelised onions, which make the dish much more flavoursome. Some cooks skip frying them individually and layer them uncooked, making the dish lighter and a bit of simpler to put together as nicely.

100 ml (31/2 fl oz) olive oil
1.5 kg (three lb 5 oz) onions, diced
5–6 capsicums (bell peppers), minimize into small chunks or julienned
three eggplants (aubergines), diced
2 zucchini (courgettes), sliced into rounds
three potatoes, peeled and diced
2 giant tomatoes, grated
1 teaspoon sugar
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons dried oregano
three–four tablespoons basil leaves

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  • Heat three tablespoons of the olive oil over a medium warmth in a deep-frying pan. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and prepare dinner on a low warmth for about 10–12 minutes or till the onions are smooth and golden. Make certain you stir them sometimes to stop them from sticking or burning. Transfer to a plate and put aside.
  • Add the capsicums to the frying pan, including one other tablespoon of olive oil if wanted. Cook the capsicums on a medium warmth till they’ve softened a bit of however not cooked by means of.
  • Set apart. Then prepare dinner the eggplants, zucchini and potatoes, separately in the similar method, till they’ve softened and are turning golden.
  • To grate a tomato, first minimize it in half. Then, holding the pores and skin facet
    in the palm of your hand, grate the tomato flesh into a big bowl. Once you’ve grated all the tomatoes, add the sugar to maximise the flavour, and a pinch of salt and the entire garlic clove. Allow the tomato combination to sit for a couple of minutes to develop the flavours.
  • Begin layering the ready greens in a big roasting tin. Spread half of the onion combination on the base of the baking dish and layer half the potatoes on prime, adopted by half the capsicums, zucchini and eggplant. Ensure you’re seasoning between layers as you go together with some salt, pepper and dried oregano. Repeat till all the greens are finished.
  • Pour the tomato combination over the prime of the greens, masking them fully, and canopy the dish. (If utilizing a casserole dish, cowl with the lid, or you should use aluminium foil.) Place in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out of the oven and take away the garlic clove. Place again in the oven, and proceed cooking for an additional 20 minutes or till all the greens are cooked.
    Remove from the oven and prepare the basil leaves on prime. Allow to cool uncovered. Serve at room temperature.

*This is an edited extract from Ikaria: Food and life in the Blue Zone by Mene Valle revealed by Hardie Grant Books RRP $45 AU and is obtainable in shops from 2 September 2020.Photography © Lean Timms

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