Ikaria. What’s so special about this tiny island in the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey? It’s not just their gorgeous beaches and mountain villages, that have the world atwitter. It’s the island’s 800 permanent residents, who are considered some of the healthiest people on the planet.
1 of Every 3 Ikarians Lives to Be 90, or More
These islanders are ten times more likely to reach their 90th birthday, than we are here in the US. What’s more, they’re able to stave off dementia, heart disease, and obesity. They’re part of the so-called Blue Zone, where inhabitants are being studied to determine which factors contribute to happy, healthy aging.
Veggie Centered Diet & Carefree Lifestyle
Researchers believe the islanders’ seafood and vegetable-centered diet, enhanced by nuts, olive oil, fruits, herbal teas, and wine plays a large part. But residents also know how to curb the stress of daily living.
Ikarians walk the island’s rugged terrain all their lives, take a nap each day, and are fond of games, festivals and family gatherings, that often run late into the night. Hmm. . . I could adjust to this lifestyle. I’ve got the nap, nuts, herbal tea, and wine part down already—though I may need some help with the rugged terrain and late night revelry.
Where People Forget to Die
Native Ikarian and chef Diane Kochilas named her cookbook: Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die. One local man when asked for the secret of Ikarian longetivity said “Eat half as much, walk twice as much, laugh three times as much, and love without bounds.”
Chickpeas, an Ikarian Delicacy
When I spotted this Ikarian dish, it went to the top of my “Must Make” list. The rustic recipe, featuring protein-rich chickpeas (garbanzo beans) was printed by Chris Kimball, publisher of Milk Street magazine. He’d recently visited the island and was greatly impressed by their food and lifestyle.
The Milk Street recipe called for several ingredients I didn’t have on hand, like fresh rosemary, oregano and orange zest. In my kitchen, I found the bay leaves, honey, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and chickpeas.
Everything came together quickly since the prep and cooking times were not overly long. The first night, that I made the dish, I only added a jolt of hot sauce. The next night I served it over rice and spiked it with my favorite Arrezzo Italian Balsamic Glaze (which I can only find on line). Both were splendid!
Milk Street Magazine Recipe
Though the Milk Street recipe was made in a skillet, islanders most likely bake the dish, using grape molasses, (or pekmez) an ancient sweetener used before honey and sugar were introduced. On the island, molasses is still used in making vinaigrettes, cookies, cakes, breads, gravies, sauces, even drinks.
Greek-Style Braised Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Orange
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 2 Tbs. honey, divided, or grape molasses or honey
- 3 (15-1/2 oz. each) cans chickpeas, drained, 1/4 cup liquid reserved
- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 spring fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp. grated orange zest, plus 1/4 cup orange juice
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
In a large Dutch oven over medium combine the oil, tomato paste and 1 Tbs. of the honey. Cook stirring often, until the tomato paste begins to brown, 6-7 minutes. Stir in chickpeas, then tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 10-12 minutes.
Stir in onion, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, orange juice, 1 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and the reserved chickpea liquid. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over medium low, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, 12-15 minutes.
Remove from heat, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in oregano and orange zest. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the parsley, then drizzle with remaining honey and additional oil.