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A chef from the Greek Blue Zone Ikaria shares 3 plant-based recipes inspired by the island where people often live to 100

Kim Schewitz   

A chef from the Greek Blue Zone Ikaria shares 3 plant-based recipes inspired by the island where people often live to 100
  • Ikaria, Greece, is a Blue Zone where people often remain healthy well into their 90s.
  • Diane Kochilas is a chef who lives on the island and teaches people how to cook the Ikarian way.

Diane Kochilas, a chef and cooking teacher, lives between Greece and the US, but Ikaria is her spiritual home.

Ikaria is a Blue Zone, where one in three residents make it to their 90s, and rates of dementia and some other chronic diseases are very low, according to the Blue Zones website. In recent years there has been growing interest in how islanders live from those looking to boost their own longevity.

Kochilas grew up in New York to Ikarian parents but now spends most of her time teaching cooking in Ikaria and other parts of Greece. "I grew up with really good food in the house," Kochilas told Business Insider.

She follows the Mediterranean diet, an eating plan made up of mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds. It has been ranked the healthiest way to eat for seven years running by US News & World Report.

Her new cookbook, "The Ikaria Way," aims to popularize the principles behind cooking in Ikaria. "It's easy to eat this way no matter where you are, and you can eat seasonally depending on what's growing in your part of the world. It doesn't have to be a Mediterranean palette of ingredients," Kochilas said.

Ikarians eat mainly plant-based, she said, but would never call themselves vegan. Many grow their own food at home, forage around the island, and care for goats or pigs.

Her goal with the book was to give solutions to two widespread problems in our relationship with food: "How to be good to your body without being mean to your mind, and how to cook in the spirit of a relaxed, healing kind of island where the tempo of life is slow and easy, and where people connect through food around a table," she wrote.

Kochilas shared three plant-based recipes with Business Insider. All are reproduced with permission from "The Ikaria Way," which was published in March 2024.

Longevity Greens Rice

This rice dish was inspired by the flavors of a Greek pie called pitarakia.

It's packed with nutrients from greens, fiber from rice, and contains some protein if you pair it with Greek yogurt.


  • 1 pound Swiss or rainbow chard
  • 1⁄2 pound spinach, trimmed
  • 2⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large leek, trimmed, washed, and finely chopped
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup long- or medium-grain rice or parboiled brown rice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable stock, or more as needed
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh chervil (optional)
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Feta cheese or plain Greek yogurt for serving (optional)


  1. Trim the chard and spinach, separating the stems from the leaves. Trim away any rough or tough part of the stems, usually on the bottom, then finely chop the stems and set aside. Chop the leaves, then swish them around in a basin or bowl and either spin dry in a salad spinner or let them drain very well in a colander.
  1. Heat 1⁄2 cup of the olive oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Sauté the leek, onion, fennel, carrot, and greens stems until soft, about 10 minutes.
  1. Stir in the garlic. Add the rice and stir to coat with the olive oil. Add greens in batches and stir to cook down until all of the chard and spinach have been added. Season with salt and pepper.
  1. Add the vegetable stock. Cook over low heat, covered, until rice is very tender, about 45 minutes. Add more stock, if necessary, to keep the mixture moist and retain enough liquid for the rice to cook. The greens will let out their own liquid, too, so you have to use your judgment.
  1. About 5 minutes before removing from heat, stir in all the fresh herbs and half the lemon juice. Stir in the remaining olive oil and adjust the seasoning with additional lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve, if desired, with some feta or a few spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt on top.

Ferry-boat spaghetti

The dish is a vegan version of a classic Greek pasta dish called Vaporisia Makaronia, or ferry-boat spaghetti in English. "It makes for a hearty, warming pasta dish that's easy, healthy, and inexpensive to prepare," Kochilas writes.

The lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, and the whole-wheat spaghetti boosts the fiber content.


  • 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow or red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 and 1⁄2 cups small brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 cups crushed canned tomatoes and their juices
  • 1⁄2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 large fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 6 fresh or dried thyme sprigs
  • 4 fresh or dried oregano sprigs
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 1 generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over low-to-medium heat and add all the chopped vegetables. Toss to coat in the olive oil. Stir in the garlic. Add the lentils and stir. Add the tomato paste and mix it in to distribute evenly. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and let everything cook together for 5 minutes.
  1. Add crushed tomatoes to the pot. Raise the heat to medium and bring the lentils to a simmer, then add the wine. Bring that to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes to boil off the alcohol. Add enough water to come about 1⁄2 an inch above the lentils. Add the bay leaves, thyme and oregano sprigs, cinnamon, allspice berries, nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
  1. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 1 hour. Add more water as necessary. Stir in the balsamic vinegar for about 10 minutes before removing from heat.
  1. While the lentils are simmering, prepare the spaghetti according to package directions, and time it so that the spaghetti is hot and ready when the sauce is cooked. Serve the lentil sauce over the spaghetti and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Warm lentils with parsley and crumbled nuts

Kochilas compared this warm lentil dish, which can be served hot or cold, to tabbouleh, a herby Middle Eastern salad, because of the abundance of parsley.

Lentils, beans, and chickpeas are all staples in the diets of Blue Zones. They are excellent sources of plant-based protein and fiber.


  • 1⁄2 pound small green or brown lentils
  • 1 and 1⁄2 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, seeds removed and diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and washed, cut into thin rounds
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1⁄3 cup coarsely ground hazelnuts, cashews, or walnuts


  1. Rinse and drain the lentils. Place them in a large pot covered with about 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Season with salt.
  1. Simmer over gentle heat, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender but al dente. As they simmer, skim the foam from the surface. Drain.
  1. In a large serving bowl, combine the lentils with the chopped parsley, diced tomato, pepper, onion, scallions, and garlic.
  1. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and a pinch of sea salt. Pour the dressing over the lentils, toss everything together gently, top with the ground nuts, and serve.

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