Diane Kochilas is a Greek American chef and author of a new recipe book, "The Ikaria Way."
Kochilas shared with Business Insider some of her must-have pantry and fridge essentials.
Nuts, beans, and dried herbs are crucial but so is a quality Greek extra virgin olive oil, she says.
Eating a diet that can boost one's longevity can be remarkably easy.
Just ask Diane Kochilas, a Greek American chef, host of "My Greek Table," and author of a new recipe book, "The Ikaria Way," which is named after her father's native Greek island of Ikaria.
Before "blue zone" was coined in the early 2000s — a term referring to regions of the world where a higher rate of people live to 100 — the Greeks long subscribed to the idea that their foods were key to living a healthy, long life, Kochilas said. Ikaria, one of Greece's many islands, has been identified as a Blue Zone.
"I think there's pretty high awareness of the Greek diet as being one of the healthiest in the world," the chef told Business Insider.
Part of that is because Greeks, Ikarians included, have long led a mostly plant-based diet that incorporates a lot of nuts, oils, and whole grains, while processed foods were uncommon, Kochilas said. Studies have suggested that the Mediterranean diet — which can include foods eaten in Greece, Italy, and Spain — can help reduce the risk of heart disease or prevent a heart attack or stroke in patients with pre-existing heart disease.
Kochilas's new book offers a hundred ways people can cook "simple and vibrant" plant-based dishes that draw on the centuries-old ways of Ikarian eating.
It's not meant to discourage meat from one's diet. Kochilas eats meat, albeit rarely, and the Greeks have slowly adopted a modern diet that may include more meat and processed foods such as ice cream.
Instead, the book is a reminder that people don't always have to reach for meat to cook filling, delicious meals. And eating a "blue zone" diet should be as simple as reaching for whatever's available in the pantry or fridge.
"It's a little bit of a myth that we live in this sort of bell jar of dietary perfection," Kochilas said, later adding, "It really shouldn't be that difficult."
Here are some pantry and fridge staples that Kochilas keeps in her kitchen:
A pantry can be filled with enough essential items to make an entire meal.
"If I haven't gone to the supermarket in a week, there's always stuff in my pantry that I can make a meal with," Kochilas said.
The chef emphasizes that you should always have quality extra-virgin Greek olive oil at hand.
When asked if Costco's extra virgin olive oil would suffice, she laughed, "I'm going to support the Greek stuff."
Other pantry staples include:
Different types of beans and legumes: lentils, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, cannellini beans. Quality canned beans can be just fine, Kochilas said.
Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts.
Lots of herbs, fresh and dried, which add fragrance to dishes: oregano, rosemary, lemon verbena, and marjoram.
Whole grains such as Greek rusks, which is a "hard" bread often made from barley.
A jar of salt-brined olives
Dried fruits such as raisins and figs
And other common pantry items such as onions and garlic.
Kochilas doesn't gravitate toward meats too often. When she eats fish, she often buys fresh or makes her own cured fish using anchovies, salt, vinegar, and olive oil.
"That sometimes is a meal for me," she said.
A few fridge staples for Kochilas:
Fresh seasonal fruits
Greens for salads and cooking: arugula, mache (also known as corn salad), collard greens, spinach, chard
Breakfast in an Ikarian household can be as simple as a piece of bread like rusk with a little honey, cheese, or olives, Kochilas said. Kids often accompany that with goat's milk or fresh orange juice.
Lunch is often the biggest meal of the day.
"Could be a spinach rice dish, a greens rice dish, lentil soup, chickpea soup, vegetable soup," Kochilas said. "Could be a piece of fish, could be a meat dish."
One recipe featured in Kochilas' book is a whole wheat pasta dish that uses chestnuts and, for the sauce, olive oil and red wine.
Dinner, traditionally, will be the lighter meal, Kochilas said, such as yogurt and some fruit.
Kochilas emphasizes not stressing about following recipes and measurements to a tee when cooking.
"That's not what you should be focusing on," she said. "Focus on understanding what's in season, understanding how things work together, and flavor combinations that work together."
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