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IKARIA: Food and Life in the Blue Zone

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REVIEW OF COOKBOOK ON EATING WELL AND LIVING LONG 

IKARIA Food and Life in the Blue Zone by Meni Valle

Photographs by Lean Timms

Hardie Grant Books – 207 pages, $45.00 – ISBN 978 174379 6153

With the short gray days and long dark nights of a Canadian winter combined with a COVID-19  lockdown we all need something to brighten our spirits.  May I suggest something which combines two of the favorite Covid-19: pastimes – staying home  and  cooking.  Meni Valle, or Mary Valle, an Australian of Greek descent, has produced her fifth cookbook Ikaria which offers ample opportunity for both.

Ikaria, beautifully illustrated with photographs by Lean Timms, takes us to the beautiful Aegean Island of that name.  Ikaria is one of the five “Blue Zones” in the world and  is designated as a place where people have long life expectancies – over 90 years.  The other four “Blue Zones” are: Okinawa, Japan, Ogliastra, Sardinia, Loma Linda, California, and the  Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. One of the secrets to longevity in each of these regions is a healthy diet and Meni shares many of the recipes she has learned from the locals on her trips to the island.

Before describing the Ikarian table, Meni tells us the the island provides nourishment for the soul. She then gives us recipes for more traditional nourishment covering the gamut of dining from salads to sweets with vegetables, pasta seafood, meat and much more in between. 

The titles are in English, but she includes the Greek translations as well. She also includes sections about life on the island, the people and the many herbs and plants which are used in the recipes. Aware that the book will have an international audience she provides measurements in both metric and Imperial units.  She also translates terms where necessary.  For example, capsicums are peppers, aubergines are eggplants.  In her introduction she clarifies and explains how to modify the measurements used in her recipes for European and North American audiences.  The Index offers the reader the opportunity to search by the type  of food used in the various recipes.

The recipes (as might be expected) are simple, often with very few ingredients and a heavy emphasis on the use of fresh local grains, fruits and vegetables.  Where local herbs, plants or seafood are used she offers alternatives which might be more readily available elsewhere. With the recipes she provides simple step by step  instructions, including photos to clarify the methods she uses.  She also provides  serving suggestions for the different dishes and ideas of side dishes to accompany them.  In some recipes she suggests modifying the ingredients according to the season and what is available.  Her knowledge of the nutritional benefits and combinations of food is also evident.  For example, she mentions in her Kale Salad recipe that the beans in the salad provide iron and kale is an important source of vitamin C which assists in the absorption of iron.

As mentioned, the photos by Lean Timms are a major component of the book.  They not only include appetizing photos of the many dishes and the techniques employed, but beautiful artistic photos of the people and sights on the Island as well.  They brighten up the long winter days and certainly create a desire to experience the island personally.

During this Covid-19 lockdown and beyond, this is a beautifully photographed book with delicious, simple recipes which may help us to live longer and happier lives.  As an islander is quoted in the book “Meni, here in Ikaria, we do not try to add years to our life.  Instead, we try to add life to our years.  We make the most of every day”.   A message for all of us in these difficult times.

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Ikaria by Meni Valle, published by Hardie Grant books is available directly from the publisher,  from Indigo/Chapters for in-store pick up or  from Amazon.ca, online.  Her website is www.menivalle.com.au  A video may be accessed here: