Kitchen Intuition: Longevity and Ikarian stew

Ikarian stew (Photo: Alice O'Dea)

Authored By aliceodea

Two weeks ago, when writing about gallo pinto, I mentioned Dan Buettner’s “The Blue Zones Solution,” which came out earlier this year as a follow-up to the 2008 book that introduced the notion of Blue Zones (if you want an introduction to the concept, you can watch a great TED talk that Buettner did a little while after the first book came out). I still haven’t gotten all the way through both books, but I’ve been reading bits and pieces here and there whenever I’m nudged by things like my niece’s gallo pinto or a story from NPR about “top longevity foods.”

This week, I ran across an article in The New York Times about a dinner that food writer Jeff Gordinier had with Buettner after they spent the better part of a day together, discussing how Blue Zones insights might apply to a New York City foodie. This got me curious about Ikarian cuisine (in the article, Gordinier spells that word “Icarian,” but Buettner uses the alternative spelling in his book; they appear to be interchangeable) because in the column, Buettner claims to have seduced his girlfriend with an Ikarian stew, and in the book, he says the same stew is “hands-down” his favorite longevity recipe.

I figured this must be a really amazing stew; I had to try it out. Interestingly, I found a couple of versions of the recipe-the one on the Blue Zones website is a little simpler than the recipe Buettner shares in the book, which adds in some chopped carrots to the second step and includes some slivered kale with the dill that is mixed in at the end. It also calls for a red onion rather than a white or yellow one. Obviously, this, like just about all recipes, is pretty flexible, so if you make it, work with what you have and improvise as you see fit.

There is a video on the Blue Zones YouTube channel demonstrating the preparation of the stew, and in it, the unnamed cook mentions that it is a good recipe for a rainy day. I would also point out that it’s a great summertime dish because this is the time of year when big heirloom tomatoes are so easy to find at local markets, and fennel is also in season. If you’re trying to eat seasonally, though, the version of the recipe found on the website is a better option for this time of year-because kale and carrots are not hot weather crops, you’re unlikely to find them at the farmers markets until autumn.

Note that this is not a quick prep for a weeknight. If you start with dried beans, it will take a couple of hours from start to finish. Most of that is unattended, though, so it’s a great dish for a lazy weekend afternoon, and since it reportedly freezes well, it might be worth making some extra to save for another day.

The first hour of prep is completely unattended; it consists of simply giving the beans a soak after letting them boil for a minute. Next, there’s just slicing the fennel, dicing the onion and tomato, and chopping the dill. The rest of the prep involves nothing more than a bit of stirring and keeping an eye on the stew while it simmers for up to an hour. That’s all there is to it!

I made a batch one day this week and it was delicious. It was filling, had a lot of depth to the flavor and got even better after melding overnight. This makes great leftovers-which is a good thing, because my potful turned out to be quite a lot!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.