Want to learn about Ikarian food? Looking for Greek recipes? Read Meni Valle’s guide.
Meni Valle, a food studies teacher and cookbook author, was born in Australia to Greek parents. She shares her knowledge and passion for Greek food through cooking classes and culinary tours to Greece, where she loves connecting with locals and discovering new recipes. Recipes adapted from Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone by Meni Valle (£22, Hardie Grant). Photographs by Lean Timms.
This beautiful Greek island in the Aegean sea is named after Icarus, the mythological figure who fell into the surrounding sea when his wax wings melted in the sun. With a population of just under 8500, it is a nature lover’s paradise, surrounded by crystal-blue waters with lush hiking trails leading to villages nestled on the mountainous coast.
The Ikarian cuisine, like the landscape, has been preserved. It reflects the typical food patters of Greece and Italy during the early 1960s but, like many of the island’s traditions and ways of life, it has not changed with contemporary times. Ikaria is a textbook example of the Mediterranean diet in its holistic sense: pure and honest food enjoyed within a community. Today Ikarians mostly grow their own supply of vegetables, fruit and herbs, with many having their own goats for milk to make yogurt and cheese for their household. Goats graze on the mountains of the island: lush greenery and a rocky landscape, all encompassed by the sea.
These are the things that make the difference. Wild herbs are foraged for food but are also traditionally used as remedies based on oral tradition. Sage, mint, dandelion, rosemary and chamomile are harvested seasonally, dried and used in both hot and cold teas, sometimes with a squeeze of lemon or a spoonful of the exquisite local honey.
Ikarians are experienced fishermen and many families catch their own seafood. For those that don’t, they always know of a local fisherman they can get their fresh seafood from, and who could argue that there are few things that can compare to freshly caught seafood, cooked and enjoyed with a glass of the local wine, overlooking a sea view.
Ikarian recipe: Stifado katsiki (goat stew)
Stifado, a rustic country-style, melt-in-yourmouth stew, can be made with veal or beef as well as goat. The spices and baby onions give it a subtle hint of sweetness that I adore. Traditionally served with homemade risoni (orzo) or potatoes, this is great comfort food. Make sure you have some crusty bread to mop up all the delicious sauce.
Ikarian recipe: Loukoumades
The monastery of Theoktistis is high in the mountains in Pygi, a village on the north side of the island. There is a housekeeper, Maria, who makes visitors welcome and runs a small coffee shop from which you can buy local herbs, spices, homemade sweets and her famous loukoumades – a kind of doughnut served with honey and walnuts.
Words by Meni Valle, photographs by Lean Timms. Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone by Meni Valle (£22, Hardie Grant) is out now.