Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines.

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about incorporating less meat into our diets. The column was driven by the fact that during this COVID-19 crisis, meat prices – particularly beef – have gone through the roof and in some cases, availability has been an issue. I also have come to believe that moving more toward a plant-based diet might be a good thing from a health perspective. I know I am a little late to this dance. This is truly a win/win for us; less money and healthier. I have received a lot of comments asking for more vegetarian recipes as well as recommendations for a cookbook that might point us in a vegetarian direction.

This column, I am going to recommend a cookbook that comes from an unlikely source, National Geographic. Several years ago, National Geographic sponsored research to determine where the healthiest and oldest people lived. In addition to where these people live, they also wanted to understand what contributed to their health and longevity. Researchers identified five areas in the world and circled these five areas in blue. Hence the name of the cookbook, “The Blue Zone Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100.”

All the recipes are vegetarian. The recipes are approachable and packed with flavors. The photography by David McClain is stunning. The author Dan Buettner provides us a glimpse into the lives of those who call living in a “Blue Zone” home.

So where are these “Blue Zones?”

At the time of the research, the pockets of the oldest people in the world were found in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula; Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, Calif. You will find the recipes in these regions to be quite different from one another. You will also find some striking similarities between the varied diets.

Meats and sweets were eaten in each of the zones. However, meats and sweets were primarily eaten for celebratory events and were not commonplace in the everyday diet.

In each zone, the number of ingredients was limited to about 20. It is thought that limiting the number of ingredients and eating them consistently day after day helps boost the immune system. You will find, studying the recipes in this book, that although the number of ingredients is limited, the dishes are never boring. There are endless ways to get different dishes using the same building blocks.

There are almost daily additions of cruciferous vegetables to their diets. Cruciferous vegetables are like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

Beans are the major source of protein. The cornerstone of the typical American diet is meat, in the Blue Zone, beans take center stage. They are cooked with an amazing array of spices and are served with vegetables and grains.

Dishes are finished with room temperature olive oil instead of cooking with it. Cooking with olive oil at high temperatures breaks down the monounsaturated fats that give olive oil its healthy properties. In Blue Zone cooking, olive oil is drizzled over breads, soups and stews.

We’ve known for millennia that many fresh herbs and spices have medicinal properties. Once the herbs are harvested, they begin to lose some of their best qualities. Residents in the zones tend to harvest their herbs from their kitchen gardens, which also serve as the family medicine chest.

Their diets are rich with large doses of fiber-rich complex carbohydrates. Large quantities of grains, greens, nuts and beans feed the good bacteria in our gut. The results seem to speak for themselves.

You may like this. Consumption of red wine is high in the zones. It turns out that red wine along with a plant-based diet almost triples the absorption of antioxidants. I’m talking about a little red wine. Maybe a glass or so a day. That’s a 4-ounce glass not a Big Gulp type. I don’t think downing a bottle of red wine daily is that good for you.

Earlier in the column, I wrote that “at the time of the research” these five areas showed the greatest longevity. Unfortunately, that seems to be changing. Over the past couple of decades, these areas have seen dramatic changes, including the introduction and proliferation of our American diet. While the elders still eat the way their parents ate and they continue to live longer, the current generations are eating quite differently and the mortality gap now equals ours.

This is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

Here are a few recipes to tempt you.

Dennis Patillo is a committed foodie and chef. He has spent a lifetime studying foods from around the world as well as regional cuisines. His passion is introducing people to ingredients and techniques that can be used in their home kitchen. He and his wife, Louise, own The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar.

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