Blue Zone food

Chickpeas in a flavorful tomato sauce with a little Parmesan cheese as a topper is a satisfying dinner.

I would like to share my Blue Zone journey, inspired by the 2020 Shape Up Steuben WALK initiative.

After my first chat with Bill Maddock about WALK, I was intrigued by the Blue Zone project spearheaded by National Geographic reporter Dan Buettner. I checked out "The Blue Zones Solution" from Carnegie library and a few days later had his original book "The Blue Zone" on inter-library loan from Jay County. 

Wednesday, I finished reading "The Blue Zone" which ends with tips for living a long, healthy life, based on studies of cultures with the highest frequency of centenarians. They are moving naturally as part of a daily routine, cutting calories, eating plant-based foods, drinking moderate amounts of daily alcohol, downshifting away from stress, meeting often with a circle of close-knit friends, living among others who follow healthy principles, continuing community involvement, putting loved ones first and having a purpose in life beyond just work.

I hopped forward in "The Blue Zones Solution" on Saturday for a recipe for dinner. I picked the one that I had the ingredients for in my kitchen.

Here is the original recipe, an Indian dish made with Blue Zone spices.

Indian chickpeas

6 servings

1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil

2 medium yellow or white onions, halved and sliced into thin half moons

1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger

1/2 tablespoon ground dried tumeric

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

2 large red globe, beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

6 fresh mint leaves, torn up

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable broth, as needed

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Set the chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with water and soak at least eight hours. Drain in a colander then pour into a large saucepan. Add enough water to submerge them about 2 inches then bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain again in colander.

Warm the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven, set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until limp but not brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, tumeric and chili powder until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Stir in the drained chickpeas, tomatoes, mint leaves, salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down into a sauce, about 12 minutes. If the mixture begins to dry out, add vegetable broth in 2 tablespoon increments to keep moist. Stir in lemon juice and serve.

I substituted dry chopped onions for the fresh onions, sauteed it with fresh minced ginger in Milanese Gremolata infused olive oil from The Olive Twist in Auburn and added the spices as directed. I used canned chick peas, skipping all of step one in the recipe, and canned fire roasted tomatoes. Instead of vegetable broth, I used chicken broth. I did not use mint leaves.

The lemon juice added at the end really adds terrific flavor to this dish.

I topped it with a little shredded Parmesan cheese and enjoyed it with a buttered English muffin. The second time I made it, I fried a tortilla shell as an accompaniment. A loaf of crusty bread would be a great compliment to this meal, which I enjoyed with a glass of red wine, another staple of long-lived folks.

While the American taste may veer more toward pasta or rice with a sauce like this, the chickpeas have a similar hearty blandness and are a favorite of many of those living in Blue Zones. Along with being a substitute for the starch, beans also provide protein, replacing meat.

Diet is one facet of Blue Zone longevity. Bill's WALK program hits on two others — regular, sustained, natural activity and a group of trusted, caring friends. WALK stands for We All Love Konnections.

The protocol is as follows:

• Walk for one hour four times a week throughout the year and record it on a calendar.

• Choose six people to be in your WALK family.

• Encourage each member of your WALK family to create a WALK family of his or her own.

• Attend three of six Shape Up Steuben WALK Family Reunions.

The first reunion is this month, Shape Up Steuben’s ninth annual Heart 2 Heart Walk on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. at the Selman Timber Frame Pavilion in Angola's Commons Park.

So, here's where I was having trouble. I like friends and I like to walk but was having trouble figuring out how to work it into my daily life as it is.

Then, I got the opportunity to teach a dance fitness class at Fitt 4 Life in downtown Angola. I think preparing and teaching the class will get my one hour workout four days a week. Once a week I will be with Fitt 4 Life members having fun and exercising together.

It's not exactly what Bill had in mind but it is in the spirit of his intention. 

Thanks, Bill, for the 2020 jump start. See you at a family reunion.

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