The secret to living a long and healthy life may be hidden in regional diets. Dan Buettner has traveled all over the world looking for places where people live the longest, and he calls these areas "Blue Zones." He joined TODAY to share the secrets of these special areas to help extend longevity and recipes from his cookbook "The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100." He showed us how to make healthy recipes for steamed purple sweet potatoes and veggie champuru from Okinawa, Japan, minestrone soup from Sardinia, Italy and black beans and rice from Costa Rica.
One of the pillars of the Okinawan diet, Okinawan imo is a supercharged purple sweet potato, a cousin of the common yellow-orange varieties that has been an island staple since the 17th century. Despite its saccharine flavor, it does not spike blood sugar as much as a regular white potato. Like other sweet potatoes, it contains antioxidants called sporamin, which possesses a variety of potent anti-aging properties. The purple version contains higher levels than its orange and yellow cousins. This superfood is high in complex carbs, has a surprisingly low glycemic load, and packs the antioxidant punch with anthocyanin (the compound that makes blueberries blue). Okinawans typically serve sweet potatoes steamed, which perfectly renders their creamy texture and sweet flavor.
Champuru means "something mixed" in the Okinawan language, and it can refer to this dish or sometimes Okinawan culture: a blend of Ryuku, Japanese and Southeast Asian cultures and cuisines. This stir-fried dish consists of tofu with vegetables, meat or fish.
I last visited Jose Guevara in Costa Rica in 2015 when he was he was 105 years old and gave me this recipe, his version of Costa Rican rice and beans. The genius of the Costa Rican kitchen is its ability to make a humble bean dish so delicious that you could eat it every day (in fact, many Ticos, as Costa Ricans refer to themselves, eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner). It's often topped with eggs and Salsa Lizano (a bottled condiment, slightly sweet and acidic, that you can find on every restaurant table).
Traditionally, this soup is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula, a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia. Fregula can be purchased at Italian markets or online. If you can't find fregula, any tiny pasta, such as Israeli couscous or acini di pepe, will do. This version also takes a little time to cook; longer cooking time melds the flavors and enhances the bioavailability of more nutrients, such as the lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids and other antioxidants. A shorter cooking time will make a tasty dish as well, but nutritionally inferior. Traditionally, the minestrone is accompanied with slices of pane carasau, or Sardinian flat bread.
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