Here’s to Longevity: Diane Kochilas’ Warming Cornmeal and Greens Soup

Award-winning Greek cookbook author Diane Kochilas explores the lush Aegean island of Ikaria in her newest cookbook, “Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die” (Rodale Books, 2014). There’s a lesson here for all of us, even if we can’t live in paradise: Daily naps, lots of fish and wine, walking and gardening, regular (in terms of frequency) sex, and strong friendships are the hallmarks of life on this island where people live long, happy lives.

Kochilas shares her recipe for Cornmeal and Greens Soup with a reminiscence: “I have been hearing about tsorvas and the use of corn kernels and cornmeal in the Ikarian diet ever since my Aunt Mary, who passed away several years ago at the age of 97, mentioned the corn-stuffed cabbage leaves she remembered as a child…I have never been able to find either the definitionor an exact recipe, so I tried my best to approximate what tsorvas was below. Whatever it was exactly, corn was an important part of the diet before the advent of rice and it was one of the major foods of sustenance. It’s also quite delicious!”

Cornmeal and Greens Soup

Serves 6

  • 6 tablespoons Greek extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
  • 1 pound (450 g) Swiss chard
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh chervil
  • 6 cups (or more) water or low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crumbled goat’s milk cheese or Greek feta cheese, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large, wide soup pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chard and half the herbs to the mixture and stir until wilted. Add 4 cups of the water or broth, bring to a boil, and in a slow, steady stream add the cornmeal, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon all the while. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add the remaining 2 cups water (or broth) and simmer the soup until thick and creamy, about 30 minutes total. About 5 minutes before removing from the heat, add the remaining herbs and, if necessary, additional water or broth to maintain the soup’s liquid, creamy consistency.

4. Drizzle in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil just before serving. If desired, garnish the soup with a little crumbled cheese.