Cookbook author, television host and chef Diane Kochilas shares this recipe from her recent book Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die (Rodale 2014). A native New Yorker whose family’s roots are on the island of Ikaria—one of the world’s five “Blue Zones,” where people commonly live happy, active, disease-free lives that push the 100-year marker—Kochilas describes this rice dish as “one of the classics of the Greek table, on Ikaria and all over the country.” But rice was not always plentiful, she points out. Older recipes for this dish call for bulgur instead, which may be substituted in this and other pilafs (see the recipe variation).
Says Kochilas, “This recipe is an excellent example of the mantra of the entire cookbook and the entire Mediterranean Diet as a whole: that the simple, delicious, seasonal, real food from this part of the world carries innate nutritional wisdom in almost every bite.”
4 T Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 C finely chopped red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 C long-grain rice
8 C chopped fresh spinach, about 1 pound (450 g), stems removed, cleaned well
1/2 C water
1/2 C chopped wild fennel fronds or dill
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 2 lemons, strained
T = tablespoon
C = cup
In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 T of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 2–3 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat for 3 minutes.
Add the spinach, cover and cook until the spinach loses most of its volume. Add the water, fennel (or dill), and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked and very tender, 25––0 minutes. Add more water as needed if you think it is necessary to achieve a creamy consistency. You can do so about halfway into cooking the mixture. Add the lemon juice 3 minutes before the end.
Spinach-Bulgur Pilaf: A generation ago, bulgur wheat was less expensive and more prevalent than rice, and many of the vegetable pilafs we know today were made, in fact, with bulgur. For this pilaf, just substitute the same quantity of coarsely milled bulgur for the rice and cook in exactly the same way. You can substitute coarse bulgur in any vegetable pilaf.
Source: Reprinted from IKARIA by Diane Kochilas. © 2014 by Diane Kochilas. By permission of Rodale Books. Photography by Vassilis Stenos. To order, go to