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A Healthy Twist on a Traditional Greek Recipe

by Lambeth Hochwald

It’s kind of dreamy picturing award-winning cookbook author, educator, and chef Diane Kochilas in her kitchen on the mountainous Greek island of Ikaria. Organic Spa caught up with her this week while she was in New York City, where she’s busily preparing for the release of her new cookbook,  The Ikaria Way: 100 Delicious Plant-Based Recipes Inspired by My Homeland, the Greek Island of Longevity, publishing next month.

We spoke with Kochilas about the wonders of Ikaria (one of five blue zones in the world where people statistically live the longest), where she runs the Glorious Greek Cooking School, and how she dreamed up a vegan moussaka that’s lighter and healthier than the traditional Greek eggplant casserole.

OS: So, Ikaria is a blue zone. Why do you think it’s such a healthy place to live?

Kochilas: Ikarians aren’t wired to be stressed. I’m like that, too. Honestly, I don’t give a hoot about most things. I don’t mean that in a negative way but in a life-enhancing way. There’s not that much that’s important besides all the things we all know—our family, good friends, and staying as fit and healthy as you can.

OS: Tell us more about what you love about Ikaria?

Kochilas: This island is in my DNA. I was brought up in an Ikarian home, spent practically every summer of my adolescence there and now I have a home there. I’m deeply connected to the place. 

OS: During this time that you’re in New York City, how do you stock an Ikarian pantry?

Kochilas: I immediately went out and got good olive oil and simple fast-cooking beans like lentils and black-eyed peas. I always have whole wheat pasta and, because I’m so busy here, I went out and got dried herbs like oregano, dried sage, and bay leaves just in case I don’t have time to pick up fresh herbs. I brought pennyroyal tea, a typical herb on Ikaria that’s in the mint family. I always have good honey, which I usually pack in my suitcase, good Greek yogurt, and olives. I’m not a pickled cabbage fan, but I’ll always have capers and salad stuff on hand.

OS: Can you tell us about the vegan moussaka you included in your new cookbook?

Kochilas: It was created during the fourth season of My Greek Table, the PBS series I host and co-executive produce. On that episode, I invited this vegan chef in Athens to come into the kitchen and we cooked together. I never thought I’d like it, but it was good. There are a few versions, but in the book, we use black beans instead of ground meat. The black beans are hearty, and the dish looks pretty. The bechamel is made with almond milk and the chef taught me how to use aquafaba, or the liquid in a can of chickpeas. When you whip it, it becomes a meringue. I asked my daughter to try it and let me know what she thought. She called it “epic.” I love taking traditional Greek dishes and making vegan versions without using processed food.


Vegan Moussaka  


  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin ovals
  • Extra-virgin Greek olive oil, as needed
  • 3 large eggplants, trimmed and sliced into long, thin ovals
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2 large red onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, keep liquid
  • 1½ cups canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste 
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
  • 4 allspice berries
  • Dried Greek oregano to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons petimezi
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Béchamel 
  • Leftover liquid (aquafaba) from the 15-ounce (425 g) can of chickpeas used above (see Note)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin Greek olive oil
  • 4 scant tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • Grated nutmeg to taste
  • ½ cup bread crumbs


  1. Place the sweet potatoes on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush them generously with olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Bake at 400°F (200°C) until softened, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside. You can do this a day ahead.
  2. Place the eggplants on the parchment-lined baking sheets and brush them generously with olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Bake at 400°F (200°C) until softened, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside. You can do this a day ahead.
  3. Make the sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large wide pot and cook the onion over medium heat until soft, lightly colored, and translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic.
  4. Add the drained black beans and chickpeas and stir to coat in the oil. Add the tomatoes and stir. Add the tomato paste and wine. Add the cinnamon, bay leaves, allspice berries, balsamic vinegar, and petimezi, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the beans for 50 minutes with the cover on the pot, or until the sauce is thick and jammy.
  5. Remove the bay leaves, allspice berries, and cinnamon. Using a slotted spoon or an immersion blender, puree about a third of the bean mixture inside the pot. Mix it well so that pureed and whole beans are combined. Adjust seasoning with additional salt, pepper, cinnamon, or allspice powder, and add the dried oregano. Set aside.
  6. Make the vegan béchamel: Place the drained chickpea liquid (aquafaba) in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with a whisk attachment and whip at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, like meringue. Set aside.
  7. Heat the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the flour. Stir over medium-low heat to make a roux, about 6 minutes. Add in the coconut and almond milks, while whisking, and then continue to whisk the mixture until it thickens. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cool slightly and fold in the aquafaba.
  8. Oil the bottom of a 13 × 9-inch (33 × 22-cm) baking pan, preferably glass or ceramic. Place a sprinkling of bread crumbs on the bottom of the pan. Spread the softened potato slices in one layer. Place a layer of eggplant slices on top. Spoon the bean sauce over the eggplant layer, spreading it with a spatula or the back of a large spoon so it is evenly distributed.
  9. Place the remaining sweet potatoes and eggplant slices in one layer. Ladle and spread the béchamel over the beans evenly and sprinkle with bread crumbs. 
  10. Place in a preheated oven at 375°F (190°C) and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the béchamel is set and creamy. Remove, cool slightly, and serve.

NOTE: Aquafaba is the liquid in a can of chickpeas. It can be made by slow-cooking soaked dried chickpeas and then draining out the liquid. This starchy liquid is a great binder directly from the can and is super handy, as it whips and creates a foam. As a result, aquafaba is able to trap air, giving items structure at the same time it delivers a light crumb and lift. It’s the perfect ingredient to make a fluffy vegan béchamel.

Credit :  From The Ikaria Way by Diane Kochilas.  Copyright © 2024 by the author, and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group

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