I first heard about Blue Zones when I was in college. The governor of Iowa had invited the Blue Zones researchers to help Iowa become the healthiest state in the US. The town I went to college in was applying to become a manufactured Blue Zone and everyone was talking about it for a month. Pins that read “Blue” were being handed out around campus, articles from NPR on Blue Zones flew around Facebook, and I wrote an article for my journalism class interviewing local business leaders about the push on the ground. Our town ended up not being selected (it may have already been too health-minded, with its organic co-op on main street and refusal to allow Wal-Mart within town limits) and the attention waned.
I never quite forgot about Blue Zones. I’ve always thought it would be cool to live in a place where long healthy life is the norm, even if that didn’t seem like a real possibility. And in that vein I picked up The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner, the researcher who first identified Blue Zones, from the library last week.
Blue Zones are the places on the planet with the highest concentration of healthy centenarians. The ways these people reach such healthy old age are simple- they eat a mostly plant based diet (eating fish or meat an average of about 5 times a month), have close friendships and families, belong to a faith community, and destress with both reflective pauses and a glass or two of wine. They take a great deal of pleasure in their food and have natural movement (exertion such as walking to work rather than CrossFit) worked into their daily schedule. Simple, but not quite how my life always looks.
But I would like to live to be a hundred, and there are ways I can change my life to be closer to the Blue Zones ideal. I can walk more and take my car less, trade a shot of whiskey after work for a glass of wine, and make an effort to see the people I love more. And I can eat more like people in the Blue Zones.
People in Blue Zones eat a lot of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables, eat some fruit, meat, honey, dairy, and eggs, and eat very little sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They drink coffee, tea, wine, or water, and shun pop and fast food. Simple enough, and with the right accents, easy and delicious.
Inspired by Blue Zones, I pulled together these longevity burrito bowls. I simmered black beans with garlic and chilis, roasted onions and peppers together for salsa, and filled the bowls with a wide variety of vegetables, both raw and cooked. It’s filled with foods Blue Zone friendly foods (brown rice, black beans, potatoes, mushrooms, garlic) that make for an earthy, warming meal. The brown rice, when slow cooked, has an almost buttery richness and a nutty taste. The black beans have a low hum of heat, and the mushrooms and potatoes give the whole thing heft and savoriness. Topped with red cabbage for crunch, cilantro for brightness, feta for a creamy saltiness, and a kicking onion and fresno salsa, this burrito bowl is an excellent one-bowl lunch. It’s both hearty and vibrant.
Blue Zone Burrito Bowls
Although there are quite a few components, it’s pretty easy to pull this together. I cooked the beans the day before everything else. The day of I cooked the rice, roasted everything, blended the salsa, and assembled the bowls. Everything here could be made ahead of time, if you need to. The beans and salsa both make more than necessary for this dish, so you could easily freeze half for next time, or utilize them in a different meal. And if you don’t want to be bothered cooking beans, then I would drain two cans of black beans, cover with water, and bring to a simmer with the chilis, garlic, and cumin.
1 cup black beans, soaked overnight
2 dried ancho chilis
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup long grain brown rice, soaked overnight
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, quartered, sliced, and cleaned
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
4 fresno peppers, quartered (I removed half the seeds of the peppers)
4 large cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice of 2 limes
Hot water as needed
2 medium russet potatoes, diced
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
Shredded red cabbage
Feta cheese, crumbled
Drain the black beans. Combine the drained beans in a medium pot with the dried ancho chilis, garlic cloves, and ground cumin. Cover with water. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer the beans, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed, until the beans are tender and tasty. You want to make sure that there’s some broth to the beans. Set aside.
Drain the rice. In another medium pot combine the cup of soaked rice with 2 1/8 cups of water and a healthy pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down to a very low simmer. Simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Once the rice is cooked, stir well, remove from heat, and replace the lid for another 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400.
In a large bowl combine the leeks, onions, garlic, and fresnos with the olive oil, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Toss well. Spread out onto a cookie sheet and roast until the edges start to darken, about 30 minutes.
At the same time, toss the diced potatoes in a bowl with one tablespoon of olive oil, the cumin and coriander, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Spread onto a cookie sheet and roast until the center is tender and edges are crispy, about 20 minutes.
Toss the mushrooms in a bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast until they start to shrivel, about 15 minutes (we want to keep the potatoes and mushrooms separate because they roast for different times).
To finish the salsa transfer the roasted salsa ingredients to the jar of your blender. Add in the lime juice, and begin to blend. Add enough hot water to create the consistency you’re looking for- you want something loose-ish. Season with salt to taste.
To assemble, place a scoop of rice in each bowl. Ladle some black beans and their broth over each rice, then top with the roasted potatoes and mushrooms. Top with shredded red cabbage, feta, cilantro leaves, and the salsa.