Delicious food doesn’t need to be fancy, it doesn’t even have to be a complete meal. Great taste can come from a simple ingredient such as olives, standing alone or when mixed with other ingredients. Of course, each of us has a different idea of a simple ingredient, a dish or even a meal that we would characterize as tasting great.
A dish of briny olives combined with a chunk of aged Parmesan cheese, bread or crackers, a succulent ripe pear along with a glass of crisp white wine, all ingredients that figure prominently in the Mediterranean diet, can create a simple and tasty light meal that has been enjoyed by people for centuries.
I would say that olives and the oil pressed from them, are ingredients that play a prominent role in the foods I prepare to make them taste great. If you are an olive lover like myself, they are probably often used in your kitchen as well. Olives unique flavors, whether black or green, go well with salty foods such cured meats, anchovies, capers, feta and Parmesan cheese. They also go surprisingly well with the sweet fruity flavors of dates and oranges as well as tomatoes, fennel and caramelized onions. I would say olives contribute a lot to making a meal taste great.
Warm olives and almonds are perfect for a tapas party served with a glass of wine.
Warm Marinated Olives and Almonds
- 2 c. mixed olives such as Gaeta, Nicois, Kalamata or Picholine
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove peeled and flattened
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. fennel seedes
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme
- 1 tsp. rosemary
- zest of a lemon
- 1 c. shelled whole almonds
Rinse the olives and drain well. Warm the oil in a small pan and add the garlic, red pepper, herbs and lemon zest. Bring the oil to a simmer over medium low heat. Add the olives and almonds, toss well and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until warm and fragrant.
An orange and olive salad is a refreshing combination of sweet and salty flavors that makes a nice side to serve with chicken, pork or fresh seafood.
Mediterranean Olive And Orange Salad
- 1 pkg. of baby arugula
- 1 large navel or blood orange, peeled and sectioned, juice retained
- 1/4 small red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 c. sliced green olives
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Warm the minced garlic in the olive oil to infuse the flavor and set aside. Peel the orange, making sure to remove all the pith. Section the orange between the membranes over a bowl, saving the juice. Cut the orange segments into bit size pieces. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to the saved orange juice in the bowl and whisk to emulsify. In a large bowl, gently toss the arugula, olives, orange sections, onions, and dressing to combine then serve.
There is nothing better than a preserved lemon tapenade to brighten simple grilled meats such as lamb, pork or chicken.
Preserved Lemon Tapenade
- 1/2 c. chopped pitted black and green olives
- 1/4 of a preserved lemon, rind only, washed and chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp.lemon juice
- 1 tsp. chopped parsley
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- a pinch of red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients and let sit for a few minutes for the flavor to meld. Optional ingredients such as anchovies, capers, mustard and other herbs can be added to suit your taste. (Any leftover can be refrigerated for a week or two.)
Moroccan lamb shanks are a perfect example of how olives pair with the sweetness of apricots in this extremely flavorful dish served on a bed of couscous.
Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots
Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.
- 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 lamb shanks (1 shank a person unless they are very large)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 piece of ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and grated
- 3 Tbsp. ras el hanout*, a North African spice mix available from ethnic and some grocery stores
- 2 tsp. harissa, sriracha or other hot pepper sauce
- 1 tsp. cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
- 2 c. chicken stock
- 8 or more dried apricots, sliced
- a handful of pitted green olives
- minced fresh mint or cilantro for garnish
- cooked couscous as an accompaniment
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides then remove to a plate. Add onions and carrots and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, the ras el hanout, harissa, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for a minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and stir. Add the shanks back in the pot. (The shanks should be submerged in the liquid halfway, if not add some water.) Cover the pot and simmer on the cooktop, turning the lamb about halfway through the cooking, for about 2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the shanks) or until the meat is tender and sauce is thickened. Skim off any accumulated fat that has risen to the top. Add the apricots and olives and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the apricots are soft. To serve, place some couscous in a bowl, top with a shank, spoon some sauce on top and garnish with some chopped mint.
As you can see, olives as well as olive oil contribute significantly to the flavors of many dishes. From a snack served with cocktails, a refreshing salad, a topping to bring out the flavor of simply grilled meats or to create a sweet and savory sauce for Moroccan lamb, the simple olive and its flavorful, healthy oil can have you thinking “that meal was great”.