Olives are one of the most famous and well known of all Greek foods and they are used in a multitude of dishes for their rich hearty flavor, texture, and substance. Olives have a long history which is tied together with the history of Greece herself, being an integral part of Greek diet, trade, and even ancient religious customs and mythology. The olive is so important to the Greeks it was once considered “the most useful divine gift” from the goddess Athena.
History and Commercial Production
On the isle of Crete in about 3500 BCE olives were used by man as a food product for the first time. In nearly 5000 years, not much has changed about the production and processing of them, and their consumption has only grown in popularity. As one of the classic exports from the Mediterranean for a number of centuries, the enjoyment of the olive has spread around the world and they can be found in dishes from Asia to the Americas.
Olives are the fruit of the olive tree, a drupe like peaches or apricots. They have a hard pit similar to other drupes, but it is usually removed before being sold. (However, you can get them unpitted if you prefer). They are often allowed to ripen on the tree and are harvested when black though they can be harvested while unripe and processed to be consumed as green olives. Much of the olive production today goes into the making of olive oil, but olives are also enjoyed in salad, casseroles, and other dishes. Slightly bitter, firm, and salty because of the brine in which they are stored, olives can make a wonderful addition to any diet.
Olives are a low calorie food, and the majority of their calories are fatty according to Nutrition Data’s site . Because they are stored in brine whole olives tend to be high in sodium with a salty taste that can add a lot of flavor to a dish so that other seasonings or additional salt are not needed. The Greek diet in general tends to be heart-healthy, and olive oil is a low fat, healthy substitute for butter in many dishes. However, olives do not provide many trace minerals and while they make a delicious and beneficial addition to many dishes, may not be the best snack or wholesome side dish at a meal.
Recipes using olives
Thousands of recipes use this salty, rich fruit and you can try adding them to any of your existing favorites such as pizza, lasagna, spaghetti, salads, or chicken casseroles. I found various nice recipes on Women’s Day magazine’s page exploring olive dishes . Underneath are listed some of my favourites that i found.
1) Olive-parmesan bread
Olive bread is one of the many varieties of Greek breads made with various ingredients to enhance the unique flavors. To make olive-parmesan bread at home in a few simple steps, you can use frozen bread dough, Kalamta olives (pitted), Parmesan cheese, black pepper, an egg mixed with cold water, and flour.
– Roll out the dough and sprinkle with olives, cheese, and pepper. Fold and knead.
– Cover with plastic wrap on a floured baking sheet and let rise 45-60 minutes. Brush with egg white mixture.
– Cut slashes in dough. Bake 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
2) Shrimp Limone with Pasta and Asparagus
For those looking for a sophisticated meal, try this recipe using fettuccine, lemons, shrimp, onion, olive oil, asparagus, Kalamata olives, basil, garlic, cream, and salt and pepper
– Sauté shrimp while boiling pasta and grating lemon zest. When these are done, set them aside separately.
– Sauté onion, asparagus, garlic together. Add cream, lemon zest, basil and olives and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Combine all ingredients and serve hot.
3) Chicken with Potatoes and Olives
Family friendly, this traditional dish is something you can throw in the slow cooker and let simmer. Ready when you are!
– Peel potatoes and add to cooker with green pepper, chopped onion, tomato sauce, white wine, pimiento-stuffed olives, garlic, olive oil, tomato paste, bay leaf, and other Greek seasonings to taste. Stir to mix.
– Add chicken drumsticks and thighs, or chunks of chicken breast
– Cook 5-8 hours or until chicken is tender. Remove bay leaf and serve with bread.
Whether olives are something that you have grown up loving or you are looking to expand your diet and palate to include more of a classic Mediterranean flavor, they are a fruit that once you fall in love with you can’t help but want to find ways to use them to make dishes exciting and enjoyable. Luckily enough, they are versatile enough for you to do just that.