Olives have been enjoyed for over 4,000 years. In many cultures, the ground on which olives grow is considered sacred land. In Greek mythology, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, struck the Acropolis with her spear and caused an olive tree to grow. She then showed the people how to grow olive trees and how to eat the fruit.
Olives cannot be eaten freshly picked, as their skin has a vile-tasting substance called “oleuropin.” That’s why you very rarely see fresh, unprocessed olives being sold in grocery stores or farmers markets. About 2 ounces of processed olives have about 1 gram of protein, 7 grams of fat, a fair amount of several B vitamins and Vitamin E and, a small amount of calcium, a very small amount of iron, magnesium and phosphorus and about 70 calories. And of course, olives contain small amounts of that wonder food, olive oil. Olive oil is thought to be “good fat,” helping to reduce the incidence of heart disease and certain cancers.
Olives are grown extensively in Greece, Spain, Italy and France, Morocco and Central America, as well as in Arizona, California and New Mexico. Ripe olives are black or green, depending on the tree variety. There are three predominant types of processed olives. Spanish olives are harvested young and soaked in brine for six months to one year. They are then pitted (or not) stuffed (or not) with pickled onions, almonds, chilies, bleu cheese or pimentos and packed in brine. Dry-cured olives are packed in salt, which removes most of their natural oil. Some are rubbed with olive oil before marketing, to remove some of the wrinkles. Mission, or Black, olives are ripened green olives that are allowed to oxidize to a black color. Greek Kalamata olives and French Nicoise are popular examples of Mission olive. Much of the Mission crop is used for olive oil.
Side Bar: More olives, please!
Hot or cold pasta or rice can be tossed with chopped olives, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs. Olives can be seasoned with lemon or lime zest, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, coarsely ground curry blends and cracked peppercorns and served as a condiment or used to top pizza, garlic bread or toasted dinner rolls.
Olive tapenade is an easily prepared spread that can be used as a dip, sandwich spread, an ingredient in salad dressing or as a replacement for butter in some recipes. It can be prepared by processing pitted olives in a food processor or blender with olive oil, garlic and seasonings such as oregano, black pepper or sage. Tapenade can be mixed with humus and used for a tapas topper, used to stuff Portobello mushroom caps, tomatoes or small peppers, used as a sandwich filling, mixed with crumbled feta, chevre or smoked tofu, added to prepared pizza, or used instead of sauce on homemade pizza, mixed into steamed or grilled veggies, mixed into cream cheese with a bagel or added to the avocado on avocado toast.
Green Olive Tapenade
Yield: approx. 3 cups
1 lb green olives, pitted ( about 2 cups)
2 T capers, drained
2 T chopped fresh garlic
Juice of one fresh orange, about ¼ cup
1 Tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 bunch mint, chopped ( about 2 Tablespoons)
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
• Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend for the desired consistency ( from chopped to smooth, your preference).
• Serve at room temperature, warmed or chilled