In Morocco, when you sit down to a meal, olives generally appear almost instantly. The olives may be plain but are just as often spiced or marinated. The marinade in this recipe boosts the already vivid flavor of good olives. If the olives are in brine, rinse them and pat them dry before using them in the recipe. If they are in oil, as is often the case at the “olive bars” at some grocers, you can use them as is, but drain them first.
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups (just over a pound) green olives (with pits)
Combine the spices, herbs, garlic, and lemon juice in a bowl. Pour the olive oil in a steady stream, beating it into the spice blend. Toss the olives in this marinade. Put olives and marinade in clean jars, seal, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before using. (Though not for more than 5 days.) Enjoy.
Use a good, fruity, extra virgin olive oil.
You can use whole or cracked olives.
If you have preserved lemons, chopping the skin of 1/2 a lemon and tossing it with the olives makes a nice addition to this recipe (makes it a bit more Moroccan)—but if you use preserved lemon, then leave the salt out of the marinade (the preserved lemons will add all the salt you need). Rinse the preserved lemon first, and discard the pulp (you just use the skin), chop, and add to the marinade before adding olives.
There are two food items that pretty well define the Mediterranean: the grape and the olive. Roman naturalist and historian Pliny the Elder wrote that “Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.” The olive was the favorite food of the Greek philosopher Plato, and the Roman poet Horace, who identified the olive as a key part of his diet, wrote about Olives in his Odes.
In fact, a great deal of ancient literature contains references to the olive, from the olive branch carried to Noah by the dove in the Bible to Aeneas carrying an olive branch in Virgil’s Aeneid. (Today, the literature that most often carries references to the olive is medical literature, as more and more people come to appreciate the health benefits of olives and olive oil. So it appears that we are finally catching up with the ancients in our appreciation of this venerable fruit.)
In ancient times, olives were often the most important dish at a meal, or at least an important ingredient of several dishes. This importance spread throughout the Mediterranean, and while olives are often present primarily as olive oil in some Mediterranean cuisines, dishes of olives are still as common as salt on tables throughout much of the region.
There are a variety of possible starting points for the olive. It has been cultivated in the eastern end of the Mediterranean since Neolithic times. Egyptian art depicts olive picking, but it is not clear whether the olives were wild or domesticated. Syria and Palestine may have been the first to cultivate the olive, but it appears to have been cultivated in Crete, too, around the same time—about 3500 B.C. By 2500 B.C., olives and olive oil were a major component of international commerce, with olive oil being shipped from Crete to Egypt and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Continue reading
It’s interesting how sometimes years of experiences and ideas are brought together in a moment, and a larger picture suddenly comes into focus. That is what happened to me recently at a lecture and cooking demonstration by Grace Young that focused on her remarkable book Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories.
Some of the threads that this presentation tied up stretch back decades. My mom had grown up going to Chicago’s Chinatown with her father, and so it seemed only natural that she would introduce my brother and me to Chinese food early in life. Later, when I visited San Francisco, the existence of a Chinatown just seemed natural. Even Chinatowns in Vancouver and Toronto seemed natural to me, because they weren’t that much different from the Chinatown with which I’d grown up.
Then about 15 years ago, I visited a friend in Austria. She wanted to go to a “China restaurant.” For some reason, it struck me as odd that people in a Chinese restaurant would be speaking German, but then I realized that for the Chinese, it was probably no odder than speaking English. The food was good, the flavors recognizable, but it was different. Then a few years later, I was visiting friends in Ecuador. Again, I came across Chinese food, again, recognizable but different. Then recently, shopping at an Indian grocery store in Chicago, I found prepared meals identified as “Indian-style Chinese.” Continue reading