What is your favorite way to use olive oil? A typical Greek eats more of this healthy liquid gold than anyone else in the world, so Greeks have plenty of suggestions. To help people who did not grow up in the midst of olive trees, Greek Liquid Gold asked several Greeks in the olive oil business, plus two prominent European chefs, for their ideas.
Some of the responses were unsurprising, while others were more unusual. Like most Greeks, Charalampos Papadellis “loves to eat olive oil with bread,” which “brings out the flavor and the fruitiness” of the oil (Papadellis Olive Oil). Many recommend using extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) raw “so that it does not lose its taste, its strong aromas, and its nutrients,” as Katerina Bougatsou points out. For example, Bougatsou notes, olive oil can be used “as a dressing for fresh salads, like the famous traditional Greek ‘horiatiki’ salad, or even with boiled vegetables,” including wild greens (Stalia Greek EVOO).
There are endless variations on the themes of olive oil and bread, and olive oil and salad. Manos Asmarianakis loves “to enjoy a special EVOO” on dakos, a salad made with traditional Cretan twice-baked bread (rusks) with fresh chopped tomato, oregano, and feta or mizithra cheese (Physis of Crete).
Gabriel Malet, the chef at the Spanish Embassy in Athens, suggests that “if we have tomato and olive oil, we don’t need to cook; we have a perfect meal, so rich and full of little details and finesse. As Greeks say, what I prefer about Greek salad is the ‘papara’ (soaked bread)—take bread and dip it in the oil with the rest of the liquids from feta and tomato, and see how it combines with oregano.”
Dominique Perrot, former chef for Francois Miterrand, is one of many who prefers to use the best EVOOs raw, especially in salads. In fact, he says “when we make salad with excellent olive oil, we don’t add vinegar or lemon.” Excellent olive oils can add their own distinctive flavor to salads and other dishes, including boiled eggs and grilled vegetables.
Valia Kelidou agrees: she believes extra virgin olive oil “is best consumed raw as a finishing touch to all your dishes” (Kyklopas). Diamantis Pierrakos similarly recommends that it be “drizzled on everything” (Laconiko). As Evi Psounou Prodromou adds, “we eat our EVOO with every food” (Yanni’s Olive Grove). Nikolas Philippidis explains, “you can drizzle it over warm and cold dishes just before serving, or use it in salad dressings, marinades, vinaigrettes, and sauces” (Hellenic Fields).
George Goutis prefers his olive oil on organic vegetables, “Greek salad with goat cheese, spinach pie, and fresh fish. For dessert, Greek olive oil cookies, which are so crunchy, lightly sweet, and perfect with a cup of coffee or tea. The recipe comes from my grandmother” (Goutis Estate). Perhaps this one (based on a different grandmother’s recipe) is similar.
Some Greeks, including Cristina Stribacu, use olive oil all day. “At breakfast, I eat fresh bread, EVOO, and honey. At lunch, with salads, soups, fish. In the afternoon I make sugar free snacks with EVOO. Any time of day is perfect!” (LIÁ).
Ellie Tragakes seems to agree: “Every morning I begin the day with a slice of toasted whole wheat bread drenched in ACAIA olive oil, topped with cheese, tomatoes and oregano. This is delicious beyond words, not to mention how nutritious it is. Beyond that, I pour ACAIA olive oil over anything edible, with the sole exception of ice cream and cakes. Though I should add that one can bake superb cakes using EVOO rather than butter” (Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises). One certainly can bake cakes with olive oil—try it!
Vasiliki Maraveli even embraces the combination of olive oil and ice cream. “Olive oil is a treasure, and it is unique, in whatever way you combine it. Which other fat can be used from ice cream to cocktail? We prefer it raw on toasted bread with oregano and boiled potatoes with fresh onion and coarse salt” (ALSEA-Sigounas Olive Mill).
While it is true that some of the beneficial components of extra virgin olive oil are richest in fresh, raw EVOO, scientific studies have also shown that there are benefits to cooking with olive oil, as Greeks do daily. Extra virgin olive oil is commonly used in Greek stewing, sautéing, frying, and baking; it is a good, healthy choice for almost everything.
Those interested in olive oil’s wonderful healthiness, as George Mathiopoulos points out, may “choose to take the recommended 25 ml for the health benefit with a spoon daily,” or they can use it as part of their Mediterranean diet. “We find that our olive oil pairs best with earthy green flavors such as lentils, beans, and other legumes” (Greek Olive Estate).
Such dishes are so popular in Greece that they have their own category: “ladera,” or “oily,” since the pulses, green beans, peas, cauliflower, spinach and rice, meats, and other foods are swimming in the olive oil that makes them tasty and adds important nutrients during cooking as well as finishing.
Consider the olive oil you are using at any given time, the reason you are using it, and the foods you are preparing, and experiment with various choices. Use more than one EVOO, just as you use more than one wine, depending on the meal and the occasion. Extra virgin olive oil offers almost endless possibilities for health benefits and flavor enhancement; explore them in your kitchen!
The first version of this article appeared on Greek Reporter’s associate GreekLiquidGold.com, which provides news, information, recipes, agrotourism suggestions, and photos from the Greek olive oil world.