Olive Oil: Some Mediterranean Magic?


The olive tree has been a symbol of the Mediterranean landscape for thousands of years and a prized ingredient in cooking among the Jews of that region. Reach for a bottle of this flavorful oil for these recipes. 


People are more likely to associate rendered chicken fat than olive oil with Jewish cuisine. This is because most American Jews are Ashekenazi, hailing from Central and Eastern Europe.
They overlook Sephardic Jews whose families emigrated from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, where olive oil enhances most recipes from the region.
The olive tree has not only been a symbol of the Mediterranean landscape for thousands of years but also a prized ingredient in cooking among the Jews of that region. Olive oil is produced by pressing the fruit of olive trees. 
Many scientific studies have shown that people who consume olive oil on a regular basis are less likely to suffer from heart disease, several cancers and some digestive ailments. Olive oil is the basis of the Mediterranean diet, which is highly regarded for its health benefits.
Jews from Mediterranean countries have long drizzled this luscious oil into dips, salads, meats, vegetables and rice, enhancing the fragrance and taste of everything it touches.
Next time you consider Jewish cooking, forget about brisket and schmaltz. Think of grilled vegetables and reach for a bottle of olive oil instead.
‘Salata de Vinete’ Roasted Eggplant Salad — Romanian
Roasting Ingredients:
nonstick vegetable spray
3 small eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in half lengthwise
1 large onion, cut into 3 slices
kosher salt to taste
olive oil for drizzling
4 garlic cloves
Salad Dressing Ingredients:
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450˚. Spray a roasting pan with nonstick spray.
Place the eggplants and peppers on the prepared pan, flesh side down and skin side up. Place the onion slices there, too. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes and then add the garlic. Continue roasting for 10 minutes, or until the eggplant and pepper skins have puckered and browned slightly and the flesh inside is soft.
Cool to room temperature. With fingers, peel off and discard the skin of the eggplant and peppers. Cut them into 8 chunks a piece. Cut the onion into 12 pieces and mash garlic. Reserve.
Whisk together dressing ingredients until emulsified.
Fit a food processor with a metal blade. Place half the roasting ingredients and half the salad dressing into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse on and off, until ingredients form a soft consistency. Do not over process or they’ll turn watery. Place in a serving bowl and process the remaining ingredients. Serve with toast slices.
Makes 21⁄2 cups.
‘Faglioli Conditi’ Bean Salad — Italy
2 cans (15.5 oz. each) cannellini (Great Northern) beans
2 Tbsps. red onion, chopped
2 Tbsps. basil, chopped
3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 cup olive oil
kosher salt to taste
Spoon the beans into a colander. Run under cold water, until the starch is rinsed away. Drain well.
Move the beans into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Gently stir until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and either serve immediately or refrigerate for up to three days.
Return to room temperature before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
‘Polow-Baraly’ Lima Beans and Rice — Iran
1 cup Basmati rice
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, diced fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
1⁄4 tsp. turmeric
1 package (10 oz.) frozen baby lima beans, defrosted
Place rice in a sieve (not a colander, which isn’t fine enough). Rinse under cold water for 1 to 2 minutes. Move to a bowl and soak covered in cold water for 1 hour. Soak until ready to use.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic and stir. Add the salt and tumeric and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Pour 13⁄4 cups of fresh water into the pot and bring to a boil. Drain rice in the sieve and discard the water. Add the rice and lima beans and stir to combine. Cover the pot and reduce the flame to low.
Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until rice is fluffy and cooked through. Serve immediately.
Serves 8 as a side dish.
‘Keftes De Spinaka’ Spinach Patties — Sephardic
Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 small onion, diced fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
2 plum tomatoes, diced fine
1 can (15-oz.) tomato sauce
1 cup water
juice from 1⁄2 lemon
1 Tbsp. dry white wine
1⁄8 tsp. sugar
Meat Patties Ingredients:
nonstick spray vegetable spray
1 package (10-oz) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 lb. ground turkey or beef
1⁄4 cup breadcrumbs, preferably seasoned
1 egg
1 cup olive oil, or more, if needed
1 cup flour
To Make Tomato Sauce: In a medium-sized saucepan, briefly heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté until wilted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Stir until wilted, about 3 minutes.
Add the remaining tomato sauce ingredients and stir until combined. Cover the pot and reduce the flame to low. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Turn off flame and reserve.
To Make Meat Patties: Coat a 10×10-inch casserole with no-stick spray. Reserve.
Place spinach in a colander. Using your palm, squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.
In a large bowl, place the spinach, turkey or beef, breadcrumbs and egg. With a fork, mix ingredients well, until the spinach is thoroughly incorporated into the meat.
Place rounded tablespoons of the mixture into your palm and form patties.
Preheat oven to 350˚. Pour olive oil into a large skillet until it is 1⁄4-inch deep. Use more oil, if needed. Heat on a low flame.
Sprinkle flour evenly on a dinner plate. Dip each patty into flour on all sides. Slide patties one at a time into the heated oil.
When all of them are in the skillet, raise the flame to medium. Add more oil, if needed. Fry patties on both sides until crunchy and brown.
Move patties to prepared casserole. They may overlap. Pour the tomato sauce over them evenly. Cover the casserole and place it in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until sauce thickens. Serve immediately.
Makes 22 patties.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: lindam212@aol.com.


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