In that Mediterranean world which begat Western civilization, the olive enjoyed special prominence beyond its culinary properties. Roman aristocracy thought good health depended on two things: wine within, and (olive) oil without. The olive branch was the symbol of peace, and the fruit itself an emblem of wealth and prosperity. Today, the oil extracted from olives is the main draw for many – it figures crucially in Italian, Greek, and Northern African cooking, and it’s the basis for many marinades, dressings, and sauces. As Primal Blueprinters, olive oil is one of the best fats we can use, but let’s not forget about the source. Whether as snack, spread, or salad ingredient, we need to start recognizing the power and versatility of the olive itself.
Black or Green?
The color of the olive corresponds to the ripeness of the fruit when picked. That’s it. Green olives are picked before ripening, and black olives are picked while ripe. And because raw olives are mostly inedible, both varieties normally undergo some form of curing process, either by being packed in salt, brined, pickled, or soaked in oil (or even just water) before being eaten. Generally, green olives are denser, firmer, and more bitter than black olives. The taste and texture of any olive, however, ultimately depend on the method and duration of curation. Any olive – even a green one – will grow softer in a brine. I suppose you could think about it like this: green olives are often used as stand-alone snacks, while black olives are commonly used in cooking, on pizzas, and in salads. Of course, olives can be used in a number of ways (please share your faves!), whatever the color, but those are the usual respective uses for green and black olives.
As you might imagine, the health benefits of the olive are pretty much identical to its oil. You already know about the fantastic amounts of monounsaturated fat, but what about the nutrients? Olives are packed with iron and copper, and they’re a Primal friendly source of dietary fiber. They’re also rich in vitamin E – a noted antioxidant – and anti-inflammatory polyphenols and flavonoids. And really, you can’t get much more virgin than the delicate flesh of the whole, unpressed olive in all its purity. As for the green versus black question, there are no nutritional differences between the two.
Oh, and cured olives are pretty salty, so be aware of sodium content.
The thing about olives is that they’re versatile. They pair well with martinis, wine, and cheese. They are used in Greek, Italian, Mexican, and even Chinese (as a restorative soup) cuisine. They can be blended with spices to form dips, or chopped finely to adorn salads and pizzas.
This can be as basic or as complex as you want. Tapenade is the perfect recipe for parties: it’s easy to make large batches and it’s hard to mess up. People will marvel at your culinary skills, when all you did was throw some stuff in a food processor and hit “On.” The basic recipe is as follows:
1 cup cured black olives, pitted
3 canned anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
extra virgin olive oil
To do it old school, mash up the garlic, olives, anchovy, and capers with a mortar and pestle, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle in olive oil until the desired creaminess is achieved. Serve with vegetables for dipping (or crusty bread for your non-Primal friends).
Or, you could toss everything in a food processor and blend away. Feel free to add extra ingredients. Fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, and thyme, are frequently added to tapenades, and you can experiment with adding lemon juice, hot peppers, nuts, or even figs to your custom recipe.
Steak With Olives
Any steak works with this recipe. I like the grass-fed ribeye, personally, but you can use any piece of meat. The real star is the olive sauce. Before you make that, though, cook your steak to the desired doneness and set aside.
1/2 cup cured black olives, pitted
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat the pepper flakes and garlic in the oil over medium heat, using the same pan you used to cook the steak. Stir until golden. Add the olives and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and add the parsley. Serve over the steak.
Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just grab a jar of assorted olives and feast away.