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On Olives, Olive Oil and Chanukah

December 10, 2009 By:
Rivka Tal, JE Feature
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Sizzling latkes, jelly-filled doughnuts, beignets, fritters, crullers -- the tantalizing frying fragrance of Chanukah is in the air! Almost everyone knows the story of the High Priest finding a small cruet of olive oil to light the Temple menorah -- that tiny jug that wound up lasting for eight days.

To commemorate the miracles of "the few over the many," Chanukah is an eight-day party of dreidels, menorahs and oil-based foods.

Olive oil, in particular, is an ancient Mediterranean specialty, mentioned in both biblical and talmudic sources.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I don't care for either olives or olive oil. If the pizza man puts even one little one on my slice, I won't touch it.

So there's a lot that I didn't know about olives until I began researching this article. I didn't know, for instance, that green olives are actually unripe black ones, and that no one eats fresh olives because they're extremely bitter. The fruit is either pickled, or pressed or processed to recover the oil.

Dozens of types of olives are sold in Israel's open-air markets. Each is made with a different type of vinegar, spices or mixed with vegetables, including small onions or little pickled carrots.

Studies have shown that people along the Mediterranean, and using olive oil generally, have lower cholesterol levels and incidences of heart disease than Americans. The secret seems to be that the primary source of these folks' fat intake is olive oil, which is higher in mono-unsaturated fat than any other vegetable oil; hence, the well-publicized "Mediterranean Diet."

Still, it should be used in moderation. So indulge this holiday -- but not too much!

Harvest Dressing

(Pareve)

3/4 cups pomegranate juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. liquid honey
2 tsps. finely minced fresh mint
1/2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store in refrigerator; shake immediately before use.

Serve atop a plain salad of mixed greens. Add chopped walnuts or almonds, dried berries and/or feta cheese.

Olivada
(Pareve)

This is a pure, unadulterated olivada. Other versions add capers and/or red-wine vinegar.

11/2 lb. whole, pitted Kalamata (Greek-style) olives
5 Tbsps. olive oil
2 cloves garlic

Place the olives and garlic in a blender or food processor.

Add the olive oil in a stream while puréeing. Process until the mixture becomes a thick, but not too smooth, paste.

Store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.

Serve cold or at room temperature on crackers, chewy bread or as a dip for vegetable spears.

Olive-Oil Chanukah 'Gelt' Cookies

(Dairy or Pareve)

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup milk or apple juice
21/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
parchment paper
chocolate coins (dairy or pareve)

Preheat oven to 375°.

Beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, olive oil and apple juice for about 2 minutes on medium speed of food processor.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the egg mixture and process until just combined. Chill the batter for 30 minutes.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

Bake about 12 minutes, or until light-brown.

Let cool for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a rack.

Top with chocolate coins.

Rivka Tal is a food writer based in Jerusalem.

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