Olive Oil is the staple of the Greek diet. Every Greek kitchen is well-supplied with litres of it and it’s not just for cooking. Greeks use it as a dip for bread, for salad dressings and poured over soups, cheese, rusks and a multitude of other dishes. Greece is the 3rd largest producer of olive oil per head than any other nation in the world and still sells much of its extra-virgin olive oil to Italy, where it is bottled and repacked for export. In some areas of Greece, tourists can receive free board and lodging in return for help in picking the crop. The high consumption of olive oil in Greek food and diet contributes to its exceptional health qualities and along with a high intake of vegetables, fish, pulses and fruit, olive oil contributes to the Mediterranean diet.
Greek extra-virgin olive oil ranks very high among the best olive oils in the world and there is no substitute for it in Greek cooking. If you are holidaying in Greece try to look out for the new season’s olive oil, known as agourelaio, bright green in colour and an aromatic fruity flavour. Don’t buy blended oils. Choose one from a single estate and taste it if you can because the flavours do vary. The tasting of oil is carried out in much the same way as wine-tasting and the ‘notes’ of oil can be fresh, green or warm. Good olive oils have ‘warm’ notes which blend well with lamb and dishes like aubergine salad. Experiment by using different oils for different foods. Fish and meat will use different flavour oils for the best taste. Look for a young oil with a fruity recognisable olive smell and taste plus a good balance of flavours. The oil must be stored in an airtight bottle or container and kept in a cool dark place away from heat or sunlight.
Ideas for using Olive Oil
Don’t be scared of using lots of olive oil. No dish can really be authentically reproduced to have that special Greek flavour without using liberal amounts – it completely changes the texture and enjoyment of the food.
Make your own bread with extra-virgin olive oil. the bread will keep longer and it adds a fantastic taste.
Use it when grilling or shallow frying fish, meat and vegetables. It adds an authentic Greek taste as well as providing essential health-giving nutrients. The residue left in the pan after cooking can be mixed with herbs and lemon juice or red wine vinegar to make a simple and very delicious Greek taste.
Toss young green, salad leaves in extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and lemon juice.
Add 1-2 tablespoons to a bowl of bean or vegetable soup. It is filling, warming and wonderful mopped up with fresh crusty bread.
Make your own mayonnaise. Use good eggs and olive oil and see the difference compared to shop brought products.