|COOKING WITH OLIVE OIL||RECIPES FOR:|
1 cup flour = 150 grams
1 cup = 225ml
PRESERVATION OF FOOD
MEAT AND FISH
SAUCES AND DIPS
SUBSTITUTING MILK OR CREAM
Products in traditional Greek cooking were made in abundance in the summer months and then preserved in various ways for the winter- time. Preservation of food is a way of life, especially in the past few decades, when it contributed to household expenses. Suitable techniques were used to ensure housewives did not throw away surplus products. It is impressive that the preservation of food in Greek dietary tradition kept the original flavours even after several months. Fresh vegetables could be dried in the sun, as were fruit, so that they could be stored for a long time, providing a rich source of calories on cold, winter days.
“The method of preservation is simple”, emphasized a study by the Rockerfeller Foundation on Crete (1948) and it explained “products are either dried in the sun or in the oven”…
Olive oil plays a leading role in the preservation of food, the tasty products which are kept in jars or bottles. Together with vinegar and salt, it has been used to preserve food since ancient times. It is a natural product for preservation as it blocks air from coming into contact with the food. That is why food is placed in oil or it is covered with a thick layer of oil for protection.
Although today we can find all fruits nearly all year round, jars with pickled products in the kitchen are always thought well and offer variety at the table. The season for each fruit or vegetable can be exploited as it is then at its cheapest.Many kinds of food can be kept in olive oil: meat, fish, vegetables, cheese. Products to be preserved should be completely dry, as water favours the growth of micro-organisms. Also, the jars must be clean and dry. Boil them in water and then leave to dry on a clean towel or in the oven for a while. Fill jars when cool. Close with a lid that has been cleaned as above.
To preserve vegetables, they must be fresh and of good quality. Usually they are boiled for a few minutes in vinegar and then covered in olive oil. The vinegar should not be of a dark colour in order not to colour the vegetables. Salt should not be left out so that they do not soften.
The jar should not be filled to the brim but a small space should be left at the top. Don’t forget to put a label on the jar with the date of making and contents.
If you keep the jars in the fridge, the oil will thicken but it returns to normal if it is left at room temperature for a while.
In Mediterranean cooking, the olive oil is used to its best in cooking, being the prime ingredient of various delicious starters and renowned for its individual taste. This custom is best seen in the farming communities where it is more readily available. It is mainly consumed in its natural form and can be used to accompany a variety of dishes. Without cooking, the olive is hardly missing from the Greeks’ diet. This has made the farming population accustomed to its taste and so they have tried to find different ways of using it in cooking.
Doctors and dieticians are right with their advice: Fried foods should only be cooked in olive oil! This goes against the myth that animal fats and hydrogenated oils are more resistant to heat, when heated, in comparison to olive oil.
Recent studies have shown that olive oil is the most suitable oil for frying because it remains stable due to its anti-oxidization agents, even at high temperatures.
HEAT RESISTANT UP TO 250°
Animal fats do not have anti-oxidative agents, so as a result, they are oxidized very quickly, with all the harmful effects to the health of those who consume them. Seed oils contain tocopherols (which are anti-oxidative substances) but the great amount of unsaturated acids they contain makes them to get oxidized quickly when they are heated.
Research that has been conducted in the recent years has shown that seed oils spoil at a temperature of 170-180° Celsius. On the other hand olive oil can stand temperatures over 200° C. It is even believed that olive oil can stand temperatures of up to 230-250° Celsius! By olive oil, we mean extra virgin olive oil that is more stable due to its anti-oxidative agents, but even refined olive oil has been proven to resist to heat and remain more stable than seed oil!
The chemical substances also which are contained in hydrogenated oils have been shown to increase “bad” cholesterol and to reduce “good” cholesterol levels in blood.
FEWER CALORIES, MORE VITAMINS
Special research studies carried out in the last few years have refuted one more myth. That is the one that states that fried food absorbs too much oil and so it becomes fattening and bad for the health. If someone tries to use a frying pan correctly, then the crispy curst of food seals in the juices and doesn’t let the oil into the food. In order to achieve this crispness, the oil should be allowed to heat, almost to “burn” as they say, yet without being over-heated and producing smoke. Neither should all food be cooked in a frying pan at one time so that the temperature doesn’t fall and the frying is done correctly. If the amount of olive oil in the pan diminishes during frying, extra olive oil should be added but only when there is no food in the pan so that the temperature does not drop. It has been proved that foods fried in olive oil absorb less fat in comparison to those fried in seed oils. Therefore, olive oil encourages fewer calories and so it is less fattening! It has also been pointed out that frying doesn’t destroy the water-soluble vitamins and the nutritional value of fried food remains almost unaffected.
CAN BE USED MANY TIMES
Olive oil can be used several times for frying, as long as we fry similar things, otherwise the quality of the taste will be affected. But if we fry foods dredged with flour, especially fish, the oil obviously can’t be used many times. Yet this oil can be filtered and be used for the frying of similar foods. After 3 - 5 fries, 30-50% of the vitamins in the olive oil remain unchanged!
M. Chourmouzis-Vyzantius came to Crete from Constantinople at the beginning of 19th Century. A phrase expressed by him, “they cook even pork with olive oil”, shows the great importance of the precious juice of olives in a unique manner.
Various foreign travellers to Crete but also groups of Doctors who studied the dietary habits of the Cretans were equally surprised. This fact is almost inconceivable to the inhabitants of northern regions or northern countries because they use animal fat in cooking such dishes. Maybe that was similarly inconceivable to Cretans who “are used to cooking with olive oil”, as the learned British traveller Robert Pashley wrote in 1834.
The American members of the Rockefeller Foundation who carried out a study in 1948, observed the dietary habits of the inhabitants of the island and pointed out that “at noon they eat vegetables, pulses or starches”.
On the island of Crete where the diet of the people is believed to be the healthiest in the world and certainly the model of the Mediterranean diet, meat is consumed usually cooked with wild edible greens, vegetables and pulses. Even the formal Easter dish is lamb or goat with seasonal vegetables (wild greens, lettuce or Artichokes, etc…) cooked with olive oil, of course!
The Orthodox Church diet requires the consumption of great amounts of vegetables, as they are among the products that are allowed during the fasting periods. Thus, as time passed, a special dietary code was created which goes together with the rural as well as the older customs. The consumption of vegetables, almost always coincides with the consumption of olive oil.
In Crete, which as mentioned above, is considered to be a peak area for the Mediterranean diet, the consumption of vegetables is almost on an everyday basis. This, of course, doesn’t suggest dietary monotony, but resourcefulness and inventiveness for unlimited food combinations. This happens because the Cretans do not consume only one (or just a few) kinds of vegetables. Their diet includes an incredible variety of vegetables that go very well with other food products.
In the traditional diet of Crete, pulses play a leading role, one that is detected in the finds of archaeological and palaeobotanic researches. Since prehistoric times, the inhabitants of Crete but also the Aegean in general have used pulses on a regular basis in their diet. Panspermia, the offering to the gods of a small amount of all the grains, was an important expression of thanks by the ancient Greeks but also a ritual ceremony for vegetation and renewal of life.
Greek mythology has documented the importance of pulses as ritual dishes, stating that this was Deucalion and Pyrrha’s first food after the flood that destroyed mankind. When the downpour stopped and the floods ebbed, the two mythological founders of mankind were to be found on earth alone and without food. The only things that had remained were a few seeds of all kinds. They boiled these altogether and ate them with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they felt the joy of being saved and on the other, the great loss of all the other people. It really was a meal of great joy and sorrow all mixed up! If we look again at the symbolism in this myth, then we will see that the circle of joy and sorrow is one and the same with the circle of life as it is with the seed: we bury it but it does not die, instead, it is reborn, growing and producing other seeds in the process!
In the nutritional culture, pulses are almost always consumed with olive oil. There are days when the Orthodox Church disallows the consumption of olive oil, but pulses, soaked in water for a few hours, are still eaten. These pulses are eaten with olives! “Vrechtokoukia”, (broad beans which have been left a whole day in water to dampen and soften) are perfect and they are a main dish in Lent foods on Crete and the Aegean islands. In periods of religious fasting, in some monasteries they are used to cooking pulses with olives.
The science of nutrition heavily recommends that today, people should not abandon this food which has been so important for both the development of society and the maintenance of good health, as has happened in many western societies. Of course, it is recommended that these dishes should be eaten with olive oil! Olive oil, apart from offering a unique guarantee of health, completes the dishes that are prepared with pulses and produces a harmony of tastes. Traditional cooking offers various suggestions on the making of dishes based on pulses, such as pulses with vegetables or mashed pulses.
Extra virgin olive oil, the natural juice of the olive, is the oil that should never be left out of salads. On Crete, an area with a high production of olive oil, salads swim – well almost in olive oil and this seems strange to visitors who are not used to this.
Extra virgin olive oil offers the chance of extremely healthy combinations, especially when the salads use fresh vegetables and greens, as is used to the traditional Greek diet. Again, it is Crete that gives a true example for life. The Cretans prefer to eat their own fresh vegetables and the bountiful greens which the earth produces unaided, without being cooked. In nearly all the traditional salads there is the combination of extra virgin olive oil with various greens and vegetables.
Olive oil is the basic ingredient in sauces, along with lemon juice, vinegar or eggs. This is also true for dips, those sauces that are thick and almost set and are used as appetizers before a meal, with the first drink.
Dips are usually used with small items such as vegetables, but also cheese and even bread or dried rusks to be dipped into the set sauce. They can even accompany main courses. These not only offer interesting varieties of taste but also encourage a healthy style of eating due to the olive oil used.
Although they ay seem like a recent gastronomic variety, many of these dips are well know and loved all over Greece, Tzatziki, taramosalata, aubergine salad and many others have, for centuries, had a place in Greek cuisine. In this case, we must look to see if there is a grain of truth in the housewife’s philosophy, the person who was responsible for the diet of the family in the past. The strict fasting in the Greek Orthodox Lent encouraged cooking to reach new heights as it was forced to use the fruits of the land and the ingenuity of the Greek housewife. A taramosalata, for instance, made a meal during Lent much tastier, more varied and it could be stored for days. The same can be said for tomato sauce. Humus (chickpea puree) has a special taste and can be seen not only in Greek cookery (especially the islands) but also in various Arab countries.
Meat could be accompanied by tzatziki or tyrokafteri. The mashed pulses were sometimes the main dishes and at others, the starter. As always, the leading ingredient in all these recipes was olive oil! This could transform a traditional dish into something of great demand, especially in the areas where it was abundant and of good quality. Along with the traditional recipes we can now also add others that have been altered from their original form. Set sauces or dips can be used not only at home but also in places where people gather. These have been used to great effect!
The inventive Greeks have adjusted food products to their dietary needs or maybe they have adjusted those needs to the great variety of products!
Nobody is surprised by the way animal fats are substituted by olive oil, which has been so favoured by recent dietary studies! The final taste is the result of the perfect balance of the ingredients used in the preparation of each dish.
In this section you will find a few such characteristic examples that prove that the use of olive oil in Greek cooking is a way of life!
Pies are typical in the cuisine of northern Greece, but as olive oil is neither produced there nor cheap enough to buy, other fat substances are used in their preparation instead of that precious juice from olives. In southern Greece (and especially in the islands) pies are prepared almost exclusively with olive oil. However, the traditional pies of northern areas of Greece can very well be prepared with olive oil.
Pies are a staple among the immigrating population of northern Greece, the Sarakatsans, who used to cook them almost everyday. They were the easiest solution for them as they could be prepared with the products they had ready at hand. Olive oil affects the quality of these dishes greatly and this is why the Sarakatsans themselves prefer to buy and use it in their pies.
The pies suggested in this chapter are made with many different ingredients. Some of them though, are very interesting, such as the olive oil pie (lathenia), which is traditional in the cuisine of some small islands in the Cyclades. The name alone shows the importance of olive oil in its preparation.
Even today, visitors to Crete are surprised when they realise that olive oil is used even in the preparation of sweets! Furthermore, in older times, when sugar was imported, therefore expensive, the only sweeteners used by Cretan housewives were grape-juice syrup and honey! Traditional sweets are prepared almost exclusively with olive oil.
Some people use refined olive oil to avoid the strong taste. We believe that, in sweets, too, an extra virgin olive oil is required, without a particularly characteristic taste or smell.
The techniques that were used in ancient times in scenting oils were simple. Aromatic plants were left in oil until the desired scent was achieved or otherwise different methods with heating were used. The ability of olive oil to change its smell was well-known in the days of Aristotle (383-322 B.C.)
The philosopher Theophrastus (around 372-288 B.C.) recorded much information about the process of scenting olive oil to make perfumes. He refers to many scented oils, besides rose-scented oil, in which they added parts of other plants, such as lentisk, gorse, sweet flag. Apple olive oil was flavoured with apple that was left in the oil until it started to turn black and then was replaced with another. At the end of symposiums in ancient times, aromatic oil was offered to the guests. In Roman times, scented oil was used only in caring for the body. Today it is mainly used for cooking purposes. Olive oil scented with dill in Byzantium Liburnic olive oil, scented with bay leaves Scented oils in later periods In the area of Kastelli, Pediada, on Crete, up until the first few decades of the 20th century at least, they used to put a bunch of oregano in the jar with the oil which was to be used for cooking.
The philosopher Theophrastus (around 372-288 B.C.) recorded much information about the process of scenting olive oil to make perfumes. He refers to many scented oils, besides rose-scented oil, in which they added parts of other plants, such as lentisk, gorse, sweet flag. Apple olive oil was flavoured with apple that was left in the oil until it started to turn black and then was replaced with another. At the end of symposiums in ancient times, aromatic oil was offered to the guests. In Roman times, scented oil was used only in caring for the body. Today it is mainly used for cooking purposes.
Olive oil scented with dill in Byzantium
Liburnic olive oil, scented with bay leaves
Scented oils in later periods
In the area of Kastelli, Pediada, on Crete, up until the first few decades of the 20th century at least, they used to put a bunch of oregano in the jar with the oil which was to be used for cooking.
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