Ingredient: Olives

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One thing I love about being in the first year of this blog is that we get to cover so many essentials of the Lebanese way of eating. Olives rank right up there with flatbread and labne when it comes to staples in the fridge and on the table. Or on the kitchen counter, since that is often where I find myself nibbling on all of the above, any time of day.

If you live in a place where olive trees abound, you can cure your own olives. If not, you can take a moment to fantasize about being in such a place, which is likely near a large body of Aegean waters. Olives are cured in different ways depending on the type of olive, but the general idea is that they are bitter at heart, and that trait must be toned down. Once I looked up the meaning of my name in one of those meaning-of-names books. Imagine my delight to discover that Maureen means “bitter.” This is not the adjective that first comes to mind when I think of myself, but then the meaning-of-names guru must know something. No doubt I’ve had ample opportunity to drive the bitter bus, and perhaps herein resides my affinity for olives? To get to the heart of the bitterness of green olives, they are first cracked right to the core, the pit, and soaked for at least a day in water. Then the olives are brined in a salt water solution, sometimes with flavorings like lemon, garlic, chili pepper. Nothing like a divorce after a crazy-short marriage to give you a good crack, with an ensuing long bitter-ridding soak in water, as I’ve had the last few years. Now I like to think I’m finally deep in the brine and good to go.

We will all of us, I’d guess, be buying our olives ready to eat for the lovely Lebanese olive salad we are making this week. Unless you are my brother’s fiancé, who won’t be making the recipe because, of all the things she may like about our family, she considers round the clock eating of olives to be curious, if not suspect. I give her credit for trying to eat one or two, after she’s had her fill of Patron in order to get it down. While sipping that Patron, we’ve discussed that it may be time for me to write for her a “White Woman’s Guide to Being a Lebanese Wife.” But then technically I am white right along with her, and I am not a Lebanese wife. Still I might write it….

It doesn’t much matter what variation of olives you choose for the olive salad; the main thing to look for is firmness so they can be cut up easily and won’t turn to mush. A selection of inky black kalamatas and little green picholines are excellent. My IGA olive bar in Harbor Springs had pitted kalamatas and thyme herbed picholines, so that’s what I got. I’ll need to pit the green ones myself, and in case you need to do that too, we’ll attack the task together, tomorrow.

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  1. Celine says:

    I have a confession… I’m a real Abood and I HATE olives. I don’t know why the flavor does not jive with my tastebuds. I can’t even blame it on my English mother, who adores olives and would dive into any one of the above described olive bars. Amara, you are not alone! Maureen, please know that every year I do TRY to eat olives in the event I will actually enjoy them. Your beautiful writing about this Mediterranean staple gives me hope that one day, I too, might jump on the olive train.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Well now that’s a confession that’s shocking, cousin!!! Your fortitude in wanting to like them makes up for it, though…..

  2. Mrs. Measurement says:

    I love olives – and I cannot fathom the idea of someone who does not eat olives. So good with Arabic bread dipped in some Labaneh and zaatar. Whole Foods even sells a variation with stuffed almonds. It’s a nice crunchy surprise. Although, the black wrinkled bitter olives are not my absolute favorite.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Yes, the dried olives are very intense!! Nice to have all of the options of stuffed olives, so good.

  3. tasteofbeirut says:

    I can so relate! I live for olives, preferably our own olives from our own orchard; last summer I cured them myself for the first time and was surprised by the ease of it; just knock them open and fill them up with the brine and voilà! My daughter, unfortunately, does not share my devotion to olives; since she is marrying a lebanese man, who knows, she might change..down the road.

  4. Anne Saker says:

    Dear cousin: A poetic entry, as they all are. One of the great advances of civilization is the new olive bar at my (Kroger-owned) Fred Meyer in Portland. At least a dozen varieties, some of them stuffed with citrus or cheese or almond or garlic. I have recently moved up to the two-quart container for my weekly fix since, who are we kidding, olives are what keep Lebanese women looking so darn good . . . Love you, darlin’.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Olives are our beauty secret! The olive bars are busting out all over, thanks God. And you’re keeping them in business….love you cousin, thank you—

  5. Peggy says:

    Maureen, well done!

    Sister-in-law to be, there’s still time to renounce your disdain for olives and join the Aboods on the olive train! Once you are eating them for breakfast like the rest of us, you know you’ve become a real Abood!