On Chanukah we celebrate the miracle of olive oil — instead of lasting just one night, according to tradition, it managed to stay lit for eight whole days. Today, our culinary celebrations often bypass the miraculous olive oil, and go straight for doughnuts deep-fried in vegetable shortening, and latkes browned in canola oil.
This Chanukah, enjoy a healthier and more flavorful dinner by ditching the frying pan and letting the pure flavors of the olive oil shine through in your food — with some help from two kosher food experts: Ronnie Fein and Gil Marks.
Veteran kosher cook Fein, the author of “Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks,” is quick to extol the virtues of olive oil.
“I use olive oil every single day,” she said. “Not only is it healthy but it’s delicious. I buy several different kinds and all the flavors are different because of where they’re from.
“I use it for both cooking and for salads,” she said. “One of my favorites is a bulgur wheat salad with feta and dill. Cheese is also a very important Chanukah ingredient [from the story of Judith]. What I do in my house is try to combine a lot of different traditions.”
And if you do fry up some potato latkes one (or eight) nights of the holiday, you may be better off not using olive oil, because its low smoke point means it won’t get quite hot enough for the perfect crisp, said Fein, Instead, she uses canola or peanut oil, which will be absorbed less into the latke when they’re the right temperature.
Another way to enjoy olive oils is infusing them, like in Fein’s recipe for orzo salad. “Sometimes you want a more fresh flavor,” said Fein. “If you take a rind or a dried spice like cinnamon or clove or all spice,” you can create a whole flavor palette in your olive oil.
Both flavorful oils and pure ones will work well for an olive oil tasting party, said Gil Marks, author of the recent “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” and the James Beard-award winning “Olive Trees and Honey.”
“If I’m doing an olive oil tasting I would do a very lean bread, an Italian style or pita bread,” said Marks. “You want the flavor of the oil to shine; you don’t want the bread or anything else to mask it.
“Simple pasta dishes with olive oil, cheese, a little salt and freshly black pepper,” also let the flavors stand out, and include the traditional Chanukah dairy products. Marks also suggests switching out butter or vegetable oil in cakes for olive oil, which “adds an interesting nuance” to baked goods. Topping soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil will lend added flavor to your favorite dish.
When you shop for olive oils, it’s important to keep in mind what everything on the label means. “Extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed from the first pressing,” writes Marks in his “Encyclopedia.” “Virgin oil is generally produced from the second or third pressing. Pure, the lowest grade, is a misleading term indicating that it is made only from olive olives … [but] it is chemically refined and deodorized.”
There are a variety of imported and domestic extra-virgin olive oils available on the market today with kosher certification. Israeli imports include Halutza and Kvut Yavneh. Kedem’s Bartenura olive oil is imported from Italy, as is the Del Papa brand. Kedem’s new line, the infused Zeta olive oils, won best new oil at Kosherfest this year, for their Olive Oil with Garlic and Basil.
Middle Eastern Potato Salad
(from “Olive Trees and Honey” by Gil Marks)
3 pounds small or medium potatoes
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh chopped
cilantro or parsley
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt or
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sliced scallions
or chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery (optional)
Cover the potatoes with water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are knife-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Drain, and let cool about 10 minutes, then peel.
While still warm, cut the potatoes into large cubes or slices, and place in a large bowl.
Combine the lemon juice, cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the oil. Drizzle the dressing over the warm potatoes and toss to coat. Add the scallions and celery and stir to combine.
Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate at least several hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Orzo Salad With Chicken And Mango
Serves 4-6 (from “Hip Kosher” by Ronnie Fein)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Peel of one orange (in strips)
8 whole cloves
2 cups orzo pasta
3 to 4 cups cut up cooked chicken
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
1 mango, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup lime juice
salt and pepper
Place the oil, orange peel and cloves in a pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Once cooled, remove the peel and cloves.
Cook the orzo according to package directions, and drain.
Mix the pasta, chicken, raisins, mango and cilantro in a large bowl.
Pour in the infused olive oil and lime juice, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.