Olives have been cultivated in Greece for thousands of years. How someone decided that this usually bitter when freshly picked fruit would make a tasty snack after the curing process remains a mystery. Olives, though high in fat, are good for you. Their fat is monounsaturated, the kind that lowers bad LDL cholesterol levels and raises the good HDL cholesterol. Also high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, copper, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin E, olives are one of the typical foods in the Mediterranean diet. They can be enjoyed almost any time of day on their own and help flavor a variety of dishes from spreads and salads to main courses.
Greek Olive Bread with Herbs
2 cups warm water (about 105-115 degrees F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
3 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
24 black or green Greek olives of your choice, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon Greek dried oregano
Place the 2 cups warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add the dry yeast, stir, and let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes.
Add 4 1/4 cups of the flour and the salt to yeast mixture and stir to blend well (dough will be sticky). Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic for about 10 minutes, adding more flour by the tablespoonful as you go if the dough is sticky. Form the dough into ball. Oil a large bowl and place the dough inside, turning it around to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm spot in the kitchen until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough. Knead the dough into a ball and return to same bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm spot until doubled again, about 45 minutes.
Coat a 15 by 10-inch baking sheet with about 1 tablespoon of oil. Punch down dough. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Using fingertips, press out the dough to a 13 by 10-inch rectangle. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over dough. Sprinkle the olives, rosemary, and oregano evenly over the top. Allow the dough to rise uncovered in a warm spot until puffy, about 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Press fingertips all over dough, forming the focaccia bread’s characteristic dents. Bake the bread until golden brown and crusty, about 20 minutes. A knock on the bread should sound hollow. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Greek Salad with Olives
2 pounds tomatoes, sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 large cucumber, sliced
1/2 cup feta
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Greek sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)
Toss together the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, feta, olives, and oregano in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drizzle with Greek extra virgin olive oil and the red wine vinegar, if using. Serve as a side dish or serve atop pasta for a quick and easy vegetarian main course.