So you think you don’t like … olives
The third in my series on learning to love the foods you loathe
Knowing I had one of these regular features coming up I idly thought I might check on Twitter which ingredients and dishes people disliked most. I thought a few of my followers might pitch in but was absolutely blown away by the response: 2877 comments at the time of writing! (@food_writer if you want say your piece.)
Olives were definitely in the top ten but the interesting thing was the number of people who said they used to loathe them but now liked them which suggests they are a food you can learn to love.
“I used to hate them, I love them now. Give me a jar and they'll be gone in a flash.” “I hated olives for years. Turned 40 and loved them.” were typical of the comments from the converted.
The strategy, I suspect, is slightly different from other ingredients in that there aren’t many ways you can conceal an olive except perhaps in tapenade so it’s more a question of buying better ones. Black olives are generally more strongly flavoured than mild green olives which may be the best place to start particularly as cheap black olives are generally dyed rather than ripened so best avoided.
Olives are cured to become edible which can be done in various ways as explained very well in this Serious Eats article. They are often then marinated with other ingredients which may make them more appealing.
My local deli mixes them with sundried tomatoes, herbs and garlic (see the top picture). They go particularly well with orange rind, lemon, both fresh and preserved. You can easily make your own - Jamie Oliver has a good recipe on his site or try this one with citrus, fennel and chilli.
Photo by kuvona at shutterstock.com
The next step would be to partner them with other dishes that are their natural bedfellows. Put them with ingredients that compliment them like bread, salami and saucisson, tomatoes and feta cheese and they’re in their element. (You’ll know you’re on the road to enlightenment when you can can eat a Greek salad without picking all the olives out of it.)
Once you’ve increased your olive tolerance there are loads of delicious olive-based recipes to try like this recipe for bruschetta with olives, courgettes, ricotta and rocket from Theo Randall. Olives make a great addition to savoury breads - this black olive and sesame bread from top baker Dan Lepard being a particularly good example.
Black olives are a great addition to rich wine-laced beef daubes such as my Languedoc beef stew and it’s a classic match with duck. Try this recipe for slow-cooked duck with green olives and herbes de Provence from Paula Wolfert.
Tapenade - the punchy olive, caper and anchovy paste - is another good starting point, unless of course you dislike capers and anchovies though you can’t really taste them individually. It can be used as a base for a tart - try Alex Jackson’s tomato and tapenade tart above - or just smear a thin layer at the bottom of a focaccia sandwich. (There are more good suggestions for olive-haters here)
They’re also great with wine, especially rosé at this time of year. Crisp whites like picpoul and assyrtiko, gulpable fruity reds, fino sherry and dry vermouth all work brilliantly. And pastis is perfect if you’re not averse to the flavour of aniseed which goes particularly well with olives
If you become an aficonado you may want to look out for certain types of olives - I like Spain’s fat Gordal olives but also, by contrast, the small moreish Nyon olives from France.
Maybe the answer is just not to think too hard about it, just keep on trying them. As one of my Twitter commenters @krissbuddle said “Somebody once told me - a confirmed olive hater - to ‘eat 8 in a row, then see how you feel’. I did; and now adore them!”
If you’re an olive lover what else would you suggest to olive-haters?