Food with olive oil
Delicious and healthy, extra virgin olive oil is a key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. It’s not only used to make salad dressings, but also for pasta, pizza, risotto and other Western dishes, as well as for frying and deep-frying vegetables and meat. In Italy, to fully experience the delicious taste of extra virgin olive oil, people often dip pieces of fresh bread into raw olive oil for a pre-meal snack. Today, extra virgin olive oil has also entered the kitchen of many Chinese families. Let’s see how we can use olive oil in the Mediterranean style and also how we can use it in Chinese dishes in line with Chinese tastes.
How to use extra virgin olive oil in Mediterranean cuisine
Cooking with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is like traveling around the Mediterranean basin without leaving the kitchen. Just dare to experiment with new recipes and the versatile flavours and share healthy meals with your nearest and dearest.
To enjoy the most of EVOO’s aromatic qualities and rich texture, turn it into salad dressings, savory marinades, spicy dips and more. When it comes to traditional grilling and frying, EVOO is a healthier choice due to its high resistance to elevated temperatures. Here are a number of traditional and, perhaps surprising, ways to use EVOO in your everyday cooking.
7 ways to enjoy EVOO raw
High quality extra virgin olive oils have a wide range of flavours, from musky, peppery and slightly grassy, to mellow, fruity and even citrusy, depending on the specific oil. You may taste some bitter notes that pinch the throat, which is perfectly fine as it indicates the presence of natural antioxidants. To make the most of these properties, use EVOO raw in:
- Salad dressings: mix EVOO with some lemon or lime juice, herbs or mustard seeds, add a bit of soy sauce for saltiness or some honey for sweetness – and there you have a delicious dressing to accompany your fresh salad. Spices and herbs are rich in micronutrients and antioxidant compounds, allowing for a reduction of salt.
- Bread dips: to create one of those Italian restaurant-style dips, mix EVOO and balsamic vinegar with minced garlic, chopped rosemary and some grated parmesan cheese . Add black pepper and salt to taste. Serve with hunks of crusty bread and veggies.
- Infused aromatic oil: infuse EVOO with dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano) or give it a spicy kick with some black pepper, chili and garlic. It will add appetising flavour to anything it is drizzled over.
- Mediterranean thick dips: use EVOO in hummus, spicy muhammara and other thick dips, which also make a great filling for wraps and pita breads.
- Marinades: experiment with savory marinades when preserving vegetables or curing fish by combining EVOO, lemon juice, garlic, onion and your favourite aromatic herbs. Feel free to add or remove ingredients to better suit your tastes.
- Drizzle on finished dishes: EVOO’s pronounced taste alone is enough to enhance the flavour of vegetable soups, stews, fish or chicken.
- Instead of butter: add EVOO to your mashed potatoes, pasta, risotto, etc.
Frying with EVOO is healthy, tasty and safe
Scientific studies suggest that EVOO is actually a healthier option when sautéing and even deep-frying vegetables, compared to boiling and stewing. A research study published in the Food Chemistry journal proposes that the nutritional value and antioxidant capacity of some Mediterranean vegetables improves when fried with EVOO.
However, incorrect cooking methods may diminish EVOO’s healthy properties and delicate taste. To preserve these qualities, follow a few simple recommendations:
- increase the temperature of your oil gradually
- cook at a medium temperature and for a shorter period of time
- do not heat the oil above its smoking point 210–216 °C (up to 450°F)
- never reuse oil after it has been heated
5 methods of cooking with EVOO
- Sautéing: quick-frying in a small amount of EVOO, seasoned with garlic and chili, is a great cooking method for seafood such as shrimps and clams, as well as most veggies.
- Barbecuing: use EVOO-based marinades to soften and season vegetables, tofu or your choice of meat before throwing them on the grill.
- Pan-frying: use EVOO to fry fish and chicken fillets, or brush it on to slices of eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms to give them that golden brown texture.
- Stewing: use EVOO when hearty Mediterranean stews by combining roughly chopped vegetables with lean meats, such as lamb, or legumes. The ingredients should be simmered in some kind of liquid for a long time at a relatively low temperature, allowing all the flavours to combine in a tasty gravy.
- Baking: cut the saturated fats in your diet by replacing butter or margarine with mellow or citrusy EVOO when baking bread, brownies, cookies and more. It adds a new flavour to your baked goods and keeps them moist.
Cooking with EVOO is a great way to enrich your diet with healthy fats and introduce a variety of delicate flavours into your daily meals while inspiring you to create new culinary sensations.
How to use extra virgin olive oil to cook Chinese dishes
Misconception: Extra virgin olive oil cannot be used for frying? Not true!
Some Chinese consumers think extra virgin olive oil is only suitable for making salad dressings and not for high temperature cooking. Many who think this refer to the fact that extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids. It is true that after being heated for a long time, unsaturated fatty acids do generate more and more trans fatty acids. However, all vegetable oils contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. Vegetable oils including soybean oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil all generate trans fatty acids after being heated for a long time. In fact, due to their high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil are even less stable than olive oil, which has a high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids. We can see from this that extra virgin olive oil actually is suitable for high temperature cooking – more suitable, in fact, than many other oils we may use regularly.
Recent scientific studies suggest that extra virgin olive oil can withstand high cooking temperatures due to its high smoke point (the temperature at which oil starts smoking). When the cooking temperature exceeds the smoke point, the nutrients in the oil will start to gradually deteriorate. Rich in polyphenol antioxidants, extra virgin olive oil is very stable with a smoke point reaching up to 210 ° C.
To put it into perspective, here are the average temperatures of most common cooking methods:
- pan frying 100 ° - 150 ° C
- deep frying 177–191 °C
- oven baking 160 - 200 ° C
In this regard, extra virgin olive oil is a very stable oil to use in Chinese cuisine, which typically involves high temperature cooking methods like stir frying, deep-frying and BBQ cooking. But what about other vegetable oils?
|Type of oil||Smoke point||Type of oil (refined)||Smoke point|
|Extra virgin olive oil||195 - 210 ° C|
|Virgin olive oil||160 - 180 °C||Olive oil (refined)||199 - 243°C|
|Coconut oil||177 ° C||Coconut oil (refined)||204°C|
|Peanut oil||160°C||Peanut oil (refined)||232 ° C|
|Soybean oil||160°C||Soybean oil (refined)||238 ° C|
|Sunflower oil||107°C||Sunflower oil (refined)||227-232°C|
As you can see from the table, refined oils have a higher smoke point than unrefined ones, and therefore are commonly used for deep-frying. However, many edible oils under the name of 'refined' also undergo hydrogenation. After the hydrogenation process, the oil is more stable, but, in case of partial hydrogenation, it also contains a higher proportion of trans-fats that are considered detrimental to health. Fully hydrogenated oils essentially become saturated fats. Moreover, when olive oil is refined through a series of chemical processes, it loses some of its special nutrients and accompanying health benefits, so refined olive oil is less healthy than extra virgin olive oil.
Recipe inspiration: cook with extra virgin olive oil
Beets and extra virgin olive oil are both wholesome foods, full of antioxidants that help to enhance the immune system.
Ingredients: 1 beet, extra virgin olive oil
Directions: Preheat the oven to 180 ° C. Slice the beet, cover it with extra virgin olive oil and put it into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the beet over and heat for a further 10 to 20 minutes.
Baked sweet potatoes
Sweet potato is both tasty and full of fibre. Extra virgin olive oil can be used to cook sweet potato, making it crispy without getting greasy. Kids will love this healthy snack!
Ingredients: 1 sweet potato, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, a bowl of water.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 180 ° C. Peel, wash and cut the sweet potatoes into strips. Put the sweet potato strips into water and soak for a while, then drain. Cover the sweet potato strips with extra virgin olive oil and put them onto an oven tray covered with tin foil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Straw mushroom and shepherd's purse soup
This dish might sound like it’s straight out of a children’s fairytale, but it’s actually a great recipe for lowering blood pressure and blood glucose. Straw mushrooms are small, dense mushrooms with an egg-like shape, while shepherd’s purse is a leafy green vegetable in the mustard family. It’s a soup recalling the promise of summer's pleasures.
Ingredients: Fresh straw mushroom (200 grams), shepherd's purse (50 grams), lean pork (50 grams), ginger, salt, and extra virgin olive oil.
Directions: Wash the straw mushrooms and cut them into slices. Cut the shepherd's purse and ginger into strips, and mince the lean pork. Pour some cold water into a casserole pot, add the ginger and boil. Add the extra virgin olive oil and mushroom slices to the pot and stew for 2 minutes. Add the pork and shepherd's purse and stew until fully cooked. Add salt to taste before serving.
Healthy and delicious, garlic broccoli contains three ingredients that are rich in antioxidants: garlic, extra virgin olive oil and broccoli.
Ingredients: 200 grams broccoli, 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
Directions: Chop the broccoli and the garlic. Put the broccoli into boiling water for 1 minute, then dip into cold water- this stops the broccoli from turning yellow. Add extra virgin olive oil into the pan and fry the garlic for 2 minutes after the oil became warm. Add broccoli into the pan, stir fry for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
Roasted potato and beef
Roasted potato and beef is a famous dish in China. Extra virgin olive oil can tenderize the meat and the make the dish healthier.
Ingredients: Beef, potatoes, garlic cloves, carrots, peas, extra virgin olive oil, salt, soy sauce and sugar.
Directions: Heat the pot, then add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover bottom of the pot. When the oil is warm, add the beef and stir fry. Add the cubed potato and carrots, garlic, and peas. Add the soy sauce and a little sugar. Stir fry, mixing thoroughly until the beef is evenly coated with sauce. Add enough water to cover the potatoes, carrots and beef. Reduce the heat to low and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Add salt to taste before serving.