How to use extra virgin olive oil in Mediterranean cuisine
Cooking with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is like travelling around the Mediterranean basin without leaving the kitchen. Just dare to experiment with new recipes and the versatile flavours of each region 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, savoury 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 olive oil 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, chilli 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 savoury 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 olive oil 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)
- do not reuse oil after it has been heated
5 methods of cooking with olive oil
Sautéing: quick-frying in a small amount of EVOO, seasoned with garlic and chilli, 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.
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.
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.
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.