I have a salt tooth. And a sweet tooth. Which is the problem, but we won’t get into that. To satisfy that salt craving, there’s nothing like the briny, pungent and flavorful pop of warm spiced olives. I developed a serious olive habit in college during a semester abroad in Athens, studying Greek (which didn’t stick) and Greek food (which did). My roommates and I would walk from our neighborhood apartment — you could see the Acropolis from the top of our street, just to give you a visual — down to our neighborhood farmer’s market. We would stock up on barrel aged feta, Kalamata olives by the pound, small Persian cucumbers and ripe vine tomatoes. I’ve bought olives for years since then, but none have tasted as good.
To fix that, I’ve started cheating. It’s a simple tweak that just might be the hit of your next cocktail hour or cheese plate. To pull it off, look for good quality Kalamata or mixed olives. Trader Joe’s sells a decent mix that’s stored in the cold section near the hummus, or buy in bulk from Whole Foods. The trick is to rinse the olives in cool water to remove the flavor of the brine they’ve been packed in. After they are rinsed well, simply add them to a medium-size pot with a cup of extra virgin olive oil, a bay leaf, a couple shavings of lemon rind and some spices.
I’ve made them with various combinations of red pepper flakes, Aleppo pepper, sumac, toasted fennel or cumin seeds, crushed peppercorns and a little extra sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt. You can also add sprigs of rosemary or thyme for color and aromatics. Let the ingredients warm over a low flame and serve them immediately once your guests have already started nibbling on some brie or chèvre. I promise, this five minutes of effort with change ho-hum olives to a glorious out of hand snack.
- 1 pound mixed olives (such as Kalamata, Lucques and Castelvetrano)
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 strips lemon rind
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- A few grinds of fresh ground pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt
- In a medium pot over low flame, add the olives, olive oil, lemon rind, bay leaves and spices. Stir occasionally and warm for 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm.