With olive oil prices soaring, here are recipes that focus on less-is-more

Olive oil and rosemary flatbread; and (right) muhammara. (Nandita Iyer)
Olive oil and rosemary flatbread; and (right) muhammara. (Nandita Iyer)

Summary

Store olive oil well and follow the less-is-more mantra with these cooking tips and recipes

We tend to miss small price increases on our regular groceries, but a drastic price rise never fails to give us a sticker shock. I’m talking about some of our favourite foods like wine, cocoa and now olive oil. As per a European Union report, prices of olive oil have doubled in the past two years.

I looked up the reason for the soaring prices of olive oil. No surprises with the answer there—climate change. We often think of climate change as a distant concept that won’t affect our everyday lives. But sharply increasing food prices make us realise that climate change is very much affecting our lives.

The specific reasons for the price rise are an unusual warm spell in the Mediterranean region, specifically Spain—which produces nearly half the world’s olive oil—in the winter of 2022-23 followed by two years of lowest rainfall that Spain has seen in the past 30 years. There is also a reduced supply from Greece and Turkey. This combined with an increased demand due to its health benefits means that the prices of olive oil are soaring.

Also read: On a gourmet burger and sando trail in Delhi

Gone are the days of seeing buy-one-get-one deals on extra virgin olive oils in your local supermarket, which would get us a litre at 700-800. The price of one litre of extra virgin olive oil from Spain is now 1,300-1,800. I make pure olive oil soaps around this time each year, so they cure for five-six months and are ready by peak winter in December. It seems unlikely that I will be making them this year.

Given the prediction that prices will only go up further, is it wise to stock up on olive oil? In regular times, it is always advised to buy olive oil in smaller batches, and keep it away from heat and light to prevent it from degrading. It is the reason why good brands of extra virgin olive oil come in dark-coloured glass bottles. If you buy a litre of the oil, always decant a small quantity and keep it on the countertop and store the rest of the bottle with a tightly sealed lid in a cool, dark place, inside a cabinet, to prolong its life.

If you consume a healthy quantity of olive oil at home, then it’s worthwhile buying a few extra bottles (dark-coloured glass bottles) and storing them correctly. Ideal temperatures are 13-16 Celsius so refrigerating is not a good idea. Keep the bottles in a cooler part of your home inside a cabinet and use within two years or so.

If you are not someone with a hoarding tendency, here are a few tips to make a bottle last longer.

· Add a mix of olive oil and butter while making pasta sauces.

· Use tahini or Greek yogurt to replace part of the extra virgin olive oil in salad dressings for a creamy texture. You can also use other cold-pressed oils.

· When making basil pesto, use other cold-pressed oils as the flavour of basil is strong enough to mask the flavour of any other oil.

· Reserve extra virgin olive oil only for cold use, such as in salad dressings or to drizzle on pasta, and use blended olive oils for cooking.

A good way to truly enjoy the flavour of extra virgin olive oil in a less-is-more avatar is to try the viral food trend—drizzle a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil on good-quality vanilla ice cream along with a pinch of salt and dig in!

OLIVE OIL AND ROSEMARY FLATBREAD

Makes 6

Ingredients

One and a half cups refined flour (or a mix of refined flour and wheat flour)

One and a half tsp instant yeast

1 tsp sugar

Half tsp salt

3-4 sprigs rosemary

Half tsp coarse salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

In a bowl, combine the flour, instant yeast, sugar and salt. Using lightly lukewarm water, make a soft dough. Knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough is smooth. Cover the bowl and keep aside for an hour or until the dough doubles in volume.

Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.

Gently punch down the risen dough and divide it into six pieces. Roll out into ovals—around half-cm thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray.

Top with finely chopped rosemary, salt and olive oil, pressing down the salt and rosemary with finger tips so they stick to the dough.

Bake for 5-7 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius until golden spots appear on the surface. The same can also be made on a tava on the stove top. Cut into wedges and serve with dips of choice.

MUHAMMARA

Serves 4

(A vibrant dip served as part of a mezze platter)

Ingredients

3 large red bell peppers

8-10 walnut halves

8-10 almonds, chopped

Half tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)

Half cup breadcrumbs (freshly made from whole wheat bread)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

One and a half tsp salt

1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (for garnish)

Method

Apply a few drops of refined oil all over the bell peppers. Roast on an open flame until charred all over. Keep in a bowl and cover with a lid for 10 minutes for the skin to loosen. Peel off the skin. Separate the flesh, discarding the core, seeds and stem.

Toast the walnuts and almonds for 2-3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the chopped bell pepper, walnuts, almonds, smoked paprika, breadcrumbs, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Process to get a smooth paste. Remove to a shallow bowl and top with some more olive oil as a garnish.

Serve with crackers, crudites or pita bread.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

Also read: Counting nutrients and recipes with millets

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