A few weeks ago I caught up with Canadian cooking personality and chef Christine Cushing where we talked about the third season of her show Fearless in the Kitchen and chatted about food and her line of products, which consists of two Greek olive oils. Christine’s first branded olive oil comes from Crete (where her mom is from) and last year she brought another olive oil from the Mani peninsula (Laconia) in southern Greece.
I’ve been to both Crete and Laconia and in general, the olive oils from these two regions is of high repute but I was still curious to try out her “Bold” olive oil from Mani. Christine was kind enough to give me a bottle and the very first taste of this green gold came by way of simply dunking some of my homemade crusty bread into a bowl of her extra-virgin olive oil.
The colour was a bright green, medium in body, yet full of flavour and very little peppery (spicy) notes on the finish. Early harvest olive oils from Greece are called “agourelio’ as the olives are picked in October/November and the wild, spicy flavours really come out from such an oil. Christine Cushing’s “bold” is not one of these these oils but it’s a flavour still transports you to Greece and frankly, it tastes the way olive oil should.
There’s so much debate, chat about olive oil out there, what’s good (and bad) and how does one know when they are buying good olive oil? For starters, those olive oils you see on sale at your supermarket for $6.99/litre are likely a blend (many olives from many farms pressed at an olive oil co-op press), the label of “extra-virgin” immediately becomes suspect and upon reading the fine print on the label, you may see “packed in said country” or product of the EU (European Union).
I like to know the origins of my olive oil and the best olive oils come from “single estates”…usually a family-owned plot of olive trees. Christine Cushing’s olive oils come from one source, certified organic (Bold) and just as an extra precaution…I placed a shot of olive oil in the fridge and it solidified (as pure olive oils should do).
The natural inclination for using an olive oil such as this one is to use it in a salad and with the Great Lent into it’s first week for Orthodox Christians, there will be plenty of uses for quality extra-virgin olive oil. Here, I’ve made a hearty chickpea salad with one of my favourite ingredients, roasted peppers, some blanched green beans, the use of pickled cauliflower florets which is a seasonal and abundant Winter vegetable. Throw in a splash of red wine vinegar, a bit of mustard, garlic, herbs and Greek extra-virgin olive oil and you’ve got a colourful, healthy and delicious salad! Before we get started, just ensure you toss the salad greens at the last possible moment so they don’t become limp and soggy. Enjoy!
Chickpea Salad With Roasted Red Peppers & Green Beans
1 can (500gr.) of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
3 cups (1lb) of green beans, trimmed
2 red bell peppers, charred on the grill, peeled & seeded
1 cup of pickled cauliflower florets, halved
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. of Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. of red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Greek extra-virgin olive oil (Christine Cushing’s Bold)
2 cups of mixed greens or arugula or rocket or your favourite salad greens
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
12 Kalamata olives, pitted
fine sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste
- To roast your peppers, turn on your gas grill or pre-heat the broiler in your oven or…your gas stove-top. Char the skins of your peppers until they blister and are black on all sides and then place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to sweat for 15-20 minutes. Peel and discard the skins, stems and seeds and slice the peppers into ribbons and reserve.
- In the meantime, place a large pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. Snap-off the tips of your beans and rinse and as soon as the water comes to a boil, add a good amount of salt and then add your beans to the water. As soon as the water returns to a boil, cook the beans for 5 minutes. Strain and place the beans in cold water to cool and strain (this step keeps them bright green).
- In a large bowl, add the minced garlic, mustard, pinch of salt and pepper, vinegar and whisk. Now slowly add your olive oil into the bowl while whisking to emulsify the dressing. Add the chickpeas, green beans, red peppers and pickled cauliflower and toss well. Adjust seasoning once again, cover and chill until you’re ready to serve your salad.
- Add the salad greens, chopped parsley, oregano into the bowl just before serving and toss gently until incorporated. Top with the olives and serve as a salad side or as bedding with a fillet of fish.
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