Until I met Galya and was introduced to her extraordinary Israeli cooking in 1985, I had little idea of just how important olive oil can be in making good food. Since then, I’ve marvelled at how often Galya uses this ancient Mediterranean ingredient to enhance her culinary creations. Like many Israelis, she uses it in multiple ways for cooking, baking and seasoning.
“I use olive oil in many if not most dishes I make,” says Galya. “The aroma, flavor and texture are a winning mix and adds so much to any dish I serve. Olive oil is an integral part of Israeli cuisine. For me, it will always remind me of the taste of growing up in Jerusalem where my mother and grandmother both used olive oil frequently in the kitchen.”
Given that olive trees are so plentiful in Israel and other countries in the region, it’s little surprise olive oil is so ubiquitous in the Mediterranean diet. In recent years, its consumption has increased around the world, no doubt due in part to the growing body of medical research that attributes various health benefits to olive oil.
Three years ago, Galya co-hosted (with Donna Holbrook) an olive oil tasting event at our home in Toronto in conjunction with the Israeli Olive Board (IOB). The IOB had sent two representatives, (one Jewish, one Arab), to Canada to raise awareness of Israel’s growing olive oil industry in which Jewish and Arab citizens are active. At the event, covered by the Canadian Jewish News, the IOB emissaries shared samples and information with 50 people in our kitchen and living room who savored the different types of olive oil brought from Israel using French bread and crackers for dipping and enjoying a spread of hummus and cheese platters.
Adi Naali and Moghira Younis instructed the guests on how to recognize high-quality extra virgin olive oil, which is cold pressed, as opposed to cheaper, chemically processed oils. Apparently, some purveyors of extra virgin olive oil try to increase their profits by mixing it with cheaper chemically processed oils.
It doesn’t take much to enjoy good quality olive oil. “Sometimes it can be as simple as just taking a tomato, slicing it thinly, adding za’atar and garnishing it with extra virgin olive oil,” says Galya. “You don’t need much. Use a slice of a fine bread to mop it up and you’ll feel happy eating it as a great snack.”
Recently, an olive oil producer in Israel contacted Galya after discovering the Galya Loves Food blog. Having read about her culinary pursuits, they wanted her to try their product. Based in Yavne’el, one of the oldest rural communities in Israel, Galilee Green (www.galileegreen.com) produces a boutique brand of extra virgin olive oil made from olives grown in the Galilee region in the northern part of the country. Company co-founder Shmuel Veffer, who’s originally from Canada, sent Galya a small tin of Galilee Green olive oil with no strings attached.
“As Galilee Green is made in a part of Israel for which I have a great affinity, I admit I was predisposed to it even before tasting it,” says Galya. “I used it the first time as part of the family dinner I made last Friday and I liked it. It has a beautiful color and a gentle, balanced flavor, not too dominating, which allowed the other ingredients I used to keep their taste. It looks a bit like a clear, liquid gold. No wonder why in biblical days they used to crown a king by spreading olive oil on his head. I’m glad to recommend Galilee Green. (Please note: I don’t receive any financial compensation from them for doing so.)”
While in the recommendation mode when it comes to olive oil, Galya is also impressed by a Toronto company which is raising awareness and appreciation of this wonderful ingredient.
Called the Olive Oil Emporium, it has several retail locations in the city and a website (www.oliveoilemporium.com) that’s highly informative, selling to customers in many countries. It bills itself as “Toronto’s first fresh olive oil and vinegar tasting bar,” and its success testifies to the growing interest in olive oil. It sells what it calls ultra-premium extra virgin olive oils from Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Australia, Chile, USA and South Africa. Hopefully, one day soon, they’ll include Israel on that list.