The Golden Harvest Time

It’s my favorite season of the year—olive harvest season in the Mediterranean.   My friends let me know how bountiful they expect it to be this year in their area (drought hasn’t been

A First Batch of Olives

A First Batch of Olives

very helpful in much of the region) and whether they’ve started to pick the trees yet or if they have a few weeks to go.

Some of these friends are new in my life, part of the past year I spent researching olive oil before we started filming “The Golden Harvest” (More updates on that soon)

I haven’t met all the 600 plus varieties of olives out there (although I’ve met a scientist in Cordoba who is attempting to collect them all, after studying olives for 40 years). And I haven’t met all the thousands and thousands of people who somehow make their living from olive oil –whose families have perhaps done so for millennia. But each person teaches me something new.

There are some things you clearly remember hearing about for the first time—bungee jumping, libraries, sex, sushi. Then there are things you’ve known since your mom massaged your baby feet with olive oil, things like whatever is for dinner, it probably tastes better with a drizzle of oil. I can’t remember when I didn’t know that or that a shot of olive oil in the morning is the key to longevity, according to all relatives over 65-years old.

Some Olives in Madrid

Some Olives in Madrid

Outside the kitchen, it becomes, in addition to the favorite bathing soap, the answer to most household problems. Maybe some of the reasons are a little old fashioned, like acting as a sealant for your pyramidal crypt, or fuel to light a lamp, but the list just seems to evolve and grow. Here’s a few that I hear a lot.

  1. Hair Conditioner: Half an hour to an hour on the hair, wrapped in a shower cap. Bonus—add in a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt. Messier but magical.
  2. Make Up Remover: I don’t wear eye make-up often because I’m highly unskilled with kohl pencils, and I end up looking more like ghost than a beauty queen. But any disastrous results are quickly wiped away with a cotton swab soaked in olive oil. No fear, no smear.
  3. Facial moisturizer and exfoliator: Put on face at night and wake up with skin like a baby.
  4. Speaking of babies, it works as a diaper rash alleviator. But in moderation, because of the above mentioned exfoliating properties.
  5. Acne killer: particularly when mixed with rosehip oil and dabbed on the spot.
  6. Furniture polish: when mixed with a little lemon juice, it makes a pledge to keep your furniture shiny.
  7. Conditioner for leather shoes and furniture: But I’ve also heard to proceed with moderation on this one as too much can result in oil spots.
  8. Fix a squeaky hinge—without the nasty WD smell. Same goes for zippers.
  9. Relieve joint pain and arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Said properties also combat hemorrhoids (one of those things people whisper about, so I buried it in with another tip, although I think if we ate more olive oil, we’d have less hemorrhoids in the world).
  10. Ease Depression: There’s too much of this going around and the pharmaceutical companies are making a fortune on drugs that can also sometimes have horrific side effects. Olive oil has no side effects –in fact, as part of a balance diet, it can even help you maintain a good weight. *

*These are all things I’ve been told or know from experience—I’m not a doctor! But we’re meeting an amazing one in Athens in “The Golden Harvest.” Stay tuned.

HOW TO TEACH AN FBI AGENT TO MAKE HUMMOS

In THE NIGHT COUNTER, Fatima is baffled by the FBI agent that visits her at home and claims to have a Middle Eastern background but doesn’t know how to make hummos.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Saveur about hummos and my own mother’s bafflement at its Americanization of  hummos, i.e. the need of U.S. manufacturers to give everything a “flavor,” as if it didn’t have enough flavor on its own.  There’s really no need for wasabi, pesto, olive tapenade, and pimento hummos.  It’s at its finest when its just the four ingredients man originally intended it to be:  chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt and MAYBE garlic.

Back when I wrote the article, I researched and learned a lot about hummos, but today I’m an expert on how to survive on it.  For my first year in Abu Dhabi, it’s been my main meal for probably 5 out of the 7 days of the week.  With everything being new to me, it became my comfort food and a staple that didn’t make me simutaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed,  like a lot of the multi-ethnic dishes that mirror the multi-ethnic world of Abu Dhabi.  I’m a food adventurer,  but sometimes you don’t want adventure. Hummos is just simple and uncomplicated, unlike everything else during the day.  And its even comforting to know that the same guy will be at the cashier at the Lebanese Mill and you’ll chat Middle East politics while you wait for your order.  And it’s the cashier at the Lebanese Mill that told me one day, “You’ve been looking too pale lately—go get a blood test.”  Turned out, he was right, I was very anemeic.  Hummos is pretty nutritious, but you can’t –or probably shouldn’t–live on hummos alone.

Here’s how Fatima expected the FBI agent to make hummos:

3 C. boiled chickpeas (or four cups, if planning on removing skins or using food mill).
1/2 cup tahini
3 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
1 small clove of garlic, crushed in mortar and pestle with salt
Salt to taste
Paprika
Chopped parsley

Remove skins from chickpeas (optional).  Place chickpeas in food processor and puree until the beans form a smooth paste (or process in food mill).  Puree beans for at least two minutes, pausing to scrap down bowl.

In a large bowl, mix chickpea puree with tahini and lemon juice. If mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of warm water.

Place the mixture in a soup bowl and swish the hummos up the sides, creating a wide  well in the center.  Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, leaving a little extra in the well. Garnish with paprika.  Place a teaspoon or so of parsley in the well.

Serve with pita bread, pickles, and olives on the side.