Which olive oil is yours?
When one traces the coasts of the Mediterranean there is one taste shared but not agreed upon: Olive oil. Every single country around the Mediterranean coast uses olive oil, but each of them has its own variety, and, of course, each varietal performs differently in every other region.
Last week there were two interesting events at far ends of Turkey in quest for finding the right olive oil. One was in Hatay, a province on the Syrian border, the other in Istanbul. The focus of both events was olive oil, asking the very same question. Which olive oil to choose?
Hatay is famous for its delicious food, and has recently been selected as one of the Creative Cities of UNESCO in the field of gastronomy. With distinctively spicy and bold tastes, its cuisine is far from being subtle; every dish has strong flavors, its olive oil being no exception. Hatay tables are never short of olives, especially the miniscule halhalı olives with tiny pits, nibbled akin to peanuts from breakfast to the late night alcohol infused meze tables. Olives also appear in dishes as an ingredient, in most cases treated pretty like a vegetable. The famed olive salad with fresh summer savory drizzled with pomegranate molasses and an abundant doze of local olive oil must be one of the most olive-centric dishes possible. Naturally in that particular region, the oil of choice is of local olive varieties, one being the saurani olive. The Hatay event was the launching of a new brand of olive oil by Kristal, made only with saurani olives that is indigenous to the region along the border zone of Turkey and Syria and is not much known outside the area.
Back in Istanbul olive oil experts, producers and chefs gathered together over a two-day marathon of talks, tastings and workshops at an organization held at Nicole, Tom Tom Suites. Organized by Aylin Yazıcıoğlu, chef of Nicole Restaurant, and Elvan Uysal Bottoni, writer and olive oil expert based in Italy, the event created an opportunity to taste Turkish and Italian olive oils and create a fruitful medium to discuss regional olive varieties. Italian experts Giuglio Scatolini, Michele Librandi and Paolo di Gaetano talked about their own experiences, while having a chance to taste the produce of their Turkish colleagues. Many small producers, mostly just starting new businesses, brought their own olive oils to have their precious elixirs tasted by experts Bottoni and Scatolini, having their invaluable reviews on how to improve their produce. Of course no food event is complete without wine. Gözdem Gürbüzatik, head of Kayra Wines, one of the leading wineries in Turkey, investigated how olive oil goes with wine. The seminar was structured to give the principles of wine matching with regional olive oil-based Turkish dishes.
All talks were very inspiring and the discussions emphasized once again the importance of the lesser-known olive varieties, and their crucial role to regional local cuisines. The truth is each olive oil has its own place in a unique way. The local olive variety in Hatay was just right for the local dishes but would be a bit too strong for Aegean cooking, while Ayvalık olive oil would not really express itself in Hatay and be crushed under the spicy flavors. It is time that in Turkey we should start talking about olive oil and food pairing, just as we talk about wine and food pairing. We have a plethora of olive varieties to choose from in this country but unfortunately we do not have many choices to pick from in the market. Taste and decide: Which olive oil is yours? Then demand them more to encourage producers focusing on local varieties.
Recipe of the Week: This artichoke dish is amazing and it is just the right season to try. It makes use of abundant olive oil so you have to be on a generous day feeling to pamper yourself with a bit of indulgence. The recipe was first created by Kaan Sakarya in 2015, now served at Nicole restaurant. Have a cup each of diced carrots, leeks, onions, about 20 vine leaves in brine also chopped finely, 3 slightly crushed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon salt; put all in a pan with olive oil and let sweat over medium heat, when onions and leeks turn almost translucent add juice of 1 lemon. Place about 6 artichoke bottoms to the pan, or enough to make a single layer, top with olive oil to cover, preferably a grassy Ayvalık variety, add a whole peel of lemon, only the yellow part. Let simmer at very low heat taking care not to exceed 80-85 degrees, otherwise the artichokes will be fried, not slow-cooked; they have to be cooked as if making a comfit. When cool serve the artichokes topped with a fresh seasonal green salad. Do not throw away the cooking oil; it makes a very interesting vinaigrette sauce.
Fork of the Week: Dondurmaccı has the most courageous ice cream flavors made with olive oil. The tomato and olive oil ice cream is best sprinkled with a little Maldon salt, the pure olive oil ice-cream is more subtle with a smooth sublime flavor. Check at http://www.dondurmacci.com/
Cork of the Week: At the Hatay event, LA Consensus Chardonnay 2014 of Lucien Arkas winery stood well against the bold taste of dishes that makes use of saurani olive oil. The wine has buttery toasted aromas, aged 8 months in French and American oak, with yellow apple and pineapple notes. This olive oil & wine pairing also perfectly reflected the “East meets West” spirit of the joint project, an Aegean Chardonnay made in Torbalı, İzmir matched with southeastern Turkey Hatay olive.
At the Istanbul event Terra Narince 2016 from Kayra was the wine of choice for many as it truly matches the Turkish style olive oil dishes, especially the stuffed vine leaves. It has to be noted that the top leaf of choice for that particular dish is always of Narince grapes, so it is a destined match made in heaven. The un-oaked style with grapefruit, lemon, apple, and white peach aromas is as vibrant as the fresh seasonal greens and vegetables.