- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Any of you who have traveled to Spain and been to a tapas bar will remember that among the staples served there are olives in a myriad of forms.

In case you don’t know about tapas, they are little dishes of savory and sweet snacks served with wine — often nutty sherries or crisp sparkling white wines known as cavas.

Tapas bars are all the rage in many American cities because they offer a fun, casual way to dine and share conversation.

I always have good olives on hand for casual entertaining. If you can, be sure to select those that are “fresh,” that is, not canned or heat processed. Good delis and natural foods stores display them at room temperature in big crocks or vats, and that’s what you want.

I’ve suggested olive varieties in the recipes that follow, but use whatever you like. The world of olives is vast, and it’s a treat to taste your way through it. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes to get you started.

Olives and almonds

The combination of these two ingredients makes a fantastic snack to serve with wine or cocktails. Because I’m a California boy, I use our local almond crop. If possible get those that have been roasted in the shell (not the hard outer shell but the soft inner shell that is very easy to open).

For an interesting variation, see if you can find Marcona almonds from Spain. Unlike our California varieties, Marcona almonds have a hard outer shell and are larger and flatter. In Spain, Marconas are peeled and then fried in olive oil and lightly salted. That’s how you’ll find them in our markets.

The recipe that follows assumes you can’t find either and uses whole peeled almonds, which are generally available in supermarkets.

1 cup whole raw almonds

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

1 cup Lucques, Picholine, Cerignola or Gaeta olives

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Freshly ground black pepper

Toast almonds in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes or until browned and fragrant. (Nuts need to be toasty but not burned, or they will be bitter.) Remove and toss warm nuts with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt.

Briefly rinse the olives, pat dry with paper towels and toss with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, thyme or rosemary and lemon zest. Add a grinding or two of pepper, if desired, and mix with the almonds. Serve with a little bowl on the side for olive pits. Makes about 2 cups.

Fried olives, lemons and caper berries

This is one of those little nibbles that is easy to make and almost addictive once you start eating it. You can use olives with pits, which I find have a more intense flavor, or without as you choose, but be sure to let everyone know if you leave the pits in. Remember to keep the oil at 350 to 375 degrees as you fry so you end up with crisp, light and nongreasy tidbits.

Olive oil for frying

2 cups olives such as Gaeta, Cerignola, Kalamata or Nicoise

1 large egg

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon ground cumin

teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

2 medium lemons, scrubbed and sliced thinly into rounds

1 cup caper berries, drained, rinsed and patted dry (see note)

1 cups rice or pastry flour

Finely chopped fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, chervil or a combination for garnish

Heat 2 inches of olive oil in a deep saucepan to 350 degrees (check with a thermometer). Drain olives and pat dry. Whisk egg, milk, cumin and cayenne together in a bowl. Toss olives, lemon slices and caper berries in flour to coat. Shake off excess and quickly dip in the milk mixture. Then lightly coat in flour again and deep fry in batches until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towel and keep warm in a 225-degree oven while you finish the frying. Serve warm topped with chopped herbs. Makes at least 6 servings as an hors d’oeuvre.

Note: Caper berries are similar to grapes in size and shape. They are available in specialty food shops and some supermarkets.


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