olive oil

Sauces, dips and spreads are the perfect way to add more flavor and nutrition to otherwise bland dishes.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

If there were a culinary-themed Bop It game, it would go something like this: Dip it! Stir it! Swirl it! Spread it! Sauces and dips are not only fun to play and experiment with, but they also provide extra taste and nutrition to otherwise bland meals. 

Homemade hummus is an easy-to-make, protein-packed spread that comes together in minutes with the help of a blender. With a base of chickpeas and olive oil, hummus can take on plenty of flavor profiles, all while remaining a healthy snack option. Throw some avocado and jalapeño in the blender for a hummus full of healthy fats and capsaicin, which increases blood flow and metabolism. 

Tahini, or sesame butter, is also a sauce worth noting. It’s a high-calorie food, but it also boasts plenty of vitamins and minerals to help your body. The copper present in tahini aids in the regulation of several bodily functions, including maintaining heart health.

Tahini is frequently used in hummus recipes or drizzled over sweet smoothie bowls. To use tahini in more savory dishes, blend it with garlic, lemon juice and water to produce a thick, flavorful sauce. 

Garlic, a flavor booster in many sauces and dips, has health benefits of its own. Aside from being full of antioxidants, it also reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. Garlic can be added to almost any savory spread to boost flavor. Buy it fresh at your local grocery store, and use whole cloves — either minced or smashed — in your recipes. 

For a sweeter spread perfect for morning toast rituals, try making a homemade fruit compote or jam. Soon-to-be-in-season berries and stone fruits make flavorful options. Simply cook down the fruit in a saucepan with lemon juice or other flavoring agents, such as vanilla bean or cinnamon, then jar and store in your fridge for continued enjoyment. It’s a great refined-sugar-free alternative to store-bought fruit spreads full of chemicals and preservatives. 

Chimichurri is an Argentine pesto typically comprised of parsley, nuts, vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Use it as a marinade or a garnish for cold and hot dishes. Although chimichurri can be made several different ways, it almost always has a parsley base. Parsley is an herb often added to the top of dishes before they are served, and you can also add it to any green juice you want to prepare. It’s low in calories but high in natural vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and vitamin K. Potassium helps control heart rates, while vitamin K is essential for bone health. 

Try adding carrot tops to your chimichurri. While they contain tiny traces of harmful nitrates and alkaloids, small servings of carrot tops are fine to ingest —  and they boost your intake of potassium and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll has anti-aging properties and also helps detoxify the body. 

And what to do with those carrots you got the tops from? Roast them, and then douse them in the chimichurri you just made.

Recipe

  •  
  • Ingredients:
  •  
  • – 3/4 cup fresh parsley
  • – 1/2 cup fresh carrot tops
  • – 3 cloves garlic
  • – 1/4 cup walnuts
  • – 1/4 cup almonds
  • – 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • – Salt, to taste
  •  
  • Directions:
  •  
  • – Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until mostly incorporated. If too thick, add more olive oil. Store in an airtight container, and keep in fridge until ready to serve.
Brassicas — a family of vegetables which includes cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts — present unlimited cooking options.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

“Eat your vegetables.” It’s a phrase people love to emphasize, but more often than not, the action is easier said than done. Just imagining slimy kale and mushy boiled Brussels sprouts will instantly diminish your vegetable appetite.

Here’s the good news: With tender loving care, vegetables can be delicious. In particular, the Brassica family of vegetables — which includes cauliflower, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage — deserves some extra attention. 

Brassicas are all low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. Many Brassicas, in season from mid-fall through winter, elevate your cooking and health in one fell swoop. They’re flexible vegetables that can be prepared in a variety of ways while still retaining their fresh flavors.

The smell that emanates from cauliflower and broccoli derives from glucosinolates, or sulfur-containing compounds which activate detoxification within the body and help to prevent cancer and other diseases. 

The more you cook cauliflower and broccoli, the less the nutrients will stay intact — a result of overheating. Break the heads into small florets and dip them into hummus raw, or throw them into a skillet for a quick cook with some garlic and onions. Process florets in a food processor to make rice-sized bits and quickly pan-fry them in some olive oil for a guilt-free side dish.

Kale is a tender green that comes in several varieties, including both flat and curly. Kale won’t keep as long as its Brassica relatives, so be sure to buy it fresh and keep it cold in your refrigerator. Also, be sure to de-stem the kale before cooking. Throw kale into smoothies or roast it to make kale chips to snack on in class.

Cabbage, the least-celebrated Brassica member, deserves some TLC, too. It’s often found in Asian or European kitchens, but it’s full of cancer-fighting antioxidant compounds and low in calories. Cabbage comes in several forms, including typical red and green varieties found in grocery stores and bok choy. Use it for soups or grill large chunks for a healthy backyard party.

Brussels sprouts grow on stalks and resemble baby cabbages when they’re removed. They’re high in fiber and vitamins C and K and are full of the same cancer-fighting properties as their Brassica cousins.

Shred your sprouts and eat them raw in salads, or pan-fry them for extra crispy treats better than any French fry you’ve had. When cooking whole, trim off any excess leaves on the outside of a sprout, but keep the rest intact.

Want to test the Brassica waters? Try this recipe for honey lemon Brussels sprouts and kale:

Ingredients:

  1. – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  2. – 3 cups Brussels sprouts, halved
  3. – 1 cup kale, chopped
  4. – 1/2 lemon, juiced
  5. – 2 tablespoons raw unfiltered honey
  6. – Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. – Heat olive oil in a large pan skillet over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown slightly and are tender. 
  2. – Add kale, lemon juice and honey and cook for several more minutes. Add salt and pepper according to preference, then serve and enjoy.

Jeff Conarko, founder and owner of Con’ Olio Oils and Vinegars, was inspired to open his store after vacationing in Europe. The metal barrels in his store are filled with a variety of flavored olive oils and vinegars. 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The gluten free fad may still be alive and well, but a new food revolution could be stirring from a small store at Second and Lavaca streets, and it involves olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Jeff Conarko, founder and owner of Con’ Olio Oils and Vinegars, was so blown away by the olive oils and balsamic vinegars he tasted while vacationing in Europe, he felt the need to bring them back to America.

“I worked for Dell for 14 years and decided I wanted to start this business after tasting the oil and vinegar,” Conarko said. “We would smuggle back bottles in our luggage because we just couldn’t get the same thing here, no matter what price we paid.”

Conarko said the original inspiration for an oil and vinegar tasting bar came from a shop he visited in Paris. While other locations similar to Con’ Olio exist in the United States, Conarko’s shop is the only one of its kind in Austin. He imports all of his oils and vinegars from various countries in Europe in order to ensure their quality.

If you visit one of Conarko’s two Con’ Olio locations, you will see three rows of shiny metal barrels filled with various flavors of infused olive oil, extra virgin olive oil and white and red balsamic vinegars. Each barrel is outfitted with a small card that provides information on the liquid and offers suggestions for usage. One particular piece of information on the cards is impossible to find within a grocery store and proves to be especially useful.

“Crushed date is the most important thing about olive oil, and it’s also the thing that they’re hiding and no one wants to show you in America,” Conarko said. 

According to Conarko and the Better Health Channel, true extra virgin olive oil contains precious antioxidants called polyphenols. These can help lower bad cholesterol, help with inflammation and increase good cholesterol. 

Other studies show that olive oil may have tumor-fighting properties and can help prevent breast, colon, lung, ovarian and skin cancer development. But this is only true if the oil is less than a year old, and that’s almost impossible to find in a typical grocery store.

“The FDA doesn’t control olive oil because it’s a sterile substance,” Conarko said. “You can’t grow bacteria in it, so it will never spoil and make people sick. It will go rancid and it will taste like crap, but it will never make people sick so they don’t worry about it.”

This means the common practice of buying olive oil from the grocery store and allowing it to collect dust in the back of a pantry shelf is a bad habit many Americans should break.

“We’ve just become accustomed to what rancid olive oil tastes like in this country,” Conarko said. “It’s like orange juice. You wouldn’t drink that a year after the oranges were picked, would you?”

Contrary to olive oil, Conarko said that balsamic vinegar is similar to wine in that it gets better with age. In fact, in order to be labeled as traditional, the vinegar must be at least 12-years-old and be produced by one of 55 families in the Modena region of Italy.

According to Conarko, balsamic vinegar starts out very acidic but becomes thicker and sweeter as it ages in wooden barrels. Non-traditional balsamic vinegars achieve the sweetness by adding caramel, and the sugars and calories that come with it. The benefits of the balsamic vinegar are only prevalent when it carries the traditional label.

“I know diabetes patients that manage diabetes by using the balsamic vinegar because it lowers glycemic index, which will keep their insulin levels low,” Conarko said. “It also speeds up your metabolism, so it’s great for weight loss.”

Alexander and Monica Moreno from Monterrey, Mexico stopped by Con’ Olio while walking through downtown and made sure to purchase a few samples from Conarko before heading home to Mexico.

“It’s one of those things I’ve kind of seen on cooking shows and television but not really paid much attention to or believed in,” Alexander Moreno said. “The difference between this and other oil and vinegar is just really significant.”

If there isn’t a fountain of youth nearby, Conarko’s miraculous olive oils and balsamic vinegars may serve as a notable substitute. 

Printed on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 as: Local imports flavors of Italy 

Kathy Fitzgibbon browses through some of the produce available for Citrus Fest at Central Market on Thursday morning.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Until Thursday, the two Austin-area locations of Central Market will be running what is essentially a jazzed-up supermarket promotion scheme: the Central Market Citrus Fest. For the event, the stores have been dressed with bright, smartly designed posters and crates upon crates of citrus. Past the produce section, special sections have been created in the meat and seafood markets, as well as in the cheese section and bakery, to display non-citrus edibles that have been boosted with citrus flavor, including  candied-grapefruit cupcakes and lemon-infused olive oil. 

For $60, I was able to grab more than 13 varieties of citrus as well as enough treats from the bakery and cheese sections to entertain two friends. Why not grab a cutting board and throw your own a citrus festival at home? Below, I share some of the best (and worst) finds from the festival. 

The first citrus I sampled was the bergamot, a pretty little fruit whose name I recognized from a bevy of scented-candle containers. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t bode well: the fruit was fragrant and the taste complex, but the bergamot was far too sour to actually consume. I resolved to leave it to the candles and tossed it aside for the small Texas grapefruit. This little grapefruit was a standout: it’s not too sour, not too sweet and its rosy-orange innards shimmered like hard candy. Plus, unlike many of the citrus fruits on display at the festival, it’s local. 

The Ugli fruit, on the other hand, hails from Jamaica. True to its name, the Ugli fruit has an exterior that undermines its edibleness. It sports a bumpy, thick rind with splotches of unfriendly-looking green. Cut open, it tastes just like an orange and bubbles with juice. I’d throw it in a vita mix (sans repulsive rind) to put a sunny spot in a gray day. 

I move on to the most foreign-looking of my purchases, the finger lime. Finger limes, which look like tiny green peppers, come in sixes in plastic containers that look better fit for craft products than produce. An enigmatic instruction on the box says to “slice for rings, squeeze for pearls.” I go for the squeeze and find my cutting board awash with tiny, translucent pearls of fruit matter, which burst forth from the lime. I take some of these shimmering gems and slurp them up from my palm. They taste like nothing so much as parsley.

Beyond the produce department, lemon-infused treats abound. After sampling more than 13 varieties of citrus (standouts: the oro blanco grapefruit and the Cara Cara orange), I indulged in citrus treats from the bakery and cheese department, as well as the most expensive item of my citrus spree, Piano La Roma lemon-infused olive oil. The latter cost a whopping $14.99 for around 9 oz, but was the favorite item of the night. After tasting it, one friend exclaimed, “They should never make olive oil
without lemon!”

In the bakery, the creme brulee and lemon macaroon are best skipped, as both tasted like they were trying too hard to be citrus-crazy. Same goes for the cheeses containing lemon. But be sure to grab a loaf of the buttery, challah-like lemon bread. The thick loaf was sweeter than it was sour, and its fluffy white interior had more than its fair share of fruity lemon flavor. I ate it straight from the bag, but I have a nagging suspicion that slicing it, toasting it and serving it with vanilla ice cream would make for the perfect winter treat.  

The overall verdict? New New Year’s resolution: before it goes out of season, eat more citrus.