Friday, June 27, 2008

Why Use Olive Oil?

While you stuffed on the alternative egg rolls, did you stop to wonder why I told you to use extra virgin olive oil instead of peanut or canola or plain ol’ vegetable oil? Did you go ahead and use one of those oils anyway? No need to hide. I won't be sending the Oil Police to your home to confiscate your oils and levy fines for your unauthorized oil activities. In terms of cooking the egg rolls, the only difference is the taste. But I think that’s a big consideration and there are other important considerations when choosing a cooking oil.

So, why did I use olive oil?

There’s been a lot of buzz about olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, lately. Many are touting the health benefits of the Mediteranean Diet which is rich in olive oil. Others are singing the praises of the miraculous polyphenols which are found in higher quantities in extra virgin olive oil. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants and thought to help guard against degenerative diseases, heart problems, and general aging. Since olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, it is considered a healthy fat that can help reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood (for that info, have a look here I even read one article from the BBC that talked about research that suggests there might be an anti-inflammatory property to olive oil (I’m not making this up, I swear.

These are all good reasons to use it, don’t you think? But let’s get back to that first important reason I mentioned. Taste.

Extra virgin olive oil has a distinct flavor. Granted, it isn’t always the flavor you want in your food so there are times when it is definitely not the appropriate choice for cooking. I once sampled some gourmet potato chips that had been fried in olive oil. I was excited about these because I like olive oil, I like potato chips and I like the idea of anything that will make potato chips at least sound healthy. The reality was not so exciting. These chips (and no, I don’t remember the brand) were rather heavy and tasted more strongly of oil than I really cared for. I’ve since fried up my own version at home in olive oil with better success but we’ll talk about that more in a moment. Also, that distinctive olive flavor may not really be a good choice for something as delicate, say, as an omelet. To some degree, you’ll have to experiment and find out what tastes good to you and what doesn’t. However, you should always remember that olive oil is still a fat and use it accordingly.

As I said with regard to using whole grains, when cooking for special dietary needs we have to make the most of the foods we can have. We need to go after the most flavor and nutrition possible. In other words, we can’t just settle for ‘okay’ food. Limited food choices shouldn’t mean limited flavor and benefits. So, choose every ingredient carefully, even your cooking oil.

Oh yeah. And if you’re allergic to olives, please disregard this entire thing. *waves cheerfully*

And I haven’t forgotten about those potato chips fried in olive oil. Here’s what I did:

First, I washed and sliced (nice and thin) a medium potato. I like to leave the peel on rather than lose that texture and the nutrients by peeling. If you don’t care for the peel, take it right off. No big deal. Then, I lightly salted the slices with celery salt. You can use plain salt or any other flavored salt you like. I heated a larger skillet (at least 12”) and coated the bottom heavily with olive oil. It wasn’t deep enough to measure but it wasn’t a light layer, either. When the oil was hot, I carefully laid the slices of potato in a single layer in the pan. Don’t leave these to do something else because they will burn and you’ll have an awful mess to clean up. Not to mention, you won’t have any potato chips to snack on and that would just be tragic. Once they were browned on one side, I flipped them (a fork will do for this) and browned the other side. This goes really quickly which is good because they smell great. Remove the chips from the pan to a plate lined with paper towel. Let them cool only enough to keep from burning your tongue to a cinder. These are best warm. If you don’t eat them all, you can save them and reheat as leftovers. This, however, is a completely foreign idea to me and I don’t believe you’ll ever have leftovers. You can certainly do this same thing with yams, by the way.

I have also done this after cooking meat in the skillet. Instead of deglazing the pan (getting all those good bits of flavor stuck to the bottom by using some sort of cooking liquid), I toss in my sliced potato. It might need a bit more oil added. The potatoes will take on some of those wonderful flavors left behind after you cooked your meat and you haven’t dirtied up another pan. Two plusses, as far as I can see!

Enjoy and until next time, let’s go eat that!

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