Friday, May 8, 2009

Warm Mixed Olives with Lemon and Harissa

At the moment I am wondering how I am going to convince you (and myself) that olives are healthy. I adore them, but they are high in sodium and fat.

Olives are full of healthy monounsaturated fat. This fat help to protect your arteries by lowering LDL(bad) cholesterol without lowering the HDL (good) cholesterol. Olives are also reported to have high levels of antioxidants. While doing my homework on olives I also learned they are high in vitamin E and iron. Not bad for a food I once I thought was of questionable health benefit. I think we should be careful not to eat too many olives or our sodium levels will be too high. I believe that olives in moderation are healthy. Most foods science has shown that whole foods are healthier than the processed foods. I believe that sometime in the future science will show that olives are healthier than olive oil. To date I haven't seen this theory written anywhere, but I expect to see it eventually and then we can feel virtuous for eating our olives.

The garlic that is included in this recipe is exceptionally good for you. Garlic is also one of the first medicinal foods. Its antibacterial properties were first observed in 1858. Further, during World War I it was used to prevent infections. The Russians used so much medicinal garlic that it became know as “Russian Penicillin.” The allicin that developes when the garlic is sliced or crushed takes 10 minutes to develop. For this reason it is important to cut or crush your garlic 10 minutes before you plan to put it in a hot dish or pan. The heat doesn’t destroy allicin that has developed but will stop it from developing. Garlic has been shown to reduce the carcinogenic effect of nitrosamines (the compounds that form when you eat nitrates or nitrites). Consumption of garlic is also shown to be higher in people that do not have cancer. It is theorized that garlic promotes apoptosis (cell death) of cancer and that is why it has been linked to a lack of the disease in many populations.

While this dish is not the healthiest recipe I make, it tastes fantastic and contains healthful ingredients and can be part of a overall healthy diet.

Warm Mixed Olives with Lemon and Harissa
makes two cups


2 cups of mixed olives (no pits)
3 cups of water to quickly warm the olives
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon cumin seed, toasted
½ teaspoon fennel seed, toasted
zest and juice of ½ a lemon
¼ teaspoon of Harissa


Bring water to a boil. Add olives to water and turn off the heat. Allow olives to sit in the water for 5 minutes then drain. This quick soak will remove some of the salt from the olives.

Meanwhile toast the cumin and fennel seed.

Put the olive oil and garlic in a pan and warm over low heat until you smell the garlic, then add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook for a minute or two to warm the olives and turn off the heat.

Serve these olives warm or room temperature.


These olives are different from what you are used to eating. They have a distinct lemon flavor that I love. The garlic and Harissa are noticeable, but they do not overpower. You could increase either the garlic or the Harissa by ½ and still have a nice marinated olive that isn’t too assertive. I may add a little preserved lemon next time in place of the fresh lemon zest and see what that does to the flavor of the olives.


I shared the olives with friends last night and they were quite popular. Our Egyptian friend thought the recipe was good enough to bottle and sell. My husband, who isn't a fan of olives, thought these were good "for olives". I would say this recipe was more successful than I expected.

As I was typing this update I realized this could also make a fantastic tapenade. I may have to try that soon on a nice roasted veggie sandwich.

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