Autumn Aromas & Fall Flavours - The Western Galilee Edition

Rocky and wild #betzetbeach #perfumeryonthemove

I'm emerging from what has been one of the most challenging months of my life (and this is pretty much what I've been experiencing with every month since May of last year). Three days ago, we moved into my mom's yurt (a sort of a not-so-temporary dwelling originating in Mongolia) and after one day of total hell (predictable with major change with anyone, but particularly for autistic people) my daughter is adjusting surprisingly well to the new arrangement. So to break the doom and gloom of silence that's been hovering over this blog, I've decided to assemble an illustrated collage of scents that I've been enjoying since arriving here in Israel. It's those little things that keep me going and bring comfort in the midst of total chaos and displacement.

And what better place to begin than the beach? It's the one and only constant in our lives since leaving Vancouver (besides basic activities such as brushing teeth and eating breakfast). The north coast of Israel is fascinating with wild life and the terrain is not as monotonously sandy as the south (although this has its charm as well). Lagoons, rocks and  ancient port cities and fishing villages lace the shores, as well as remains of an ancient factory for red dye from certain sea snails.  Beach culture here is also vibrant and goes year around, with diving and surfing bringing in people who would normally complain that the water is too cold in the winter.

Beach lily on the dunes
And as if the beach is not wonderful enough just for its warm, azure blue water - there are also some amazing wild plants growing near it. These wild beach lilies are almost as large as the madonna lilies, and just as fragrant. But their aroma is a little different - a sultry mix of salicilates (which are typical for lilies, as well as present in ylang ylang) and hyacinth's heady green. Add to that the fact warmth from the Mediterranean sun, which beats the dewiness out of it completely - and you get a scent of slightly-cooked bulb flowers.

Carissa macrocarpa
Carissa (AKA Natal Plum) is another beach phenomenon, but cultivated. It can be found as a hedge plant in many coastal cities here. This plant originates in South Africa, where its oblong, bright red fruit provides an important source of food (I personally find it too astringent). The flower is what I'm more fond of, as it has shape like frangipani or tiare, and a smell that is gardenia-like, but more subtle.

Anona #custardfruit #anona #beach #picnic
I've dedicated an entire post to guavas,  so I won't mention them again. But they are not the only remarkable fruit this season. Anona (AKA cherimoya, custard fruit or custard apple) are lovely-tasting fruit that look oddly like pine cones (especially after they get overripe and their peel hardens and completely blackens). The inside flesh has a flaky structure, similar to cooked fish, but melts in the mouth like custard. The aroma is very mild and appealing. This fruit is quite expensive, and always brings me fond memories of when my daughter was born, because my mom brought me many of them as a treat.

Quisqualis indica אלמון הודי. Smells like fragrant King Jade oolong.
Quisqualis indica (AKA Chinese Honeysuckle or Rangoon Creeper) greets you as you enter the veranda at my brother's house. Incidentally, this is a similar scenario to the entrance at his in-laws home. The scent is intoxicating, especially at night. Floral (vaguely jasmine-smabac-like) and heady but not overwhelmingly so, as it is balanced with green notes and overall smells like a good oolong tea, xing qin to be exact (also called King Jade).

Jasmine blossoms are alive and well in this part of the world, and early morning is the best time to enjoy them. By night time most of their scent has evaporated in the sun. Sitting next to one of these bushes, with or without a cup of herbal tea (coming soon) is a most delightful way to start the day and remind me why I came here. I've been enjoying the ones near my brother's home (we've stayer with him for a month), and my own bush, planted 20 years ago, is still alive and well. There are also jasmine sambac bushes growing on my mom's property. What's fantastic is that they have no problem surviving the winters here, and can grow to be impressively large bushes with thick trunks, and they bloom many times throughout the year.

#Lemongrass #light
Fragrant herbs, especially lemon scented ones, are one of the things I missed the most about my home village. Nothing compares the taste of freshly brewed tisane from lemon verbena and lemon grass that you've just picked from the garden a few minutes ago. The flavour is so full of life and so refreshing. We like to open and close each day with this brew, sit down with family and relax; and also that's how we greet most visitors. For out of owners this is the epitome of luxury.

#tobacco #leaf #curing. #tarshiha
In one of my visits to the nearby town of Tarshiha, I spotted a tobacco curing joint on the roof of one of the houses. Tobacco leaves are usually harvested at the end of the summer, and can be left to cure outdoors in this climate, as the first rains won't begin till October (and sometimes even later). The scent of tobacco leaves wafted through the cobblestone lanes and many leaves that fell of the clusters on the roof could be found on the ground.
Syrian maple #fall #autumn
These are leaves of Syrian maple that I spotted in a creek nearby. They don't have any notable scent, but are significant in a symbolic way, because the season is called fall, after all. Likewise, the acorns pictured below are not particularly fragrant, but illustrious of the season's unique sights.

Acorns בלוטים
The acorns, I'm told, can be roasted and ground into a flour and used as a source of food. I'm going to try it this year... And serve acorn pudding from teeny tiny acorn cups. 

שיח אברהם/ירנך Abraham's bush (smells like #Indigo perfume( https://ayalamoriel.com/products/indigo
The flowers of Vitex agnus-castus AKA Abraham's Bush, Abraham's Balm or Yarnakh, appear in clusters like lilac, only that they are pointing upwards. They have a distinctive perfume that I can't describe. The best way to experience it outside the wild habitat is uncork a vial of my Indigo perfume.
Green mandarin #greenmandarin #autumnaromas #fallflavours
The first mandarins are ripe from the inside but still green on the outside. Nostalgic scent for me, as we'd pack them for the first days of school and they marked not only the beginning of the new school year, but also the many citrus fruit that will continue to ripen and provide us with vitamin C throughout the abrupt and rather stormy Israeli winter.

#מסיק #oliveharvest

The olive harvest season is now, and the rain wouldn't arrive to wash the dust off the olives. It was a very weak year for this crop, and many families including mine decided to not even bother picking them. My mom insisted and we helped her pluck enough olives to fill two sacks, which surprisingly yielded an entire can of oil (probably around 2 gallons). The experience was a tactile torture as there is nothing I hate more than chalky dust all over my fingers, toes and clothes. The first rain finally arrived in a short but violent outburst first thing in the morning of November 1st, so maybe now I will be more inclined to pick the remaining olives. I much prefer the smell of petrichor and olive foliage to that of dust accompanied by scorching sun.

Perfume for Peace

Back in the day, Escents Aromatherapy in Vancouver sold a blend called "Peace" with lavender and vanilla. It was lovely, and was a diffuser oil blend and also in a variety of scented body products. There was something truly luxurious and peace-invoking about it. Lavender to me really is a very peaceful scent. It brings a sense of well-being, calm and is at the same time also uplifting rather than sedative or narcotic. The healing properties of lavender are wide and well known, both emotionally and physically. But it is not the only essential oil that promotes such state of mind.

I spent most of yesterday morning uncorking vials in my perfumer's organ, in search for scents that will inspire and induce peace through the sense of smell. I've decided to go by intuition alone in my selection process, but then also researched the aromatherapeutic and spiritual uses of these oils and cross-reference my choices with some of the known traditions.

Inspires peace and calm. Very uplifting, gentle, soothing...

Spiritually, frankincense is connected to the heart. On a biochemical and psychoactive level, frankincense smoke brings a heightened spiritual awareness and helps the mind to enter a meditative state.

Grounding, centering, very spiritual, and also goes with everything and anything.

Olive essences:
1. Olive tree resin that I prepared from resin my brothers picked from our family's trees. 
2. Olive fruit absolute
3. Olive leaf absolute - grassy, leafy, bitter essence. A little similar to tobacco and tomato leaf, actually but not as harsh.
These are unusual raw materials, and are not commonly used in aromatherapy, healing or ritual. But the choice of olive is obvious, since a dove carrying an olive branch is a biblical symbol of peace.

The association with Peace pipe was inevitable. Tobacco is a sacred plant to the First Nations and was used for healing and for the famous "Peace Pipe" to seal deals and peace treaties between tribes.

I'm still unsure about how these essences will come together in a perfume. I feel as if this process can take one of two directions:
1) A harmonious continuum of peaceful aromas. That sounds kinda boring actually. But sometimes what's necessary is a good example...
2) My perfume is going to be like a peace process between clashing elements that are an unlikely partner for any collaboration whatsoever...

Olive Harvest

Harvest season has different flavours, textures, aromas and colours from place to place depending on what crops can be grown there. While here in North America fall harvest is all about corn and pumpkins and yams - in the Mediterranean region, fall surrounds the central event of olive harvest, similarly to how in late spring is all about the wheat harvest. These two cycles are connected all to the rain, which make all events very time-sensitive and a bit stressful for the farmers and their families. Especially when considering how precious rain is in the area. We spend the year in anticipation for the rain and the first rain is a major event!

Wheat fields are sowed before the first rain, so that they can get as much rainfall as possible and sprout. Olives are harvested right after the first rain, so that the summer's dust is washed off the olives' skins. And the olives must be picked before too much more rain arrives, so that they don't become all soggy or rot - this will not produce a very good oil!

So for me, growing up in the Western Galilee, fall harvest is identified with the scent of olives. And this is not the olives you are familiar with from the jars or cans or on top of your pizza. These are fresh olives before they get pickled in brine or salt. Their aroma is not as pungent as some other fruit could be; and it only will release itself if the fruit is bruised. But you can rest assured that by the end of a day spent picking olives, your hands will smell like olives - green, oily, waxy - and will taste awfully bitter!

olive harvesting in tuscany, originally uploaded by mestolando.com.

This is how olives are harvested in Tuscany - and it's pretty much the same way it's done elsewhere, although some like to beat around the trees (pun intended) with sticks. It's not really effective and a lot of leaves fall to the ground, and a lot of olives just stay on the tree... And as you can see in this photo - the ground is covered with fine sprouts of wild grasses and weeds of all sorts that just woke up from the first rain... Harvesting olives may be tedious, and is like a race against the next rain, but you are sure to spend the days in the fresh air, enjoying the kisses from the gentler autumn sun, and socializing with family and neighbours that all work towards the same goal: pressing the finest olive oil possible for that year, and perhaps also producing a few jars of pickled olives while they're at it.

I'd be curious what are your association with "harvest" wherever in the world you are or grew up in.

Virtues of Olive Oil

Mediterranean Gold, originally uploaded by Kuzeytac.

Olive (Olea europaea) is native to the east basin of the Mediterranean ocean, whose other fragrant family members include jasmine, lilac and osmanthus (aka sweet olive). Although olives can be grown in other places successfully (i.e.: California), the best olive oils are those grown in the region. I am, of course, impartial to the olive oils grown where I come from: the Western Galilee in Israel. Since biblical times, this was the region of olive oil. Perhaps it’s all Jacob’s fault, as he blessed his son Asher (whose tribe inherited this part of the land): “me Asher shmena lachmo, ve hu yiten ma’adanei melech” (Genesis, XLIX, 20) - Translation: “out of Asher his bread will be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties”.

The plant's uses are not limited to food: the oil was also used in coronation rituals, in cosmetics, toiletries and last but not least - in "oil candles" (see picture above). Pure virgin olive oil of the highest quality was used in the Jewish tabernacle and temple Menorah to keep an eternal light at the holy place. And this is what the Hanukkah story is all about - the miracle of one little can of oil that instead of one day, lasted for 8 days, until consecrated, pure olive oil will be brought from the Western Galilee to Jerusalem.

Two Olive Trees, originally uploaded by elkost.

Although the trees are not very tall (they grow about 8-15m high at the most), they grow a thick trunk that becomes hollow with age. The olive trees require no watering (except for when the trees are very young, in the first couple of years after planting). These are hardy trees that are used to the dry conditions and can survive no rain for many months. Tending the trees, besides the harvest, requires some tending to after the harvest season: pruning the trees, aerating the earth around them by plowing and fertilizing (usually with cow manure) once the harvest is over. Aside from that, the trees are pretty much left to themselves for the rest of the year.

The harvest takes place in the fall, after the first rain washes the dust off the olives and before the rain season begins (which will spoil the fruit). This usually happens in late October and early November. Most olive growers are Druze and Arabic families who grow the same olives on their estate for hundreds of years. The harvest season is intense and quite stressful as all the work has to be done between the 1st rain and the 2nd rain. Failing to do this on time will result in loss of crops or an inferior olive oil. Therefore, the extended family usually drops everything else – work, business and school for the kids – to make sure the olives are all off the trees before the 2nd rain. All ages participate in the harvest, including young children (even toddlers) and the old, who can at least help with sorting out the olives (i.e.: chucking out the spoiled ones and those infested with worms) and putting aside those suitable for pickling. The green (unripe) olives contain more oil than the black ones. Most of the fruit is pressed into oil, but some is pickled (usually you would take out the bigger, nicer looking olives for pickling), and of course the very ripe black ones would be set aside for special preparation (see more below under “Culinary Uses”).

In my region, the harvest season has now been extended into an “Olive Harvest Festival” to celebrate the region’s historical treasure and to promote peace between Arabs and Jews through cultural celebrations such as music, dance, and of course – food with olives and olive oil.

The Olive Oil Plant 1, originally uploaded by Omri Suissa.

The olives are all brought to the olive pressing house, which functions as an olive-oil co-op. Each family’s crop will be weighed before pressing, and the family will in return get an equivalent percentage to their contribution of the oil produced. A set percentage remains with the pressing house, as a form of payment.

Olive oil is the only oil expressed from a fruit (rather than a seed or a nut). And is the only one that is truly cold pressed. There are three grades of olive oil:

Virgin olive oil, which is produced from lightly pressing on the olives and requires no filtration. It is produced from grinding the olive fruit into a paste, traditionally using millstones, which are now replaced with steel drums. The paste is than placed in a centrifuge to mechanically separate the oil from the paste (the paste sinks to the bottom). This grade is the most desirable grade for food preparation and for consumption, and has the highest levels of antioxidants (which account for its slightly bitter taste). Some virgin olive oils are also filtered to get rid of the cloudy residues. Extra virgin olive oil is processed the same as virgin olive oil, but also “satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects)” (Wikipedia)

Grade A oil is obtained by further pressing the olive fruit which remained from the virgin oil production, and requires some refinement.

Grade B oil is produced from extracting the remaining fruit in hexane.

Another grade, which is called pomace oil, is produced by using the residue of fruit used fro grade B oils, and also grinding the pits of the olives, which also contain oil on their own. This process may also require some extraction with solvent (hexane). These are mostly valuable for soapmaking and not so much for cooking or cosmetics.

Chemical Makeup:
Contains mixed triglyceride esters of oleic acid and palmitic acid and of other fatty acids, along with traces of squalene (up to 0.7%) and sterols (about 0.2% phytosterol and tocosterols) (Wikipedia).

Health Benefits:
To name a few of the main ones:

- Lowers the “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood while preventing oxidation of the “good” cholesterol in the blood
- Cardioprotective benefits (i.e.: reduces the risk of coronary heart diseases, when used instead of less beneficial fats in one’s diet).

- Helps to balance omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats.

- Anti-oxidant. Interestingly, the elderly Druze in the Galilee touted a morning routine that involved drinking a glass of virgin olive oil on an empty stomach, to promote health and longevity. Also, the oldest woman in recorded history, Jean Calment, credited her longevity and her healthy skin to deliberately use of olive oil in her diet.

Cretan olive harvest, originally uploaded by Peace Correspondent.

Culinary Uses:
The ripe (black) or unripe (green) fruit can be pickled in salt water.
The green olives need to be cracked or slashed and soaked and rinsed in water for several weeks first to remove their bitterness; than pickled in brine (water and salt) and spices of choice (usually wedged lemons, whole cloves of garlic and a few dried hot peppers will suffice) for about 2 months, or until the olives developed their typical pickled-olive colour and their bitterness has subsided drastically.
The black ones can be pickled immediately, or layered with coarse salt in a basket to preserve. After 3 months the black brine olives will be ready to serve: rinsed with water, drained, and than sprinkled with olive oil and fresh herbs of choice (rue leaf is a classic addition).

Olives are an indispensable condiment, served with Mezze (traditional Middle Eastern appetizers and salads), made into tapanades, added to Martinis, sandwiches and more.

Olive oil is best used fresh, rather than a cooking or frying oil. My favourite salad dressing is a simple squeeze of lemon juice from ½ a lemon (if you squeeze it by hand some of the lemon essential oils drip from the peel to the juice) and about 2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil. Really you don’t need anything else to make a perfect salad dressing, not even salt or pepper.

I like drizzling olive oil onto pasta after it’s been cooked, with or without the tomato sauce.

A simple bread dip can be made by blending together olive oil and balsamic vinegar and/or soy sauce. A clove of garlic is optional. It’s a great substitute for butter and really goes fantastically well with freshly baked bread. Another condiment I grew up on was “Za’atar”, a combination of wild herbs, primarily hyssop, with a touch of wild mountain thyme and white mint (when available), sumac and sesam seeds. These are either sprinkled on yogurt cheese (“Labaneh”) or mixed into a paste with the olive oil and used as a spread or a dip for pita and other regional flat breads.

Steamed vegetables, when fresh and in season, don’t need much more dressing up besides olive oil. Try using a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of sea salt or fleur de sel on steamed broccoli, brussles sprouts or asparagus. It will transform both your health and your cuisine.

Similarly, you can use olive oil in potato puree. Mash the potatoes with a little bit of the water they were cooked in, a touch of salt, a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of thyme. And the same trick with yams is out of this world yummy.

Skin-Care Properties:
Humectant, moisturizing, anti-oxidant. It creates a protective film on the skin, absorbs moisture from the air yet without clogging the skin or interfering with its cell activity (breathing, shedding, regeneration, etc.).

Aegean Pearl -- Baby Olive, originally uploaded by Kuzeytac.

Beauty and Body Care Uses:
Olive oil is used in both skin care and hair care products, incorporated into body lotions, salt and sugar scrubs, shampoos and conditioners. Castile soap was originally a soap made of olive oil as the only fat, and it is a very mild soap though without much lather – it has wonderful cleansing properties without drying the skin and is gentle enough to use on babies. The Druze from the nearby village made castile soap like that from the olive pomace and it was mild enough to wash babies clothes in it (we’d grate it to make soap flakes) but also powerful enough to remove some tough stains.

The oil itself can be used as massage oil, and will keep the skin smooth and moisturized. Applying virgin olive oil to the scalp before shampooing will help reduce dandruff or flaky itchy scalp. It can either be applied as is or warmed up first as a warm hair-mask (cover your hair with plastic bag and a towel to keep the heat on the head). Olive oil can be also applied to the tips of your hair if it’s dry and also as an all-natural, simple styling product (just don’t put too much!).

For more Mediterranean beauty tips incorporating olive oil, read Helg’s excellent “review” of olive oil on Makeup Alley. What else do you use olive oil for? Please share your wisdom by commenting below.

New Perspective On Olive

Olives and Donkeys, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Happy Last Day of Hanukkah everyone!

Hope you've all enjoyed the light so far, warmth, family & company these past 7 days and 8 nights.

As far as oil goes… Commemorating the miracle of the little bottle of olive oil isn’t all about deep fried donuts and pan fried Latkes. I’m sure we’re all fed up with them by now! I’d like to say a few good things about olive oil. Olive oil can be used year around for health, beauty and good taste… From skin and hair care to antioxidant diet that is low in saturated fats and full of flavour and vitamins, olive oil seems to be more than just an oil. It can become a way of life and brig light to our life, metaphorically speaking.

Olives are native to the Mediterranean, and although olives can be grown in other places successfully (i.e.: California), the best olive oils are those grown in the region. I am, of course, most fond of the olive oils grown in the Western Galilee in Israel. Since biblical times, this was the region of olive oil. Perhaps it’s all Jacob’s fault, as he blessed his son Asher (whose tribe inherited this part of the land): “me Asher shmena lachmo, ve hu yiten ma’adanei melech” (Genesis, XLIX, 20) - Translation: “out of Asher his bread will be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties”.

ancient_olive_press&olive_trees, originally uploaded by gcwtucson.

I happened to grow in that exact same region, where the flavour of olives is rich and the olive harvest is a bug cultural celebration (ancient olive presses like you see in the above photo can be found almost everywhere, and there were remains of an ancient one just by our house). At that time (the delicate time between the first rain, which washes the dust off the olives; and the next rain, usually 2-3 weeks after, which threatens to permeate the olives with unwanted moisture, bring in decay and subsequently, wreck their rich flavour either by watering it down or spoiling the entire crop). Most of the people in the Druze and Arab villages own at least some piece of land with some olives on it and at this time of year they are busy day and night to meet that unpredictable deadline. That means no school for the kids and many business shut down to help other members in the family with the olive harvest. My village, although neither Druze nor Arabic, acted similarly. If we did go to school, we spent the last hours of daylight picking olives, and to the late night, sorting them and making sure no rotten olives will find their way to the olive press. After a few weeks of hard labour, sore backs and fingers that were unavoidably bitter-tasting (the flavour of unprocessed olives is terribly bitter!), our proud parents took the olive press house. They waited in line with all the other olive pickers, sat on their sacks of olives, and when it was their turn to weigh their olives, they got even prouder, because every year as the trees grew older), the yield was higher. The beauty of going to the olive press house was that it cost nothing to get your olives pressed. Your olives were weighed, and than the yield of oil was measured. Each olive picker will receive a portion of the oil yielded. A certain portion remains with the olive press house owner, to be sold, and that is where the money factor came into play… There has to be a certain trust amongst the pickers than, that they all took out the dirty and bad olives out of their crops, so that the olive oil will be the best that it could be.

But perhaps the most important thing about engaging in the olive picking traditions of the region was that by doing so, our parents interacted with all the other villagers (from other ethnic groups), something that most Jewish Israelis did not do back in those days (fortunately, now the neighbouring Jewish Israeli villages - AKA Kibbutzim and Moshavim – have finally acknowledged this and there is an annual celebration of the olive harvest in the Galilee, incorporating the cultures of all the ethnic groups in the Galilee through music, food and olive picking.

I started this article with plans to talk about the health and beauty benefits of olive. But now I feel this discussion is heading a completely different direction. Perhaps it is for a reason that olive branches are a symbol of peace. Perhaps there is much more to this tree than we can see on the surface, or eve in the hollows of these ancient trees.

To conclude, here are a few interesting little tales about olives, olive oil and the olive trees:

My mother, a sponge for all folklore and herbal intelligence related to the local herbs in the Western Galilee (just pick a weed from your garden and she’ll find a therapeutic use for it she learned from the local Druze and Palestinian women in the neighbouring villages), told me about a couple of interesting uses for olive oil. The old Druze men and women we met, who all seemed to live long and full life and work physically even when they were really old - shared with us their secret for youth and vitality: half a cup of olive oil, drunk on empty stomach first thing in the morning, along with a clove of garlic. Olive oil is known for its beneficial anti-oxidants, which assist in the regeneration of cells from within (as part of one’s diet) and without (in skincare). The other interesting piece of intelligence my mother has gathered from local women and midwives was something that if you are serious about NOT getting pregnant, you should NOT try yourself: An olive oil soaked cotton balls used to make primitive vaginal sponges amongst women in the region. I was surprised to find mentions of this curious early contraception methods in other websites, including Planned Parenthood's history of contraception.
“Aristotle, a Greek teacher-philosopher (384–322 BCE), considered olive oil mixed with cedar oil, lead ointment, or frankincense the ideal contraceptive. This mixture was applied to "that part of the womb in which the seed falls." (quoted from MedHunters)

Olive oil is an excellent moisturizer, not only because its excellent vitamins absorb into the skin and its content of squalene (pay attention, vegans and vegetarians: there IS squalene oil that is not extracted from shark liver, but from olives!). Olive oil creates a protective film around the skin that is nourishing and can also protect from the cold and other weather conditions. And most interestingly – it has the unique property of absorbing moisture from the air. Therefore it is excellent for skin, scalp and haircare. For more ideas about how to use olive oil creatively, I suggest you read what Helg (of Perfume Shrine) had published as her olive oil “product review” on Make Up Alley.

Last but not least: I cannot recommend highly enough incorporating olive oil into your diet as much as possible, for those instances when you want the nourishing and fulfilling sensation of a yummy fat – on your bread, steamed vegetables, and so on. Switching to an olive oil condiment based diet is fun and easy. Olive oil makes the base for pesto (a most delicious base for any savoury sandwich!), can be blended with either balsamic vinegar or soy sauce (or both) for a delicious aperitif bread-dip (a bit of crushed garlic can be added too). The Middle Eastern people have developed many condiments, depending on their region, of herbs and spices mixed with olive oil for spreading on bread or for bread dipping. Much like the pesto – only with dry herbs, the Za’atar is a mixture of various thyme and hyssop herbs from the mountains, mixed with ground sumac and sesame seeds. In Egypt, the alternative is ground sesame seeds and ground walnuts, mixed with spices – primarily cumin and coriander. This mixture is either served as a dip with olive oil, or sprinkled overtop steamed rice, salad or vegetables. Similarly, the flavour of any steamed vegetables would be enhanced by a drizzle of god quality olive oil. Living in North America for the past 9 years have influenced me to use more butter than I used to. So I was utterly surprised when I tried to use olive oil on my asparagus a few days ago. With just a touch of salt and nothing more, the asparagus was the most delicious side dish I had in a long time. And this was achieved quite effortlessly, by not overcooking the branches, and by not using butter, but just the best quality olive oil I could find. And needless to say, olive oil makes the best salad dressing. I use nothing buy olive oil and lemon juice in my daily salads, and the results are never short of stunning… But than I’m known for my salad addiction.

So, one last day tomorrow for enjoying olive oil in a traditional Hanukkah context. Perhaps you can share your favourite olive oil recipes or any other uses for olive oil by adding a comment below.
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