Chanukah

The Enlightening Olive

November 25, 2010
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Fruit ripens and then we eat it, right? Not always. The ripe olive is hard, bitter and inedible. The olives in the jar we bring home from the store have undergone weeks immersed in a brining solution, a process essential to bringing out the unique taste and texture of the particular variety of olive.

Similarly, the Jew is not a finished product at birth. We spend years immersed in an environment of home and school that nurtures our unique spiritual qualities. Then, when we go out into the world our true Jewish character has been developed; we know who we are and what is our purpose.

The olive tree as well as its fruit, reveals a profound message. It takes the olive tree three to four generations of production to reach full maturity. Similarly, we owe our strength to the fruits of the generations that came before us. We are sustained by their roots which struggled in the rocky terrain of our history. Their influence remains with us centuries later like olive tree, which can live to be 1000 years old–still producing new shoots and bearing fruit.

Even the juice, the oil hidden in the olive, enlightens us with a message about ourselves and our mission as a holy people. When the Beis HaMikdash stood, olive oil was the prize energy source of the world. Many ancient coins found in Israel feature olive trees, depicting the major role olive oil played in our economy.

Eventually, olive tree cultivation spread, its fruit and oil became available throughout the world. We also find ourselves planted and flourishing in every corner of the globe. But we know our place of origin, our native home has always been the Land of Israel.

Today, oil of a different sort dominates the world’s economy. Tiny Israel is surrounded by huge petroleum oil-producing countries, which threaten to extinguish the light of the Jewish People. On Chanukah we remember the miracles of the past that saved us time and time again from being extinguished. All brought about by tapping into the true energy source of Israel, our attachment to the Torah and mitzvos.

The Recipes: Enjoy the Amazing Health Benefits of Olive Oil

This Chanukah, enjoy your latkes, but add a new tradition to your celebrations. Something that is actually good for you! Olive oil’s benefits are so well accepted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows producers to place a heart-health claim on their labels.

The beneficial health effects are due to its high content of both monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidative substances. Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

Olive oil is very well tolerated by the stomach. In fact, its protective function has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis. Olive oil activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones and consequently, lowers the incidence of gallstone formation. Studies show that replacing the fat in our diets with it may even help prevent breast cancer, ovarian cancer and colon cancer.

What better time to bring out the olive oil than Chanukah? Around our table you’ll usually find a bowl or two of good quality olive oil seasoned with garlic and herbs whenever we serve challah or bread.

These room temperature dips are great because heat tends to diminish the flavor and rob the oil of its disease fighting ability. The greatest health benefits of olive oil are released in cold pressed extra virgin oil. Here you will reap the highest nutritional value and the most character and flavor.

Shemen Tov
“Good Oil” is a classic in our house, I am often asked for this recipe.

10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 green onions
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Place garlic, green onions and parsley into the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Do not puree.

2. Scrape contents of work bowl into a sealable container. Add oil, vinegar and salt. Chill for several hours before serving. Keeps in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for one week. Allow to reach room temperature before serving.

Makes: 1 1/4 cups
Can make ahead
Active time: 5 minutes

Herb Mix for Olive Oil Dip
A healthy alternative to serving margarine with bread is this earthy herb mixture. Pour good quality olive oil into a small plate, sprinkle with Herb Dip. Swirl in a piece of fresh challah. Presto-it is about as good as passage to an authentic Italian trattoria. Plus, the kids like it!

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. In the work bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until herbs and garlic are minced. Keep refrigerated, in a tightly sealed container, for 1 week.

2. To serve, pour olive oil into a small dish. Sprinkle oil with herb blend.

Makes: 1/3 cup
Can make ahead
Active time: 5 minutes

Renee Chernin lives with her husband, David, in Jerusalem’s Old City where she writes and cooks while working on her forthcoming cookbook, “Cooking for The King,” the book of Torah insights, recipes and cooking tips designed to bring majesty to the mundane. Get a glimpse of more essays and recipes on www.thekosherchannel.com