Home-cured olives - seasoned with chilies, lemon and North African spices - have finally made their way into our kitchen, and happily so. Not too long ago, we received a beautiful box of freshly harvested, green-ripe barouni olives from Chaffin Family Orchards out of California. Since then we've patiently waited and waited for our olives to lose their soapy bitterness and gain a saltiness spiked by hot peppers, lemon and garlic.
Olives are among our favorite foods. They enjoy a rich heritage having been cultivated across the middle east and Mediterranean region for thousands of years. Though olive oil has always been prized both for grooming and culinary uses, my love rests with the well-spiced and wonderfully salty fruit. Olives are rich in mono-unsaturated fat, vitamin E and polyphenols which account for the fruit's strong, bitter flavor. A good soaking in brine and spices tempers the olive's natural bitterness.
In preparing my batch of olives at home, I chose to water cure them - as it's a relatively faster approach to olive curing and, as you can imagine, I was eager to see the results of my first adventures in olive curing. Other methods of curing olives at home include treating the fruit with lye, brining them whole and curing them in salt. I imagine, next season, we'll try a different method of curing olives. Water curing is simple and remarkably easy; just clean the olives, discarding any marred fruit, and pound them with a mallet or rolling pin until the fruit is slightly bruised. Over a period of days or even weeks, depending on how much bitterness you prefer, soak them in clean water, changing it frequently. You'll notice that the olives will release some of their oils and that oil will rise to the top of the water every day. Follow this by a heavily spiced brine, and you have home-cured olives.
We're looking forward to serving our olives at the Thanksgiving table and throughout the year as appetizers or in lovely, rustic tapenades. Some we seasoned with provincial herbs, others with Greek oregano and garlic, but these olives we seasoned with a savory array of North African spices. I can't wait to pair them with a Moroccan-spiced Roast Chicken or on fresh bread smeared with authentic labneh and a slice of preserved lemon.