When discussing ingredients, one must begin with an essential ingredient of Greek cuisine, olive oil.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who cooked primarily with olive oil. As such, it was second nature to include it in my own cooking. However, becoming part of a Greek family took my appreciation for and use of olive oil to a whole new level! How did it change? Well, in the beginning, I joked that when in doubt as to how much oil one should use, pour until you think you've poured too much and then some! During the first few years, I would watch in awe as my mother-in-law would go through an entire pitcher of olive oil in a week's time. Aside from the obvious quantity used, it seemed odd to see an oil pitcher on the counter versus my dainty little dripper. Oh, how things have changed. Now, I chuckle whenever I see the dripper shoved in the far back corner of my pantry.
There seems to be little debate around the health benefits of olive oil. It is one of the few fats that we are encouraged to eat without reserve. If you're interested to read more about these specific benefits, the site HowStuffWorks.com has a good article that covers the health benefits of olive oil.
But beware! Not all olive oils are created equal. Many of the brands on the market are diluted with lessor quality oils or processed with solvents in an effort to maximize profits. In 2010, theguardian.com published an article about how to tell if your olive oil is the real thing and included statistics around the prevalence of fraudulent olive oil in the market. Our family goes to great lengths to bring back several gallons of fresh artisanal oil from Greece each year. I used to think it was cute that my Greek family was so attached to their local oil and have since learned how important it is to cook with fresh unadulterated olive oil and how difficult it can be to come by. So how does one find good olive oil short of hopping on a plane and flying to Greece? I wish I had a quick answer. Unfortunately, finding the real thing may require some searching and testing. Three good authorities to assist with your search are the California Olive Oil Council, the International Olive Oil Council, and the Olive Oil Times.
So next time you're out at the store, take a few extra minutes to browse the olive oil section. You may find that you look at the bottles on the shelf in a whole new light!