WRITTEN BY LISA RADINOVSKY
Okay, so I’m not exactly Greek, but my olive oil is, and my family will tell you that I’m obsessed with it. So obsessed that I almost forgot about Thanksgiving for the first time in 14 years in Crete. So when I decided on a healthier Thanksgiving, that meant one with more olive oil. Let me explain, and then I’ll offer some Thanksgiving recipe suggestions.
Normally, since my conversion to an olive oil addict, extra virgin olive oil has been the only fat we have in our house. However, I make exceptions for birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, using butter in icings and chocolate chip cookies. This is not, of course, necessary; there are many wonderful olive oil cakes that don’t need icings, as well as some excellent olive oil cookies and brownies (see below).
This year I thought, why do we need butter? Maybe it’s not as bad for us as we thought, or maybe it is, but olive oil is surely much better for our health. I’ve lost count of all the studies providing evidence for its health benefits (see my Olive Oil Health Benefits section for more on that). Here, I’ll outline some suggestions for an olive oil rich Thanksgiving, with various alternatives. Vegetarians, skip the parts about turkey, and you’ll still have plenty of wonderful food to eat! (And see my Vegetarian Dishes page for more variety.)
I can’t purchase a whole turkey in Crete now, since Greeks tend to eat turkey only at Christmas. But if you can get one, you can roast it with olive oil and herbs; see for example the North American Olive Oil Association Blog, which also offers a number of other good ideas for Thanksgiving. In case you’re in a hurry, the New York Times’s Mark Bittman has provided a whole new way of roasting turkey using olive oil with his 45-Minute Roast Turkey recipe. You “cut out the backbone — or ask your butcher to do it for you — and spread the bird out flat.”
For the boneless turkey breasts I can occasionally find here in Crete, I like the Roasted Turkey Breast recipe I found on Home Cooking Adventure. The marinade with Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, herbs, and olive oil produces a very tasty turkey breast. Try to prepare this early enough to marinade in the fridge overnight if possible; otherwise, an hour or so will do. There is a gravy recipe, too, if you want one, and the Food Network offers another recipe for Roasted Turkey Gravy with olive oil.
I thought I might skip stuffing this year, since I don’t have anything to stuff and don’t want a lot of butter. But then I reconsidered: with the wonderful bakery bread, herbs, and olive oil we have in Greece, why can’t I make an olive oil bread stuffing (or dressing)? I have not found a recipe that looks perfect yet, although this vegan recipe looks like a good place to start (vegan in spite of its name, “Turkey Stuffing”). I like Fine Cooking’s idea: Bread Stuffing Recipe: Create Your Own. I think I’ll play around with these this year. Let me know if you have suggestions.
When it comes to side dishes, the possibilities are endless. There’s this popular Olive Oil Mashed Potatoesrecipe with olive oil, garlic, and no dairy. But what about my daughter, who objects to garlic? We could bake potato chunks in the oven with olive oil, herbs, and salt. My mother did this beautifully, inspired by the Greeks, when my children were small. She cut the scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes into child-friendly little cubes and tossed them with plenty of extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped basil, oregano, and rosemary, plus some salt, then baked them in a rectangular glass Pyrex dish until tender (maybe 350 F, 180 C, for an hour or more).
Instead of or in addition to potatoes, we could try one of my favorites since I’ve lived in Crete: roasted cauliflower. The New York Times explains it in detail, but it’s really very simple: slice cauliflower about ¼ inch thick, toss it with olive oil and salt (plus pepper if you like), and bake. Of course, you can do the same with all sorts of vegetables—whatever you like. Sweet red peppers can add color, and onion provides a sweet tang.
Another favorite Greek vegetarian dish that can serve as a main dish or a side (depending on how much you eat!) is Peas in Olive Oil and Tomato Sauce (Arakas Laderos), a recipe I learned from a Cretan neighbor. It’s quick and easy if you use frozen peas and a food processor to chop the onion and tomatoes. Greeks cook many variations of this, including cauliflower and green beans.
We don’t need to give up apple pie even if we give up butter (margarine, spreads, etc.), thanks to Micki Sannar’s Perfect Olive Oil Pie Crust, which I found in her Olive Oil Desserts Cookbook and she has also shared online. The vanilla in it adds a lovely taste that masks any possible hint of olive oil flavor, which might otherwise seem too surprising in an apple pie. It helps to flour the dough before folding it in half or quarters and lifting it into your pie plate, so it doesn’t stick to itself. I double the recipe to make a top and bottom crust for a large deep dish pie, or quadruple it and freeze some of the dough, which works just fine.
There is no question that olive oil cakes are wonderful; vanilla and orange versions abound in Greece, and I include several on my olive oil desserts page. For a richer dessert, Nancy Harmon Jenkins provides a tempting Olive Oil Brownies. And for a lighter, less sweet, beautifully crunchy finish, try my favorite Greek Orange Juice Cookie Recipe With Olive Oil. Happy Thanksgiving, Americans! And a good autumn to all!
Thanksgiving Day Updates:
Update on bread stuffing (dressing) with olive oil: I worked with the “Create Your Own” recipe using these ingredients: about 10 cups of cubes I made from fresh white bakery bread, toasted in the oven (but still white); a total of 6 cups (before cooking) of chopped celery, onions, and leek sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with some salt; 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1 T dried sage, 1 T chopped fresh rosemary, 1 T fresh oregano; 2 cups chicken broth (which could be replaced with a vegetarian broth); less than another teaspoon of salt; 1/4 cup early harvest Greek extra virgin olive oil. The result: wonderful!
Update on olive oil mashed potatoes: if you or someone else who’s eating with you doesn’t like garlic, I find that boiled, mashed potatoes are quite good with some milk, olive oil, and salt, without the garlic, too–everything just added to taste. You’ll probably want to use a fairly mild (fruity) olive oil rather than a bitter early harvest for this recipe.
Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for more recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, and olive oil news and information.