Review: A lesson in olives, olives and more olives

Olives are one of those polarising foods; a bit like marmite, you either love them or you hate them. Some, like myself, are a little bit more on the fence – for a long time I absolutely hated olives, but recently came to find I really enjoy the flavour when in things like breads or pizza. That being said, I never buy them or use them in my own cooking (which, honestly, has become a bit unadventurous).

Despite being an olive sceptic, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to Olive It!’s Tapas masterclass led by renowned chef Omar Alibhoy at the Brighton Cookery School, which seeks to show people how to incorporate olives into their everyday cooking.

“Olive it! is an innovative culinary concept that demonstrates how a simple olive can spark you imagination and awaken new taste sensations. By seasoning olives in a number of different ways we will uncover new aromas and flavours, inspired by the Mediterranean, and show you how easy it is to create a delicious dish within minutes.”

On arrival, we were met with plenty of refreshments (elderflower and raspberry lemonade for us non-drinkers) and mingled with the rest of the Brighton blogger community, who also needed a nudge in the olive direction.

Omar took the time to give us all a little lesson on olives, filling us in on facts I had no idea about.

Did you know that all olives, regardless of colour, come from the same tree?

Or that their difference in colour is a result of them being harvested at different stages of ripening, rather than them being of different ‘types’?

Well, now you know.

Omar also explained that Spain is itself the largest producer of olives in the world, which makes a great deal of sense considering how central olives are to Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine.

We moved on from our mini olive lesson straight to preparing our dessert for the evening, which, shock horror, featured black olives. Omar took us through the steps for creating a sort of creamy, cheesy custard with cream cheese, a little goats cheese, sugar and vanilla accompanied by caramelised black olives and cherries.

Putting this to one side, we moved to our work stations to begin preparing the main dish and side dishes.

At our stations, we found lots of fresh bits and bobs that promised for delicious dishes - bowls and bowls of olives, a variety of herbs, different garnishes and various vegetables. We began by preparing red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, some bread and hazelnuts – all drizzled in copious amounts of olive oil – for roasting.

While these were in the oven, we put together two different marinades: a simple thyme, salt, cayenne and olive oil one for green olives and a fragrant cinnamon, lime leaf, ginger and olive oil one for black olives. We coated the different olives in their respective marinades and left them to soak up all the flavour.

Finally, on to the main event, we retrieved our roasted ingredients and popped them in a food processor with some (you guessed it) olive oil! The result was a thick and flavourful sauce that was creamy, nutty, very rich and just down right delicious. We put this on top of a salad of lambs leaf lettuce, black olives, tuna and anchovies. Yum!

Having finished all of the cooking, it was finally time for dinner. We took our dishes downstairs to the dining room and promptly dug in (we’d been staring at food for around 3 hours now).

While I wasn’t sold on the green olives, which were a bit too tart for me, I have to say, I really enjoyed the black olives.

The salad, with the combination of the soft but crisp-flavoured lambsleaf with the mild black olives and tuna, saltiness of the anchovies and rich, deep flavoured red pepper sauce on top, was lovely. We ate every last bite. Lastly, we were brought dessert, the most intriguing dish of the evening.

The creamy, cheesy custard – which set into a cream cheese consistency - may have sounded weird, but tasted absolutely wonderful; it was by far my favourite dish. Neither too sweet or too savoury, I could’ve easily eaten more.

By the end of the evening, I have to admit, I was pretty olived out, but I learnt a great deal and had so much fun.

Omar was a warm and informative host for the class – we both had a great time talking to him and learning a couple of cooking tricks that we will definitely be using at home. A big thank you to Aine (from honestlyaine.com) and her husband for being our cooking partners, it was lovely to cook with you!

So what did I learn?

  • Black olives are actually pretty tasty and versatile.
  • Yes, you can make a dessert out of black olives and goats cheese.
  • And olive starts to look like a very funny word once you’ve written it 40+ times in one article.

For more information about Olive It, go on their website.

Words by Sofaya Hussein

Photos by Simon Callaghan