My favorite salty drupe

Green and Black Olive Tapenade. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

What’s a drupe? It almost sounds like that dopey kid in school that always sat in the last row and never seemed to pay attention to the teacher. Well, a drupe is simply a fruit with a fleshy outer and middle layer that surrounds a hardened inner shell that contains a seed. And though we usually refer to almonds, pecans and walnuts as nuts, they are actually drupes. Same for peaches, prunes, cherries and mangoes. As well as that salty pantry staple, the olive.

Why Can’t We Consume Fresh Olives?
Olive fruits contain oleuropein, a phenolic compound also found in the seeds and leaves that’s very bitter. Therefore, almost all olives first need to be cured either with lye, salt or a combination of bacteria and yeast to neutralize the oleuropein and other unpalatable phenolic compounds.
There is a black olive from Thasos, Greece that is edible without any processing if it’s allowed to sun ripen and naturally fall from the tree as a shriveled drupe. But for the most part, the majority of olives, whether green or black, need to be processed before they are edible.

Growing Olives
Though olive plants make attractive foliage with their slender leaves and eventual gnarled trunks, I learned my lesson from my fava bean fiasco. When I first started my vegetable and herb garden, I purchased fava beans from Amazon and the seeds did sprout and formed four-foot-tall trees that I was planning on transplanting from pot to soil. I really loved consuming fresh fava beans and they would make a great green hued hummus… or at the very least be great with liver and a nice Chianti. They grow in the Middle East, which is hot like the 50th but they never flowered, which is required for seed (bean) production. Then I Googled and discovered that flowering requires that the temperature drop into the 50s, which almost never occurs in Hawai‘i. Well, the same is true of olives. While the olive plant will thrive in the 50th, flowering and subsequent drupe formation requires that temperatures drop to the mid-40s to 50s. So, in Hawai‘i, we simply purchase processed olives.

Culinary Uses
Since a discussion of the various types of olive oils, especially when discussing the various countries that produce them is the material books are made of, I won’t delve into olive oils other than to say I always have three types in my pantry: a good extra virgin olive oil usually but not always from Italy, a smoked olive oil usually also extra virgin and a flavored extra virgin olive oil, usually garlic infused, but not always. And I always purchase small bottles — 8 to 12 ounces — as olive oil can go rancid. Old olive oil at best will lose that specific flavor of a great olive oil and at worst will develop funky, off flavors.
Therefore, I’ll focus on using olives as is or just chopped, starting with the perfect green olive … impaled on a cocktail skewer and dropped in a glass with a 3:1 ratio of chilled Botanist gin and dry vermouth — yes, I’m a wet martini type of person. Or whole black olives stewed in a mixture of pork, tomato sauce, garlic, grated bananas and sofrito (sauce containing tomato paste, olive oil, onions, garlic, herbs and peppers) for the perfect pastele stew.

Then of course, you have one of my favorite salads, the Nicoise Salad with sliced Nicoise olives, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, capers, boiled eggs and tuna to create the perfect single plate dish. And during the height of the pandemic when the pharmacy created two teams that worked in clinic on alternate days, I spent three days a week working from home. It was during this time that Ms. S found a pasta recipe incorporating chopped Castelvetrano olives, anchovies, capers, lemon zest as well as a host of fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley) that was tossed with linguini with a Parmesan bread crumb topping. Since I technically was still “on the clock” for another three hours after lunch, it took a lot of willpower not uncorking a chilled Sauvignon Blanc to sample with this pasta!
Check out the recipe here:

As a Spread
If asked what is needed to make tapenade, I’m sure most diners would respond “olives.”

However, the original tapenade created by Marseille chef Meynier in 1880 at the restaurant La Maison Doree contained equal parts of black olives, capers and fish split between anchovies and marinated tuna. Over time, tapenade became an olive predominant spread flavored with capers, lemon juice, parsley and garlic often without anchovies, though even modern versions stimulate the appetite with rich, salty, sour and bitter flavors (also umami if you add anchovies) and pair nicely with beer, wine or cocktails.

The following recipe is just a basic guideline for tapenade — I love the umami of anchovies especially when paired with olives and fresh herbs, so I always add anchovies, but if you want to create a vegan version, you can omit them. I also like to use both green and black olives — just use kalamata or Nicoise olives if you prefer the black version as canned black olives don’t have the same flavor. Sometimes I also add several slices of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil or lemon juice/oil to balance those salty flavors. And though most home cooks will use a food processor, the traditional method requires a mortar and pestle… and a lot of elbow grease. If using a food processor, just pulse, as you still want texture in your tapenade. And because the name tapenade comes from the Provencal word for capers or tapenas, if you omit the capers, you aren’t really making a tapenade…

1½ cups pitted olives, mix of kalamata/Nicoise and Castelvetrano/Cerignola olives
3 filets of oil packed anchovies
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Zest from the lemon
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup fresh parsley
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mortar and Pestle
Dice the olives then add everything except the olive oil and pound in the mortar until a rough textured paste is achieved. Drizzle with olive oil to create a spread.

Food Processor
Add everything except the olive oil to the food processor and quickly pulse until the mixture looks like chopped canned olives. Place in a serving bowl then add the olive oil.

Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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