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Olive Oil: Greece's Liquid Gold

By Alyssa Vaughn Published

Greek cooks have long known the secret to rich, meltingly tender, downright crave-able vegetable dishes.

How important is olive oil to the Greeks? So important, Greek chef and cookbook author Diane Kochilas says, that a common wedding blessing references it (“may you always have bread, wine, and olive oil in your house”); that olives make appearances in the region’s religious iconography; and that nearly every Greek has access to a backyard olive tree, be it their own or a relative’s.

“It’s the absolute most fundamental ingredient in the Greek kitchen,” Kochilas says. “It’s the food of sustenance in this part of the world.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Greek culinary tradition includes an entire category of olive oil–based dishes, called lathera. Derived from the Greek word for oil, “lathi,” lathera dishes are typically vegan or vegetarian stews, cooked on the stovetop or in the oven in an abundance of olive oil, fortifying the vegetables with heartiness.

“It’s a really different approach to vegetable cooking,” Kochilas says. Lathera dishes are typically cooked slowly to allow the vegetables’ water to evaporate, rendering them meltingly soft and tender with hyperconcentrated flavor. By the end of cooking, Kochilas says, “The only liquid left should be the olive oil and whatever ingredients have been infused into it, so you can dip your bread into it at the end.”

Take the dish called briam, for example, in which sliced tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, and potatoes become meltingly soft during a slow oven roast, or fasolakia, featuring green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes simmered on the stovetop until tender. Both dishes epitomize the lathera concept: plant-forward dishes with robust olive oil flavor that are so rich and satisfying that there needn’t be meat on the table, perhaps just some feta cheese and crusty bread. And a bottle of olive oil for extra drizzling, of course.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.