Pickling Olives at Home Is Easier Than You Think

With olive harvest well underway in Israel, now is the time for home pickling and experimenting with a variety of tasty olive-based dishes.

Home pickled olives and challah.
Matan Choufan

“Take it, it’s for Grandma,” said my neighbor, offering me a sealed bag of treasures – green olives freshly picked from the tree in his backyard. He must have seen her in action, picking a few olives from the trees scattered on the brick-paved pedestrian street where she and my parents live. She pickles these olives, inedible in their original form, in assorted jars that adorn the kitchen counter.

There’s no need for the good graces of neighbors or for olive trees in the backyard. The markets in Israel are inundated now with olives, waiting for us to gather them in both hands and preserve them in densely packed jars. It’s surprising to see all the activity that surrounds them in the northern cities from Nazareth to Acre. On every street corner, there’s a temporary stand with plastic crates filled to bursting with the small, bitter, green fruit. At greengrocers, spice shops and even convenience stores at gas stations, fresh home-made olive oil is for sale in plastic jars. This oil has strong flavors, as befits oil produced from the first olives of the season.

“The greener the olive, the less ripe it is,” explains Noa Cohen of Masik Varietal Oil from Kibbutz Magal. “Olives designated for pickling are picked earlier than those designated for oil.” The former have stronger flavors, which are preserved in the pickling process. So the oil produced from them also has a more dominant flavor and is greener in color. Incidentally, according to ancient tradition, olives for oil were usually harvested immediately after the first rain. Today the situation has changed, and the start of the olive harvest is dictated by the results of laboratory tests.

The first rain is already behind us, and before the flavors fade, pickle some olives for yourselves. They can be eaten as is, accompanied by cheese or an aperitif to complement their strong, bitter taste. Or you can use them to prepare delicacies like a cooked salad of pickled olives with tomatoes, or a refreshing fish tartare with a pleasant yogurt to balance it.

Home-pickled olives

Ingredients (for a 500 ml. jar):

250 grams fresh green olives

1 cup water

1 tbsp. salt

1 lemon

Pound the olives with a meat hammer or by using a mortar and pestle, to create deep cracks. Fill the jar with water, salt and the juice of one lemon. (My grandmother would place an egg in the water; if it floated, the water had enough salt for pickling. But today, since we don’t get fresh-laid eggs, a floating egg can signal that it is not fresh.)

Place the olives in the jar, cut the squeezed lemon into slices or quarters, and place above the olives (push them in by force if necessary). Close the jar tightly and place outside the refrigerator for three weeks.

Cooked olive and tomato salad.
Matan Choufan

Cooked olive and tomato salad

This salad is Moroccan in origin, and it is customarily served as one of the appetizers that open a meal. It can also be used as a base for fish or chicken dishes.

Ingredients:

200 grams pickled

green olives

2 tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp. oil

1 tsp. paprika

1 slice pickled lemon

(fresh lemon is also okay)

a pinch of salt

½ tsp. brown sugar

Immerse the olives in a bowl of boiling water for 15 minutes to remove some of their natural bitterness. Strain and repeat with fresh boiling water for another 15 minutes (the more they’re immersed, the more bitterness will be eliminated).

During the second immersion, place the other ingredients in a small pot and begin cooking on a very low flame. When the olives are ready, strain, rinse and pit them. Transfer the pitted olives to the pot, stir, and cover the pot.

Continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Check the pot from time to time, stir, and make sure the liquid does not evaporate completely and that the olives do not burn. If necessary, add a little hot water. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The salad can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator or placed immediately at the center of the table.

Fish tartare with olives and yogurt.
Matan Choufan

Fish tartare with pickled olives and yogurt

It’s important to assemble this dish right before serving, so the fish won’t be pickled completely by the lemon and salt.

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

170-200 grams skinless filet of a white saltwater fish, like gray mullet (bouri)

a dozen pickled, pitted

green olives

3 Tamar tomatoes

3 tsp. sheep’s yogurt

1 lemon

1 level tbsp. Atlantic sea salt

5 tbsp. olive oil

Chop fish into ½-cm. cubes and place in a bowl. Chop the olives into smaller cubes and add to the bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix. Slice the tomatoes into rings or eighths and set aside. (It’s better not to mix the tomatoes with the fish at this stage, because the acidity of the tomatoes will pickle the fish.)

Spread the yogurt on a wide plate. Above it arrange the fish with the pickled olives in a mound, scatter the tomatoes, season with Atlantic sea salt and squeeze a whole lemon over everything. Pour a generous amount of olive oil (about 4 tablespoons) and serve immediately.