Long Live Olive Oil

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


Sliced spuds sizzling in olive oil: now that is an unforgettable aroma. Even better, throw in a few cloves of chopped garlic.

Go ahead. Be bold!

This is the savory world of Mediterranean cuisine. It’s at the joyful center of all the cultures bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

I love this cooking because I grew up with it. But, lots of folks who didn’t grow up with it want to know more about the Mediterranean approach to food.

That’s why I’m teaching a class titled “Long Live Olive Oil” through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Dakota (OLLI @ UND) this summer. We’re all about spreading the good word and showcasing simple, healthy dishes from this regional cuisine that’s become totally international.

Class is held in the social hall of Holy Family Catholic Church, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

“I ate all three courses today but I don’t feel stuffed,” said one of our students – one of 26 who signed up to learn more about this heart-healthy, low-sodium, low-fat cuisine that emphasizes fresh ingredients, moderate portions, fast preparation time, and quick clean-up.

On the menu that night: fresh made gazpacho (cold Spanish tomato vegetable soup), gazpacho salad, simple paella with shrimp, and chicken.

We also prepared a quick bouillabaisse, salade niçoise, “Linn Bob’s Mediterranean chicken,” a baked light fish with tomatoes and garlic, Spanish spinach salad, and a quick Spanish tortilla (omelet), all while learning why Teflon pans sometimes make a lot of sense.

Two versatile and tasty wheat-based products also made the menu: bulgur and couscous. We prepared a really easy tabouleh salad, couscous with a chicken-vegetable medley, and a very tasty garbanzo-white bean salad based on an old Middle Eastern recipe.

To say “I teach” is a bit of a misnomer. I yak while the real work is done by my wife, Debra – a devotee of Mediterranean cookery, who bakes artisan breads weekly – and Linn Hodgson, a pal, master barbeque chef, and world-class spice blender (see Linn Bob’s chicken reference above).

We all learn in this class, students and teachers alike. There is a lot of sharing and questions about what works, how to cut down on this or that, and how to prepare Mediterranean style dishes without a lot of fuss and bother.

From the Portuguese cod-based garbanzo feast called Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá to the wonderfully refreshing eat-anytime tabouleh salad, Mediterranean cooking is all about bright, fresh colors. And, it’s all based on the queen of cooking fats: olive oil.

Red wine is another key, though we do use a little dry white wine in some of the dishes.

In our OLLI class, we don’t get fancy. We don’t dive into recipes that call for rare or hard to get ingredients. Let’s just say fresh sardines aren’t on everyone’s shopping lists here in Grand Forks.

The best part for some folks is we don’t add a single pinch of salt or butter to anything. There aren’t even any salt shakers around – and no ketchup, either.

Our flavor comes from quantities of savory fresh vegetables, which also give us Vitamin C, folic acid and plenty of color. We use very little red meat, but lots of grilled, poached and lightly sautéed fish, and seafood. Chicken – cooked any way but fried –also is a staple ingredient in this diet.

Even though its dishes are simple, there is a lot one can learn about Mediterranean cooking. Since much of it can now be found online, anyone can become an aficionado. In fact, even the world-renowned Mayo Clinic offers recipes to go with its Mediterranean diet recommendations.

However, most of it misses the biggest point of this cuisine: family, friends and a joyful celebration of healthy food with each and every dish. I like to say Mediterranean meals have nothing to do with food pyramids, calorie counts or exchange lists: it’s about life!

Teaching like this is truly enjoyable. There is such a vibrant exchange among instructors and students. What makes it work so beautifully is that Mediterranean cooking celebrates the sense of shared experience and community.

It’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours twice a week for three weeks.