A Salad for Olive Lovers & Wannabe Olive Lovers Alike

January 21, 2016

As much as I aspire to be that person who eats everything (hang out with Anthony Bourdain is my #1 New Year's Resolution!)—and as much as it pains me to admit this—I am a picky eater.

I'm sorry.

I read somewhere once—or heard somewhere once, or overheard somewhere once—that you have to try a food eight times before deciding you don't like it. Sounds a whole lot like bologna (and also a whole lot like a rumor perpetuated by parenting books) to me.

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Forcing myself to try and re-try has not worked. Some of us are unwilling to let one bad experience color all future ones, but I am neither so optimistic nor so determined. Once I dislike something, I'm not volunteering to try it again—unless it is inseparable from a lot of other things I cannot resist.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

In this way, I'm a lot like a 4-year-old (something I've never denied).

A 2008 study in Appetite magazine found that serving children ages 2 to 5 grapefruit juice sweetened with sucrose (and, in further experiments, mixing broccoli or cauliflower with sugar) increased their preferences for the bitter fruit (and for the vegetables) over time.

Start with something that's appealing, then wean them slowly.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

I mixed capers with things I knew I liked (bursting tomatoes and a punchy green sauce) and soon found myself eating them in salad dressings and, even more intrepidly, in otherwise-plain-ish pasta dishes.

So I tried the same thing with olives, which have offended me for as long as I can remember. The farro salad from Heidi Swanson's Near and Far is so appealing—made with walnuts, bunches of alliums, and golden raisins, all dressed in a sweet and acidic vinaigrette—that even a whole pound of olives (yes, a pound!) couldn't keep me away.

In this dish, olives are not bits of shaved tire in a salad bar or petrified eyeballs with mysterious pits that no one knows what do with. Here, olives are briny in a soft and savory way, hefty, and hospitably green. The olives seatbelt the salad. In one olive is all of the richness, spice, sugar, and oil of the salad itself. In one, there is many!

You can't scare me! (Anymore.) Photo by James Ransom

Okay, maybe the revelation that there's something to this olive thing—that my friends have been right all along—has me giddy. (I even tried an oil-cured black olive—and liked it! I'm on a high.)

But even if you don't own an olive pitter and even—especially!—if you don't think you like olives, I encourage you to let this recipe be your gateway.

And then send me some great dishes involving blue cheese. That one still has me spooked.

Are you a reformed olive hater? If so, what made you change your mind? Tell us in the comments!

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I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


dmw January 28, 2016
if you want a beginner's olive, look for Castelvetrano, a distinctly, bright green, fresh tasting olive from sicily. They're not fermented, hence the bright color and very mild, fresh, almost grassy taste.
HalfPint January 28, 2016
my favorite olives. get them unpitted. much better flavor than the pitted ones for some reason.
CHeeb January 26, 2016
Poor,poor green Spanish olives stuffed with nasty cheap pimentos soured me as a child. I never new the world of Greek or Italian and good Spanish olives until an adult like you...Njoy!
Henry J. January 26, 2016
Sarah, you were always braver than me.
Andrea D. January 22, 2016
Hello Saray, I love olives and I love blue cheese. In response to your query about how to learn to love blue cheese, here is a link to David Liebovitz's recipe for roquefort gelato: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/02/roquefort/

It sounds unlikely, but it does adhere to the "add sugar" trick you write about. About five years ago in Tokyo, I stumbled across a gelateria that was offering both roquefort gelato and tomato gelato. I had a scoop of each. Bliss. Pure bliss. Enjoy!
Andrea D. January 22, 2016
Oops! That should read "Sarah", not "Saray"! Sorry! (Do you see what I did there?)
Ttrockwood January 21, 2016
I'm so excited to make this!! I actually LOVE olives- and all the other ingredients here.
As for blue cheese....i am not a picky eater and gotta say i have tried many many variations of blue cheese over the years. Not happening. Life is too short to try and make myself like milk mold that tastes like... Moldy milk.
Andy L. January 21, 2016
Sarah, re the blue cheese, try a modestly more sophisticated variant of the sugar method you discussed. Place a thin slice of a firm, cows-milk blue like Maytag on a slice of bread. Drizzle it with honey. Taste it and keep adding honey until you like it. Over time, reduce the honey, increase the cheese, try softer blues, sheep's milk blues, etc. It's a taste worth cultivating.

BTW, I've always loved olives, but I only recently discovered farro. Thanks for the recipe.
Maggie January 22, 2016
I am introducing small amounts of dairy into my diet after 17 years of strictly vegan eating. I love honey on cheese - gorgeous.
Lindsay-Jean H. January 21, 2016
I am intrigued by this salad, but also by the idea of expanding my daughter's palate by dumping sugar on vegetables...
Jessie P. January 21, 2016
I have avoided olive dishes, firmly believing that my brief trial of them when I was younger was sufficient in cementing my dislike of them. I am saving this recipe in the hopes that it might make me brave enough to give them a second chance. Any ideas as to how to do the same thing with eggs? I can't seem to get over my dislike for the distinctly eggy flavor.
Sarah J. January 21, 2016
Eggs?! :-0 I'm not sure even I can save you.

Just kidding!! I'll think on it.
amysarah January 21, 2016
Following the spoonful of sugar makes anything go down approach for eggs - tamagoyaki are fun and pretty easy. I made it often with my kids, and even the picky non-egg eater loved it. You can vary the level of sweet and don't need the special rectangular pan - use a round one, trim the ends and pop them in your mouth: http://www.justonecookbook.com/tamagoyaki-japanese-rolled-omelette/ This one is even simpler - no dashi or bamboo mat required: https://www.japancentre.com/en/recipes/20-tamagoyaki-japanese-omelette/ Egg candy.
Barbara January 21, 2016
My son does not like eggs at all -- unless they are quiche or quiche-like (think vegetable soufflés). So, my suggestion to for the eggs is to mix them with lots and lots of cheese and maybe a few vegetables and put them in a pie crust.