Before they make it to market, many deep-purple kalamata olives of Greece are selected for use in the country's prized extra virgin olive oil. Those sold whole, pitted or not, typically come in two styles: soaked in red wine vinegar or olive oil. Once in a chef's hands, they are useful in a range of culinary delights, from hummus, tapenade and spinach pie to pastas, pizzas and dressings.
Kalamata olives are credited with being one of the cornerstones of the health-bestowing Mediterranean diet. Used in both cooking oils and various recipes, this cured fruit is native to Greece, with the rest of the Mediterranean region producing most other varieties. In concert, these oils are credited with helping to reduce instances of heart disease, cancer and other degenerative ailments. Most major regions of not only Greece and Italy, but also Spain, Israel and Morocco have their own local olive oil.
Perhaps the most storied use of kalamata olives is to make Greece's extra virgin olive oil. Since it is typically produced with high-pressure extraction technology that can sift away water and plant matter, fresh olive oil is rarely squeezed at home. Nevertheless, ancient-style or counter-top olive presses are available in 2011 for those with the greatest means and technical knowledge.
Several popular Greek dishes feature kalamata olives prominently. Kalamata tapenade is a finely chopped blend of the olives and its oil, along with key ingredients like capers, tomato, garlic, lemon, oregano and thyme — all topping toast or pita. Though not necessary, kalamata olives also are a regular addition to hummus, either as a chopped garnish, whole or incorporated within the puree of chickpeas and sesame paste.
A pasta dish, salad or pizza can quickly take on a Greek bent with the addition of ingredients like kalamata olives, a squeeze or two of lemon juice, crumblings of feta cheese, and fresh spinach. One recipe purees the olives in a food processor to form the base of an olive vinaigrette. Some red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon, shallots and thyme are also part of this mixture.
Many recipes benefit from a blend of kalamata and other types of olives, such as those of the green variety. The almost-maroon kalamatas are often fruity and a little sweet, even more so after a red wine vinegar bath. This flavor profile benefits when paired with another type of olive — like the tangy, French Nicoise or the salty, herbal Sicilian or Spanish varieties.