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Dips and spreads

Green olive and capers tapenade

Prep time 10 minutes
yields 2 cups

Photography by Tracey Creed
Assisted by Amandine Paniagua
Recipe by Amandine Paniagua
Words by Amandine Paniagua

Published May 27 2020


600 kg olives, pitted
3 tbsp capers
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra as required
4 cloves of garlic, plus extra as required
pepper, to taste
handful of thyme and rosemary, optional


Combine all ingredients to a blender or food processor, and blend to a rough puree. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

This olive tapenade will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container, in the fridge.

This olive tapenade is a favourite, a sophisticated and feisty essential, a versatile dish to savour all year long. Either it will enrich your plant-based grazing platters, accompany a salad, spread into sandwiches or for snacks with crispy toasts. I could even eat olive tapenade for breakfast. I probably did.

This olive tapenade recipe is dear to my heart, engraved in my culture that my family has been fond of for so long, and my mom's recipe—one of the few that I can share here, plant-based, Mediterranean, and amazingly tasty. Sharing your food culture is something beautiful, travelling without leaving the table, connecting with people. And what a pleasure when the tribe you share it with not only enjoys but is so delighted by your food that some would finish the entire jar over dinner. Yes, Eduardo, that is you.

What is an olive tapenade?

The word tapenade comes from "tapenas" [taˈpenɔs] originating from the southern French idiom Provençal defining the caper buds. A tapenade was more of a caper sauce than an olive dip. In ancient times, people living according to the seasons, the capers were collected and preserved in amphoras. They would turn into a pungent mush, to be consumed all year long. The Romans in Italia were also making something similar to tapenades from at least the first century after Christ's death. Olive tapenade is food heritage at its best.

Making this olive tapenade, you are aiming for a dark taste. Never add lemon juice, or it will go unbalanced. We love garlic, so this tapenade recipe contains enough for a warm taste, but too much is undoubtedly going to take over the dominant flavours of capers and olive. It is called olive tapenade, after all, so let's stick to it. Here we used green olives, traditionally black olives are the protagonist, and kalamata olives will also do perfectly. You have options. As usual with olive oil and herbed dips, a night in the fridge will infuse the ingredients and deepen the flavours.

For a nostalgic whiff from my childhood memories, a "Madeleine de Proust" moment, I would add thyme and rosemary. It might bring you back to your visit to Provence and the garrigue, while on holidays in the South of France, who knows? I also recommend preparing double, even triple batch, so you will have enough to last a week. That's how popular this olive tapenade is in our house. Nonetheless, in the following, I share a few tips on how to make your tapenade faster, and other food ideas to pair with it.

Three tips to make and enjoy a green olive tapenade

Destoning the olives. Let's be frank here. I don't know if Trace and I are helpless, but it took us a good half an hour to pit the olives. One could think we should buy pitted olives, but you need good quality olives to make a flavourful tapenade. Whole olives are logically the best, being processed less, fully holding their flavours. So here we were destoning these delicious olives, peeling the flesh. I did a bit of research afterwards; our technique was probably the worst, which explains why it took us a long time. Also, our olives were super firm, hence delicious and rich, still a pain to pit.

My mom in France has a large cherry pitter, perfect for olives, so the destoning step is resolved efficiently. However, in New Zealand, I have found this handy tool to be quite expensive. So I looked for other options, and then I discovered this guy. Problem solved.

Mashing the olives.
Rusticity suits the olive tapenade. Unlike hummus, you are not aiming for a creamy silk paste, but a crumbly puree texture. Unless you want to savour the tapenade as a dip with breadsticks or veggie sticks, which is fine—no pun intended. For this recipe, we used a food processor that gave that desired rustic consistency; you can taste whole pieces of olives in there. By the past, we also used our Vitamix blender, and it worked equally well; texture results thinner, though, which makes it ideal for the dip version.

There is also a third option, a traditional one requiring human power instead of electricity, the pestle and mortar. I never tried this, but according to my mom, it will do for a daily arm strength workout. Don't forget to switch arms and tighten up your abs, if you are into fitness. Also use robust, stone pestle and mortar. Anything made out of fragile materials such as glass won't withstand the olive tapenade making. Lastly, as everything involving olive oil, be generous with the golden liquid. It will loosen the consistency, for a smooth, spreadable paste and round out all the savoury flavours exquisitely.

Savouring the tapenade. The truth is olive tapenade is the perfect drinking companion. In France, we will enjoy this tapenade recipe all over summer, paired with a glass of organic rose wine with ice cubes; or a fresh pastis, an anise liquor with lots of water. I never tried it, but I have read around that tapenade also goes well with a gin and tonic, or fresh tomato juice.

For food pairing, the ultimate way is to have the olive tapenade spread over baguette slices, fresh or stale, according to your preference. Enjoy until while sipping your drink watching the sunset. Or cosy near your fireplace—or you heater in winter. I am also a true believer that tapenade combined deliciously with a salad, summer or winter, with quinoa, millet or couscous, any type really. A generous amount of olive tapenade in a plate of pasta with cooked spinach, vegan protein and sunflower seeds is delectable as well. Ultimately, spread over sliced sourdough will lift any generous sandwich or burger.

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