WITH NEW YEAR'S resolutions — have you broken yours yet? — almost automatically comes the intention to eat "better." No matter your diet or regime of choice, there's no denying that the Mediterranean diet is full of anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting benefits. One of the pillars of a Mediterranean-based diet? Extra-virgin olive oil.
Rita Joubran, born and raised in Houston, is the force behind local olive oil company, Old Country Olive Oil. Her parents moved to Houston from Lebanon and opened the first local Lebanese bakery in the mid-'70s, Abdallah's. This beloved institution on Hillcroft and Westpark serves up some of the tastiest Lebanese food in town. Five years ago, Rita took the helm of operations for another family business, Old Country Olive Oil. It was right after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had studied up on the best type of diet to ease her symptoms. She realized whole foods and an anti-inflammatory diet could only help.
As local nutritionist and physician Nicole Fennell says, "EVOO is a nutritional powerhouse that provides healthy fats and antioxidants to control inflammation, manage blood sugars and enhance absorption of certain micronutrients. Not to mention, it tastes yummy, too!"
After being diagnosed with MS, Rita kept feeling an internal push to help in her family's olive oil business. She asked her family's permission to take it over and her grandmother and uncle in Lebanon taught her everything they knew about the trees, the harvest and the bottling process.
"It had so much untapped potential," she says. "I wanted to get the word out about how amazing this oil is." The olive oil is harvested by hand from her family's land and cold-pressed; it's completely raw and unfiltered. "It's literally like juicing an olive," she says. They pick the olives by hand and press them into oil within 4-6 hours, so there's no time for the fruit to oxidize or bruise.
"We make what we make, and when we sell out, we sell out," she adds. Joubran donates $5 from every bottle sold to the MS Society, with more than $10,000 donated every year.
I first tasted Joubran's oil at a Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraiser several years ago, and I've been using it in my cooking classes and recipes ever since. One of the best ways to sneak this liquid gold into your diet? Homemade salad dressing that will make your greens sing.
Super Simple Salad Dressing
This dressing is equally good with mild butter lettuce or spicier greens, such as arugula or watercress. Toss some chives, mint and parsley with your greens for a fresh, bright flavor.
1/4 cup champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot (or 1 teaspoon minced garlic)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as a mason jar; seal tightly and shake well to combine. Keep covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Marcia Smart is the owner of Smart in the Kitchen and its digital spinoff, Smart in the Kitchen School. Follow her on Instagram at @smartinthekitchen or in Facebook group Smart in the Kitchen, or email her firstname.lastname@example.org