Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Olive Oil Hunter News #173

Sheet Pan Souvlaki Recipe, Spotlight on Mint, How to Choose Skewers, The “Secret Sauce” for Losing Weight and The Long Reach of Exercise

Warm weather reawakens my desire for effortless cooking, but I still want food that’s intensely flavorful. This take on chicken souvlaki is the perfect answer—simple and succulent. It relies on a wonderful mix of spices enhanced by extra virgin olive oil. It’s also an excellent example of how delicious food can be good for you. For many people, higher temperatures also reawaken the desire to get into summer shape. Timely research on how the human touch can be more helpful than apps for weight loss may have you rethinking hiring a nutrition coach. As you prep for summer activities, you’ll be fascinated by new research on just how wide-reaching the benefits of exercise is for every part of your body. 

Sheet Pan Souvlaki

  • Chicken Souvlaki Sheet Pan Souvlaki

    Traditional souvlaki is, of course, meat grilled on skewers. This version of one of my favorite recipes is perfect for those times when you can’t get to the grill but want to taste souvlaki’s deep, rich spices. Besides the traditional way of serving souvlaki on a pita with tzatziki sauce, this chicken is delicious over rice with a side of tomatoes and cucumber and my light, minty yogurt dressing. 

    Ingredients

    For the chicken:

    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
    • Juice of 1 large lemon
    • 4 garlic cloves, very finely minced  
    • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander 
    • 1 teaspoon allspice
    • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne 
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    • 2 large red onions, peeled and cut into eighths

    For the yogurt dressing:

    • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, more to taste
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh spearmint

    Directions

    Step 1

    In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, make a marinade by whisking together 2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and all the spices. 

    Step 2

    Using a cutting board reserved for raw meat, cut the thighs into evenly sized strips. Place the strips in the marinade and toss to coat. Allow the chicken to marinate on a counter for 30 minutes, or up to overnight in the fridge.

    Step 3

    When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 350°F. Use a tablespoon of olive oil to lightly coat a rimmed sheet pan. Spread out the strips. Drizzle the onions with olive oil and arrange them among the chicken pieces. Bake for 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 165°F when testing a few chicken strips.

    Step 4

    While the chicken is roasting, make the yogurt dressing by whisking together all its ingredients. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice if desired. (If you want to make the sauce in advance, keep it in the fridge until needed). Just before serving, drizzle the top with more olive oil.

    Step 5

    To serve, plate strips of chicken with the red onions along with the yogurt dressing and your choice of sides or pitas.

    Yields 4 to 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Mint

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Choosing Mint

Fresh mint

Many recipes that call for mint don’t specify the type to use. Unless you grow your own, you might be surprised to learn that there are well over a dozen varieties, with spearmint and peppermint being the most well-known yet quite different in taste and appearance.

There’s a good reason that candies and drinks, especially around the holidays, feature peppermint. Peppermint is 40% menthol, and it’s the menthol that tingles your palate. Spearmint, on the other hand, has almost no menthol. It gets its sweetish taste from a phytochemical called carvone, and that makes it perfect when you want just a nuance of mint in dishes like yogurt dressing, tabbouleh, or mint sauce for lamb. 

Both types of mint make great additions to your herb garden or window box—once you have them at your fingertips, you’ll look for even more ways to enjoy them. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: When You Want to Grill - Choosing Skewers

Quick Kitchen Nugget

When You Want to Grill: Choosing Skewers

With summer grilling season upon us, it’s time to take stock of your BBQ tools. Whether you want to grill meat, veggies, or fruit, having a selection of skewers is a must. While bamboo skewers are great for finger foods, but for grilling, the soaking process and their shorter size make them more work than strong metal ones. And, of course, they’re not reusable.

There are many styles of metal skewers to choose from. I recommend looking for some specific features that make them easier to handle and thread. The skewer itself should be at least 12 inches long. You can find skewers that are nearly a foot and a half in length, but before you make any purchase, make sure they will fit inside your grill! I also prefer those with a wide, flat surface that ends in a sharp point, better for piercing raw meat and harder veggies and fruits. 

stainless steel skewers

Helpful hack: Coat your skewers with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil before loading them up—the cooked food will release that much more easily.

Also aim for skewers with heat-resistant handles that are easy to grab—do still wear grill mitts for safety—rather than skewers with only a metal ring. As convenient as online shopping is, if  possible, test out different brands at a physical store to see which ones fit best in your hand. 

Wash and dry your skewers as soon as feasible after cooking. That’s when traces of food will come off more readily (dropping them into your sink for a soak in warm soapy water for a few minutes will help).

For Your Best Health: The “Secret Sauce” for Losing Weight

For Your Best Health

The “Secret Sauce” for Losing Weight

As great as the need is for low-cost, effective weight loss treatments, current technology—even with all the apps available—is not advanced enough to replace human coaches, according to the SMART study conducted by Northwestern Medicine and published in JAMA. 

“Giving people technology alone for the initial phase of obesity treatment produces unacceptably worse weight loss than giving them treatment that combines technology with a human coach,” said corresponding study author Bonnie Spring, PhD, director of the Center for Behavior and Health and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

In the study, people who initially only received technology without coach support were less likely to achieve meaningful weight loss, considered to be at least 5% of body weight, compared to those who also had a human coach. Investigators intensified treatment quickly (by adding resources after just two weeks) if a person showed less than optimal weight loss, but the weight loss disadvantage for those who began their weight loss effort without coach support persisted for six months, the study showed. Note: It is possible for some people to achieve clinically meaningful weight loss without anti-obesity medications, bariatric surgery, or even behavioral treatment, Dr. Spring said. In the SMART study, 25% of people who began treatment with technology alone were able to achieve a 5% weight loss after six months without any treatment augmentation. But that means 75% were not.

Eventually, more advanced technology may be able to supplant human coaches, Dr. Spring said. “We may not be so far away from having an AI chatbot that can sub for a human, but we are not quite there yet. It’s within reach. The tech is developing really fast.”

Scientists are now trying to parse what human coaches do that makes them so helpful, and how AI can better imitate a human, not just in terms of content but in emotional tone and context awareness, Dr. Spring added.

An unsolved problem is matching treatment type and intensity to individuals’ needs and preferences. “If we could just tell ahead of time who needs which treatment at what intensity, we might start to manage the obesity epidemic,” Dr. Spring added.

Fitness Flash: The Long Reach of Exercise 

Fitness Flash

The Long Reach of Exercise 

The health benefits of exercise are well-known, but new research published in the journal Nature shows that the body’s response to exercise is more complex and far-reaching than previously thought. In a lab study on rats, a team of scientists from across the United States found that physical activity caused many cellular and molecular changes in all 19 of the organs they studied in the animals!

Exercise lowers the risk of many diseases, but scientists didn’t fully understand how it changes the body on a molecular level. This is partly because most studies have focused on exercise’s effects on a single organ or on one gender only, among other limited variables. To take a more comprehensive look at the biology of exercise, scientists with the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC) used an array of techniques in the lab to analyze molecular changes in rats as they were put through their paces with weeks of intense exercise. 

The team studied a range of tissues from the animals, such as the heart, brain, and lungs. They found that each of the organs they looked at changed with exercise, helping the animals regulate their immune system, respond to stress, and control pathways connected to inflammatory liver disease, heart disease, and tissue injury.

Exercising with dog

The data provide potential clues to many different human health conditions. For example, the researchers found a possible explanation for why the liver becomes less fatty during exercise, which could help in the development of new treatments for metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (formerly called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). “Even though the liver is not directly involved in exercise, it still undergoes changes that could improve health. No one speculated that we’d see these acetylation and phosphorylation changes in the liver after exercise training,” said Pierre Jean-Beltran, PhD, a co-first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, when the study began. “This highlights why we deploy all of these different molecular modalities—exercise is a very complex process, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Two or three generations of research associates matured on this consortium project and learned what it means to carefully design a study and process samples,” added Hasmik Keshishian, PhD, a senior group leader under Steve Carr, senior director of Broad’s Proteomics Platform, and co-author of the study. “Now we are seeing the results of our work: biologically insightful findings that are yielding from the high-quality data we and others have generated. That’s really fulfilling.”

Additional MoTrPAC studies are underway to study the effects of exercise on young adult and older rats, and the short-term effects of 30-minute bouts of physical activity. The consortium has also begun human studies and is recruiting about 1,500 individuals of diverse ages, sexes, ancestries, and activity levels for a clinical trial to study the effects of both endurance and resistance exercise in children and adults.

The team hopes that their findings could one day be used to tailor exercise to an individual’s health status or to develop treatments that mimic the effects of physical activity for people who are unable to exercise. 

Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!

The Olive Oil Hunter News #123

Cheese-Stuffed Focaccia Recipe with Bold Olive Oil, How to Choose the Right Flour, Tops in Healthy Vegetables and The Missing Link to Losing Weight

Flatbreads like focaccia are very forgiving—you don’t need to be an expert baker to create this crispy-on-the-outside, spongy-on-the-inside Italian classic. In fact, you don’t have to have ever baked a bread before. It’s the perfect beginner recipe that takes the mystery out of dough-making. Plus, you can also customize the toppings to your taste—onions are at the top of the list for many. That’s a smart choice as well as a delicious one: New research on the levels of health-giving sulfur compounds puts onions on the top of that list as well. Read on to see what other veggies rank high…and to learn about a missing link in the battle to lose weight.

Cheese-Stuffed Focaccia

  • Focaccia Bread with Rosemary and Onions Cheese-Stuffed Focaccia

    This recipe shows off the versatility of focaccia dough. Yes, you can top it with cherry tomatoes, onions, red pepper, and more, but you can also stuff it! If you’d like to use this dough for a more traditional focaccia, simply divided in half as directed, then bake in a single layer in two 13-inch-by-9-inch pans and starting checking after 25 minutes.

    Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 
    • 2 cups warm water, between 105°F-115°F
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use, plus more for dipping
    • 5 cups all-purpose, bread, or 00 flour, plus more for kneading
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 16 ounces mozzarella
    • Optional toppings: slivers of onion, fresh rosemary needles, very coarse sea salt

    Directions

    Step 1

    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the yeast, water, and honey for a few seconds. Allow the yeast to bloom (get foamy), about 5-8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and flour, and mix until a sticky dough forms. Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic; it will be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl as you lift it. Only if it is too sticky to handle, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time. 

    Step 2

    Note: If you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook, bloom the yeast, water, and honey in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and salt and then the flour, mixing with a large spatula and then with your hands. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured countertop, flour your hands, and knead until smooth, about 7 minutes. 

    Step 3

    Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a clean, large bowl. With lightly floured hands, form the dough into a ball and roll it in the olive oil. Place the bowl in a warm spot in your kitchen and cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise until doubled in volume, about an hour. (If you poke it with a fingertip, it should spring back right away.)

    Step 4

    Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a 13-inch-by-9-inch metal cake pan, and coat the pan well. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured countertop, punch it down lightly, and cut it in half. Place half the dough in the pan, and use your fingertips to press it out to the edges and into the corners of the pan. Liberally dot the dough with dollops of the cheese. Using your hands, stretch the rest of the dough into a rectangle about the size of the pan and then place it on top of the cheese layer, stretching it further out to the corners of the pan and pressing it around the edges to seal it to the bottom layer. Use your fingertips or knuckles to make a pattern of indentations on the top of the dough. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let it rest for 20 minutes while you heat your oven to 450°F.  

    Step 5

    Just before baking, go over the indentations if needed. Then drizzle the final tablespoon of oil over the top and sprinkle on the onions, rosemary needles, and coarse salt, as desired. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden, rotating the pan halfway through. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut and serve with olive oil for dipping. 

    Yields 10 generous servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Go bold with your olive oil

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Go Bold with Your Olive Oil

In addition to playing a prominent role in the dough itself, extra virgin olive oil gives focaccia its distinctive crispy finish on the bottom as well as the top. I like to use a bold oil for depth of flavor—so good, you’ll want to eat it right out of the pan. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Choosing the right flour

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Choosing the Right Flour

There’s much debate over the best flour to use for focaccia—all-purpose, bread, or the exotic-sounding 00 flour—and each one has its fans. 00 flour, also called double zero or doppio zero, is de rigueur in Italy to make thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. It’s the most finely ground flour available, and it creates a dough that’s very flexible and easy to work with. (There’s one 00 variety made for pizza and focaccia and another for pasta, and they’re not interchangeable.) Not too long ago, 00 flour was only available as an Italian import at specialty shops or online, but recently the American companies Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Shepherd’s Grain began milling their own versions right here in the US. With 00 flour costing just a few dollars for a 3- or 5-pound bag, you can have fun experimenting to see which one bakes up best for you.

For Your Best Health: The tops in healthy vegetables

For Your Best Health

The Tops in Healthy Vegetables

Vegetables in the Allium genus—onions, leeks, and garlic, to name a few—are among the most widely studied for their healthful sulfur compounds; they are good for the heart and immune system, among other benefits. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables of the Brassica family have these compounds, too. 

Among the most important sulfur compounds are polysulfides, because of their broad range of benefits—they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, and cardioprotective effects. But which vegetables are the richest in polysulfides hasn’t been clear…until now. A research team from the Osaka Metropolitan University Graduate School of Science in Japan developed a method to quantify the total reactive polysulfide content of 22 popular vegetables. Their findings, published in the journal Food Chemistry, ranked onions #1, followed by broccoli, Chinese chive, and garlic—more reason to make them a part of your diet.

Fitness Flash: The missing link to losing weight?

Fitness Flash

The Missing Link to Losing Weight?

People who reported getting regular, uninterrupted sleep did a better job sticking to their exercise and diet plans while trying to lose weight, according to preliminary results of a study involving 125 participants who were given various lifestyle modifications as part of a 12-month weight loss program. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2023. 

“Focusing on obtaining good sleep—seven to nine hours at night with a regular wake time along with waking refreshed and being alert throughout the day—may be an important behavior that helps people stick with their physical activity and dietary modification goals,” said lead author Christopher E. Kline, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development at the University of Pittsburgh. 

“There are over 100 studies linking sleep to weight gain and obesity, but this was a great example showing how sleep isn’t just tied to weight itself; it’s tied to the things we’re doing to help manage our own weight,” commented Michael A. Grandner, PhD, director of the Sleep and Heath Research Program at the University of Arizona, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at the Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, and a co-creator of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 health metrics. “This could be because sleep impacts the things that drive hunger and cravings, your metabolism and your ability to regulate metabolism and the ability to make healthy choices in general. Studies like this really go to show that all of these things are connected, and sometimes sleep is the thing that we can start taking control of that can help open doors to other avenues of health.”

Improving sleep health is something everyone can do to improve their cardiovascular health, and in 2022 sleep became the eighth metric of Life’s Essential 8—eight building blocks for optimal cardiovascular health that also include eating healthy food; being physically active; not smoking; getting enough sleep; maintaining a healthy weight; and controlling cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Why are Life’s Essential 8 so important? Because cardiovascular disease claims more lives each year in the US than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, according to the 2023 Statistical Update from the American Heart Association.

Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!