A dash of virgin, ji?



A flacon of olive oil is beginning
 to look very much at home 
next to the haldi and dhania 

Its debut into desi kitchens
was so subtle, one almost
missed it. Some years ago,
 I chanced upon huge canisters
 of olive oil stacked neatly
alongside storage tins in a
Coonoor-based friend's pantry.
Her husband had just had a
heart attack and so, Sudha
Badrinarayan had switched
 to olive oil on a doctor
friend's advice. She used it
for all the food that appeared
 on her table, from curries to
 chutneys and sautĂȘed
vegetables. Not sambar,
though. The Badrinarayans
 were enthusiastic converts.

That was a while ago. Then
 Bertolli and Leonardo sashayed
 into India, landing on the
shelves in virtually every
department store. 'Ah, Indians
 are now using the Real McCoy
 (or Real Macallo) for their salads
 and pasta, ' I thought. That
 thought went out of the window
 when I set eyes on a startling
 advert that showed halfa-pizza jostling for plate space with half-a-roti.
Never mind that it was one hell of a confused message, the product under
 scrutiny was yes, olive oil. Obviously, some kind of cooking oil evolution
 was under way.

Sure enough, all the varieties of olive oil were now available to the
gourmet and the enthusiast alike: extra virgin, virgin, regular olive oil
, olive pomace oil. From being the queen of massage and facials oils,
 this prima donna had stepped into the Indian kitchen. You now had
 experts propounding its benefits;Sanjeev Kapoor telling us that, contrary
 to popular belief, extra virgin worked very well for Indian food;Prahlad
Kakkar on demo tours of cities for the cause of olive oil. India sat up
 and watched.

As for me, a random search threw up a host of people who are fans
 and users of olive oil. Geeta D'Souza, who used to run her own
 catering company in Bangalore, says, "Ever tried making gobi
with capsicum, green peas and slivers of ginger in olive oil? It tastes
 simply wonderful. I use olive oil for most Indian veggies, it doesn't
overpower but in fact, blends well with Indian spices and masalas. "

Madhumita Mitra, a Delhi-based lawyer, has colonised olive oil
successfully. "I give stir-fry veggies a light tadka with panch phoron,
 jeera and saunf. And I have a friend who uses olive oil for upma,
 too... it tastes amazing, I assure you. " And Bangalore-based Dolly
 C A seasons paneer and mushroom dishes with a dash of olive oil.
 North Indian dishes, she avers, taste better with olive oil.

Arunima Singh, Manager F&B Sales at a hotel in Hyderabad, is one
committed aficianado. "We are averse to the idea of using olive oil
for cooking because of our preconceived notions that they will ruin
the taste of curry. Ever since I switched to this oil, nothing has
 changed ... except for my weight and fitness levels! I'm an experimental
 cook, I keep trying different cuisine, be it Thai, Chinese, Italian or
Indian, and whatever the food is, the oil is olive oil. Indian cuisine
being my forte, I end up cooking everything, be it non-veg or veg
curries, rice preparations or any kind of paranthas, in olive oil. "
It's also value for money though it seems expensive. All kinds of
Indian food can be cooked in one-third the quantity of other oils.
 One litre of olive oil should last for a good three months.

Olive oil has become a constant in desi kitchens abroad, too. Sample
these affirmations. Ujwala Samant, a non-profit management
associate, who lives with her family in New Jersey, says, "I tried
 cooking with olive oil, beginning with tadka: the very light
olive oil worked well, and heeng mercifully killed the odour
that olive oil typically exudes. I figured if I could use it for
Bolognaise sauce and Ratatouille, I could use it to make vegetable
curries. "

Runalee Urankar, a Seattle-based management consultant, 'always'
uses olive oil. "I use it instead of ghee in chutneys. It's all about healthy
food and great taste!"

Gita Iyer of Granite Bay, California, knows her olive oil well. "I routinely
use olive oil for those food items that use oil as flavour rather than a
medium for seasoning. Vethakozhambu in my home has a combination
 of ghee and olive oil. I mix my kalandha saadhams as in lemon rice/puliyodarai/pomegrante rice/ mango rice/sesame rice, with
extra virgin olive oil. I also use olive oil to cover/bottle and
preserve pickles. "

On the stats side, too, the figures look good. Reports state that the
 domestic olive oil segment is growing by about 50 per cent per
annum;this growth rate is expected to go up further. India's olive
oil space, which stood at 2, 800 tonnes in 2010, grew to 4, 000
 tonnes in 2011 and is expected to touch 6, 000 tonnes in 2012,
valued at roughly Rs 350 crore. This includes both the massage
 and edible olive oil segments.

The International Olive Council (IOC), a UNDP-promoted
inter-governmental organisation based in Madrid, feels that India,
with its rapidly growing economy and traditions of natural and
vegetarian cuisine, is fecund ground for olive oil as a cooking
medium, and is working to publicise its many health benefits.

The main hurdle, though, continues to be the price of olive oil. One-litre
bottles retail anywhere between Rs 400 and Rs 1, 000. Then again,
 a country that is pausing thoughtfully at the organic food counters,
 is only too likely to opt for good health over cost.

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