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Choose extra virgin olive oil to tastefully improve your health

For overall better health and chronic disease prevention, consumers are looking for a healthier oil that can be used for most of their cooking, baking and salad options. There are many types of oil on the shelf so it may be difficult to choose the healthiest one. Olive Oil and extra-virgin olive oil can make for a healthier alternative to vegetable oil and certainly are better for us than butter or other room temperature solid fats.  

“Olive oil” is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra-virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Cold uses include dressing and marinades. Hot uses include sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking, and pan frying. While it is not quite as healthy or flavorful as extra-virgin olive oil, it is less expensive. 

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most flavorful and healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives.  You can use it at room temperature for drizzling and dipping, as well as in dressings and marinades. EVOO is great for sautéing as well as grilling, roasting, baking, and pan frying.  The smoking point for Olive Oil is about 410 degrees F so you will want roast at 400 degree F or below.

Olive Oil and EVOO both monounsaturated fatty acid, making it heart healthy.  

Before making any major change to your dietary behaviors, you should always consult your primary physician. While some diets may seem like a way to regain control over your health, you should always ensure that the diet you choose is the right one for you. Below are some recipes utilizing olive oil.  

Mediterranean Bowl

Photo submitted by Louise Hinsley.

This Mediterranean Bowl is perfect for meal prep. Utilize already cooked brown rice to throw this lunch or dinner together quickly. Make extra dressing and store in the fridge for next time. Serves 1. 

Ingredients:

  • Salad: 1 ½ cups cooked brown rice, 1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped; ½ cup broccoli, roughly chopped (raw or cooked); ½ cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half; ½ cup garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed; Lemon slices to garnish, optional
  • Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette: 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon olive oil; 1 teaspoon dried oregano; Salt and pepper

Directions:

  • Measure cooked brown rice and place into a medium to large size bowl.
  • If rice is not cooked, cook according to package directions.
  • Wash and rinse spinach, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes. Chop or slice vegetables to your preference. Place on top of brown rice.
  • Drain and rinse a can of garbanzo beans. Place ½ cup on top of brown rice and vegetable mixture.
  • In a small bowl, combine vinaigrette ingredients. Whisk together with a fork. Drizzle all over brown rice, vegetables, and beans.
  • Toss to combine. Add lemon slices as garnish (optional).

Nutrition Information per Serving: Serving Size: 1 bowl; Calories: 640; Carbohydrates: 112 grams; Fiber: 15 grams; Protein: 15 grams; Fat: 17 grams; Sodium: 340 mg

Oven Roasted Butternut Squash

Photo submitted by Louise Hinsley.

Savory and delicious! This recipe for Oven Roasted Butternut Squash will delight your taste buds. A wonderfully versatile dish, serve alongside your favorite whole grain or add as an ingredient in another recipe.  Serves 6. 

Ingredients:

2 pounds butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice; 2 tbsp. olive oil; 1 tsp. kosher salt; ½ tsp. black pepper; 2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced; 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced; 1-2 Tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar; Cooking spray

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Coat rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • Peel butternut squash, cut in half and remove seeds. Core and cut into 1” cubes.
  • In a large bowl combine squash, olive oil, salt and pepper. Make sure all the squash gets some olive oil on all the sides.
  • Place ingredients on the rimmed baking sheet and spread the squash around to give them space.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven add parsley and rosemary. Stir well and return to oven for an additional 8-12 minutes depending on your desired level of crisp (I do 10 minutes).
  • Place on serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Serving Size: 1 cup (163 grams); Vegetables: 1.08 cups; Fruits: 0 cups; Calories: 110 calories; Carbohydrates: 19 grams; Fiber: 3 grams; Protein: 2 grams; Fat: 5 grams; Sodium: 330 mg

Wild Mushroom and Barley Risotto

Photo submitted by Louise Hinsley.

Barley is a great grain with lots of nutty flavor and a nice bite. We often see barley in soup, but it can be used for many dishes. This risotto takes advantage of this grain’s great taste and creamy texture when cooked using this method. Risotto is often thought of as a dish made with rice, but it is actually a cooking method. It seems hard at first, but it is not difficult. Just get a glass of your favorite beverage, stand and stir, and contemplate life for a few minutes. The extra effort is worth the trouble. This dish is a great example of adding lots of vegetables in a grain dish to decrease calories and boost fiber. Serves 6. 

Ingredients:

6 cups mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth; 1½ cups water; 3 tablespoons olive oil; 1 cup minced onion; ½ cup red wine; 3 cups sliced or coarse chopped mushrooms, any variety or combination; 1½ cups uncooked barley, rinsed  (do not use quick cooking); 6 cups baby spinach; ½ cup grated parmesan cheese (omit to make this dish vegan); 1 tablespoon butter (omit to make this dish vegan); 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar; Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

  • In a medium sauce pan, bring broth and water to a simmer.
  • Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or large chef’s pan. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add red wine and cook until almost evaporated.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook stirring often until they begin to release their juices.
  • Add barley and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add 1 cup of warm broth and stir continuously until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time while stirring. Keep adding broth until barley is cooked through and tender (about 35-45 minutes). Add a bit more broth. Dish should be a bit loose at this point as it will continue to thicken.
  • Stir in spinach and allow to wilt.
  • Add more broth if the dish is too stiff.
  • Stir in balsamic vinegar, cheese, and butter if using.
  • Taste and add pepper and adjust seasoning if needed.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe; Vegetables: 1 cup; Fruits: 0 cups; Calories: 314 calories; Carbohydrates: 46 grams; Fiber: 9 grams; Protein: 10 grams; Fat: 12 grams; Sodium: 450-700mg depending on broth selected (sodium will vary based on the broth you use)

Roasted Vegetable Tacos 

I am always looking for interesting taco fillings. I experimented recently with roasted vegetables. The key is to cut the vegetables small (1/4-inch cubes) and roast them well with taco seasoning. I don’t like to use pre-made taco seasoning because of the high salt. It is super easy to make your own using this recipe. I use corn tortillas and a topping of just shredded cabbage mixed with lime. Serves 6. 

Ingredients:

1 medium onion; 1 zucchini; 1 yellow squash; 1 large carrot; 8-ounce container of white mushrooms; 3 Tablespoons olive oil; 2 Tablespoons taco seasoning; ½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Cut the vegetables into a ¼ inch dice. This takes a few minutes, but your work will be well worth it in the end. It is a good time to practice your knife skills.
  • Toss the cut vegetables with the olive oil, taco seasoning, and salt. You can do this in a large bowl or plastic bag.
  • Place the vegetable mixture on a sheet pan lined with parchment or foil (this makes clean up easy).
  • Cook the vegetable mixture 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring the mixture half-way through.
  • Assemble the tacos on warmed tortillas.

Nutrition Information per Serving: (for taco filling only – add about 50 calories if using a corn tortilla) Serving Size: 1 taco; Vegetables: 1/3 cup; Fruits: 0 cups; Calories: 92 calories; Carbohydrates: 7 grams; Fiber: 2 grams; Protein: 2 grams; Fat: 7 grams; Sodium: 219 mg

Sources for this article NC Extension Food and Nutrition, Meds instead of Meds educational program complied by Zach Styons, ECU Public Health Intern.  For more information about the Foods and Nutrition please contact Louise L. Hinsley, Extension Agent, Family Consumer Science at the Beaufort County Center of NC Cooperative Extension, 155 Airport Road, Washington,  252-946-0111.