Spanish food doesn’t get all the same love that other Mediterranean food does. From my experience in the US at least, we idolize the Mediterranean cuisine of France and Italy, we exoticize Mediterranean food of Morocco and Greece, and we kind of forget about ALL the other countries that share their coastlines with the Mediterranean Sea.
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So for Spanish cuisine, you might think of tapas (heck, you might even think of Mexican food – I know I did before I traveled there!). But you’re probably a lot less likely to think of the Mediterranean staples – good olive oil, a plethora of citrus, fresh herbs galore, nuts, whole grains, etc.
Actually, if I were to play a little word association game and someone said Spanish Food, I would say: jamon, olives, almonds, cava, paprika, oranges, paella, tapas.
Obviously these don’t encompass everything Spanish food has to offer, but it’s where my mind goes 🙂
And this brings me to my salad – this beautiful orange and olive salad. Variations of this salad are eaten all throughout the Mediterranean, but to me it feels decidedly Spanish. Olives and oranges might seem like an odd combination, but just hear me out on this one.
If you’re not a fan of olives, I don’t think I’m going to win you over with this orange & olive salad. But if you ARE a fan of olives and looking for ways to incorporate them more into your meals (always), then this salad is for you.
I actually have a running list of all kinds of things I want to make for you here on this little blog. The list is LONG – it’s many years in the making and I’m always adding to it as we travel to new places or when new inspiration strikes.
So this orange and olive salad has been on the list for awhile now, but I’ve always pushed it down because I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to a lot of people. I was thumbing through a cookbook a few weeks ago, saw an orange and olive salad, knew I had LOTS of citrus to work with in my fridge, and just knew it was time to share a version of my own.
Orange & Olive Salad – why it works
Have you ever noticed when buying olives from an olive bar, there’s always an assortment that’s mixed with other things – garlic, peppers, etc. – ? In that mix, you’ll almost always find citrus rinds as well. Citrus & olives work together. The acidity and sweetness from the citrus cuts through the bitterness of the olives.
Oranges and olives yin and yang together in a way that’s pleasing to our tastebuds. They give an unexpected, elegant boost to the sweet/salty flavor combination we all love.
Citrus is in season usually throughout the winter and early spring months, when not a lot of other fresh fruits or vegetables are ready. So it makes sense that oranges (which are seasonally dependent) got paired with olives (which are stable and can be enjoyed all throughout the year) when there would have been little else in season to pair it with.
Choosing Your Citrus & Olives
You can really have some fun with the different types or oranges to add to this salad. I’ve noticed lots of different varieties popping up in grocery stores recently – way more than just the navel oranges that we used to have! For this recipe I used a mix of blood oranges, cara cara oranges, navel oranges, and kumquats.
For the olives in this salad, I suggest using a mix. I really, really love castelvetrano olives. They’re buttery and salty, but not nearly as bitter as regular brined olives. If the only olives you’re eating are the black olives that come in a can, these are a great gateway to regular olives. The jarred ones you can buy in the grocery stores are delicious.
In addition to the castelvetrano olives, I also use a Spanish or Greek olive blend – whatever the olive bar at your grocery store has on hand. Just make sure to not buy the olive mix that has extra herbs or spices added to it as it will change the flavor of the salad.
Oranges and olives are the star of this salad, but the other ingredients are just as important. A lot of variations of this salad include thinly sliced raw onions or fennel. I like the bite and freshness that these ingredients lend, but sometimes the flavors are a little too strong. I want the oranges & olives to be center stage.
Instead I used leeks in this recipe and took the idea of quickly marinating them to soften both their texture and flavor from the cookbook I was perusing: Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.
I picked up the cookbook when my husband and I were on our mini honeymoon in Chattanooga, TN, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The stories in it are beautiful and the recipes are very well done.
So the leeks get a little softening in white wine vinegar, salt, and water. I kept leftover leeks for about a week in my fridge, and they were great to top on salads all week long!
And the next key ingredient is almonds. But not just any old almonds, marcona almonds. And guys, if I haven’t convinced you to try marcona almonds by now, I’m not sure what’s going to do it. These almonds are game changers. And they make me think of Spain so much. Just try them. You won’t regret it.
The last surprise ingredient is sumac. It provides a subtle tartness and just looks so pretty sprinkled on at the end. It’s one of my favorite secret weapons.
And that’s it! Spanish Orange and Olive Salad made super easy. If you give this recipe a try let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Instagram. I LOVE to see what you’re making!
Spanish Orange & Olive Salad
Evoke the flavors of the Mediterranean with this Spanish Orange & Olive Salad – with sun ripened citrus, bitter olives, and crunchy marcona almonds, this salad transports you to the beaches in Spain!
For the softened leeks
- 1 small leek thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp water
For the Orange & Olive Salad
- 6 medium sized assorted oranges
- Segmented and sliced in rounds
- ⅓ cup halved olives
- Mix of greek olives and castelvano
- 3 tbsp softened leeks see above
- 4 tsp leek vinegar marinade see above
- 1 tbsp good quality olive oil
- Sprinkle flaky sea salt
- Sprinkle Sumac
- Squeeze lemon juice
- ¼ cup marcona almonds
Start by preparing and marinating the leeks. Trim the root end and the rough green leaves from the leek. Thinly slice the white and light green parts into rounds. Submerge in a bowl of cold water and agitate the leeks to loosen the grit.
Remove the leeks from the bowl of water, allowing the sand and dirt to remain at the bottom of the bowl. Combine the leeks with 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tbsp water. Stir to combine.
Let the leeks marinate for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. While the leeks marinate, prep the rest of the salad
Segment the oranges and slice them into rounds. Half the olives and set aside.
Combine the oranges, olives, and 3 tbsp of the marinated leeks in a medium sized bowl. Add 4 tsp of the leek marinade and olive oil to the bowl and toss gently.
Add a spoonful of the oranges, olives, and leeks to a large serving platter or individual salad bowls. Sprinkle with a small pinch of flaky sea salt, sumac, a squeeze of lemon juice, and the marcona almonds
Serve very soon after plating. It’s best when the ingredients aren’t completely cold.
Recipe adapted from the cookbook Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.
Store the leftover softened leeks for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.