I learned about olive oil as a cooking medium many years ago, during my graduate school days, when I learned to cook pasta. I bought regular (or light) olive oil then, for I couldn’t afford extra virgin (which results from the virgin, or first, press of tree-ripened olives).
I fell in love with extra virgin olive oil later, when I made just enough money as a professional to indulge in it once in a while. I learned to make salad dressings, like vinaigrette.
Until a few years ago, olive oil was little-known in India as a cooking medium. In Calcutta, for instance, people thought olive oil is for body massage.
In my family, olive oil was a novelty when I started cooking with it. For Bengali folks used to the strong aroma and taste of mustard oil, olive oil was something exotic and untried; so, they weren’t sure if they would like it. I introduced them to the oil that is so prized in the Western world and the Mediterranean region.
Later, I thought of a commonality between mustard oil and extra virgin olive oil: both are strong-flavored. So, I experimented to see how big -- or small -- the difference is. I used "kachhi ghani" mustard oil, the most strongly flavored oil (extracted in small mills and sold unbranded), in a Greek salad instead of extra virgin when I made the dressing. The salad had cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, feta cheese (the only affordable brand I could find), lettuce and olives.
After having made the good-looking salad, I tasted it, and, man, was the flavor strong! I had my family taste it, and they all felt the flavor was too strong. Uncooked mustard oil is truly overpowering. Mustard oil is spicy, while extra virgin olive oil is fruity.
In the fight for supremacy, mustard oil comes up tops. It just doesn’t jibe with red wine vinegar, though. Olive oil is olive oil.
Dear reader, do you use extra virgin olive oil? What do you think about other strongly flavored oils, like coconut and sesame oils, used as a cooking medium?