My family is originally from Cyprus where olive tress are literally everywhere. It is not unusual to be walking down the street in a city neighbourhood and come across black spotted heavy laden branches hanging over the “sidewalk” from somebody’s front garden (they don’t really believe in sidewalks much so it’s more like the edge of the road!). In fact, my parents (who now live in Cyprus) used to have them growing in the front of their house and had a few friends who volunteered to collect and press the olives into fresh olive oil. If you’ve never had freshly pressed olive oil before, you are seriously missing out. It’s so smooth and rich that you are almost tempted to just skip the bread and use a teaspoon. (I am not being hyperbolic, I have actually thought about doing this! and maybe even done it!).
A poor man’s food coming in from a day working in the fields would often be olives and bread so it is no wonder that somewhere in history, the two were combined and eliopita (olive bread) was created. Every household and bakery in Cyprus (and Greece) has their own version of this marvelous marriage of olives and bread, served warm and fresh. Some people chop the olives, leave them whole, add onions, don’t add onions, use fylo or puff pastry or bread dough. None of these versions are wrong or unauthentic because each bares a regional/cultural/familial mark, and more importantly, they are all usually extremely delicious making it impossible to find your favourite.
The ghastly truth is that I actually don’t like olives! There, I have said it and will no doubt be shunned from all respectable Greek communities around the world! But it’s true. I have tried desperately to like them to the point where I still always eat one whenever our paths meet in the hopes that my taste buds will have somehow adjusted since the last time. (I even ate one as I was preparing this recipe over the weekend and it still made me shudder in horror!)
But yet, for some unknown reason, when olives are remastered into eliopita form, something magical happens. My taste buds are tricked, confused, lost and suddenly I am transported to heavenly food bliss! Resisting is futile! I can’t explain why this happens, or what it is about the combination that makes me go weak at the knees but I have fallen in love with so many versions of this traditional Greek bread.
My Grandmother (Giagia) makes an Eliopita that my whole family devours. We make a massive 14×14 round pan each time and it is usually gone within a couple of days because any time one of us (cousins, spouses, and children) pass through the kitchen, no one can resist a slice. It really is that addictive. Giagia’s version is one she has modernized over the years (as you will see by the list of ingredients) so I can’t tell you it’s the real Cypriot old village deal but I promise that it is easy, delicious and a big crowd pleaser.
2 onions chopped finely with 1tbsp salt
4 cups of self rising flour
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bunch of cilantro (fresh coriander) chopped
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups pitted black olives
1 can of orange soda
Salt the onions and lay aside to drain excess water for about at least an hour. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then rub in the olive oil until it is like breadcrumbs.
Make sure you use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, it really makes a difference.
There is no rule about the olives you use. Obviously the more particularly wonderful they are, the tastier the Eliopita BUT this recipe is so good, that even the canned not-so-great varieties are masked in complete yummy-ness. I tend to chop my olives up but you can use them whole if you prefer. Add the olives, onions, cilantro (fresh coriander) to the flour/olive crumbs.
and mix together with your hands
Then add the special ingredient- orange soda.
I love to watch the bubbles all fizzing away.
I know this sounds like an odd touch but you don’t taste the orange, it just helps make the dough light and adds a lovely sweetness that accentuates all the other flavours. Don’t panic if your dough/batter is a bit sticky- it’s meant to be that way.
Add to a greased, parchment lined pan.
Wet your hand and then smooth out the dough so it’s spread evenly.
Bake in a 350 F oven for about an hour. It will be golden brown and a toothpick should come out clean when it’s done.
It’s the appealing aroma of freshly baked bread and olive oil gently wafting around your kitchen (and pretty much the whole house) that make this recipe so unbelievably comforting. Waiting for an hour after being entranced by this smell means that the hardest part about the whole recipe is waiting for it to be cool enough to eat once it comes out of the oven!