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Tapenade - the Poor Man's Caviar

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French tapenade

The main ingredients of the Tapenade spread are olive paste, anchovies, capers and lemon juice. Besides incredibly scrumptious, it's also very easy to make.

The ancient Greeks and Romans began preparing the olive paste. In the early days, the olives were ground by hand in a mortar and pestle, eventually they began using stone grinders. The Roman writer Columella mentioned the olive paste in his work Res rustica, as early as the 1st century A.D. He described the olive paste, called sampsa, as a dish found at the wealthiest and most refined feasts.

Tapenade is a modern version of the olive paste. About 100 years ago in Marseille, the head chef at the restaurant Messon Dore, monsieur Menniet, added capers, anchovies and lemon juice to the traditional Greek dish.

The spread was called Tapenade, since in Provençal tapeno meant capers. In Southern France, the spread became known as the black butter of Provence and caviar of the poor. It was there that Tapenade took its honorable place.

Old-school chefs claim that the authentic spread is made only with olives from Nice and capers from Toulon. But many other chefs put their own spin on it by adding garlic, rosemary, thyme, fresh onions, dried tomatoes and even several drops of cognac. There is also Tapenade from green olives.

The delicacy created by the French chef quickly spread all over Europe and later on - worldwide. In many restaurants, while we wait for the main course, we are offered toast with Tapenade. Its use became ever more prevalent. It can even substitute spaghetti sauce and season fish or other meat.


A lot of famous chefs mix together fish and meat products. They make a stuffing of Tapenade that's placed on top of a thin pork or chicken steak. It is then rolled up and baked or simply fried.

There's no shortage of original and extravagant Tapenade variations. Some chefs add mushrooms and even truffles.

Others substitute anchovies with figs and walnuts, while adding balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice. There is also white Tapenade, made from mayonnaise, fresh cream, Pernod and spices. Sometimes the only thing that's left over from the original is the name itself.