How To Use Kalamata Olives As A Plant-Based Substitute For Sardines

As vegetarian and vegan lifestyles continue to grow, so, too, does the evolution of plant-based meat, fish, and dairy substitutes. While the plant-based meat industry encompasses countless brands of meatless burgers, faux bacon, yogurts, cheese, and sausage with elaborate lists of ingredients, there are plenty of natural, single-ingredient alternatives. A case in point is the Kalamata olive swap for sardines.

A globally beloved Mediterranean staple, Kalamata olives provide an intense burst of salty umami flavor and a chewy, meaty texture. While the umami flavor errs more on the earthy, red-meat end of the spectrum, their salty and umami-forward profile mirrors that of sardines perfectly. Furthermore, the Mediterranean is not only the birthplace of Kalamata olives, but it's also where canned sardines were first popularized. The overlapping origins of the two ingredients facilitate the swap as sardines and Kalamata olives are both common additions to dozens of Mediterranean recipes, sometimes in tandem.

As a substitute for sardines, Kalamata olives provide a hefty, chewy texture that you can use to replace large pieces of fish. You can also break the olives down into a diced tapenade to stir into sauces or oils the same way that you can mash canned sardines into them. Kalamata olives are preserved in brine, which might be saltier than oil-packed sardines. Consequently, you can temper their saltiness by blending them with olive oil or butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. You can also use a smaller proportion of Kalamata olives to sardines when making the swap.

The best recipes for Kalamata olive and sardine swaps

Because both sardines and Kalamata olives are Mediterranean staples, sardine recipes from Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, and Morocco are ideal for a seamless swap. If you're looking for substitutes for whole sardines, add halved and pitted Kalamata olives to Italian marinara sauce to serve over spaghetti, or in a fra diavolo sauce with tomatoes, onion, red pepper, and garlic. 

For a twist on the Sardinian pasta con le sarde, roughly chop Kalamata olives and mix them with toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese to serve over bucatini pasta. You can also eat Kalamata olives on ciabatta, focaccia, or crostini over a creamy foundation of cream cheese with sweet pickled chili peppers, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of dill, oregano, and red pepper flakes. They'd also add a meaty chew and umami complement to fresh tomato bruschetta. 

If you're looking for a plant-based alternative to fish cakes, dice and blend Kalamata olives with Veganaise or vegan sour cream with cumin, paprika, fennel, and cayenne pepper to incorporate them into potato or zucchini fritters. You can also create an herbaceous sherry vinegar and lemon Kalamata olive tapenade for sandwiches and pizza that you want to enhance with the same savory, salty zing as marinated sardines. Of course, the most obvious application for the swap would be a crisp, refreshing salad with a lemon vinaigrette or oregano-infused Greek dressing.