Olives are an integral part of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern life. They area as basic a staple as bread (hence the expression of friendship: I ate bread and olives with him.) And the olive branch is the eternal symbol of peace. There are dozens of varieties of olives from which to choose, from the famous Kalamata to the salty oil-cured. Some are named by place, others by type. Some are brine-cured, some are steeped in vinegar, others are cured with salt, and still others are stuffed. They are available whole, pitted, and sliced. Most are all natural - unlike other foreign and domestic varieties that are processed with lye and other chemicals. All have a distinctive, unparalleled flavor and come loaded with the antioxidant vitamin E. Though all olives are ready to serve, they can also be dressed in a simple marinade. Just add your own creative blend of herbs, spices and any choice of ingredients. The perfect finger food, olives are most often used for salads, appetizers and snacks. However, they also make excellent cooking ingredients, lending tangy flavor and richness to stews, sauces and a multitude of other dishes.