Greek salad is a kind of lesson for us that less is more. Trying to impress our guests on food tours with elaborate Greek recipes and techniques, when all they long for is – what we take for granted: a fresh, juicy tomato with drizzles of great Greek olive oil to make them fly in culinary heaven!
Greek salad is the quintessence of simple Mediterranean cuisine, prepared by thousands of households in their Greek kitchens using only the freshest ingredients.
Its name in Greek is “Horiatiki” => Village salad, but Greek villages are not its birthplace. The story has it that our national salad was invented by restaurant owners in Athens who wanted to charge customers more during the rise of tourism in Greece. As the price of a regular tomato-cucumber salad was controlled by the government, adding a block of feta gave them more freedom to charge as they pleased.
This colourful salad is best enjoyed in season, spring to fall. It’s then when farmers’ markets – “laiki” as called in Greece – abound with ripe tomatoes, snappy cucumbers and crisp bell peppers. Add to them a few sharp red onions, briny Kalamata olives and tangy feta to celebrate a plethora of Greek flavours and textures in your bowl.
Traditional Greek salad recipe
* 1 big juicy tomato or two smaller, cut into irregular wedges
* 1 cucumber, peeled, sliced (1 cm)
* 1 green bell pepper, cut in half and then sliced (1 cm)
* ½ red onion, thinly sliced
* ~ 8-10 Kalamata olives, with the pit
* ~ 100g of feta (not in crumbles)
* 1 tsp dried oregano
* 4 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil
* 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
* a pinch of salt
Chop the cucumbers, peppers and onions and place them into a bowl. Cut the tomatoes, first in half and then irregular wedges on top of the bowl, so as not to lose any of their juice. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt and oregano. Mix.
Add the feta and drizzle some more olive oil and oregano on top.
Don’t leave before you know:
* On behalf of all Greeks, pleeease stop adding lettuce in your Greek salad. This practice started in the ‘60s in Greek US restaurants to better suit the taste of their American clientelle. Lettuce, we love you, but there’s no place for you in here!
* Pick the juiciest, ruby-red tomatoes. As a twist, maybe a few cherry tomatoes to add colour – or if it’s wintertime and you desperately crave Greek salad.
* Feta 101: Feta is the Greek white cheese made from sheep’s (or part goat’s) milk aged in brine, making us some of the biggest cheese-eaters in Europe. Whatever else you find in the supermarket, labeled Greek-style, is not the real thing and has not the same taste. Don’t buy crumbled feta of inferior quality but in a block. The time to cut it in smaller pieces is when you serve your Greek salad.
* Use only top quality extra virgin olive oil for your Greek dressing. Now it’s the time to show what you’ve got! Fetch from your pantry the best, whether cold pressed, unfiltered, organic, early-harvested etc.
And one last thing: When a Greek recipe calls for a bit of olive oil, we mean you finish off a 1 lt bottle on top of your food. Exaggeration (maybe?), but you get the idea – don’t skimp on the olive oil.
* Oregano. Try to find hand-picked, wild oregano (from Greek mountains if possible), shade-dried and stored in good condition. It really does make a difference. Rub the oregano gently between your fingers and the warmth of your hands will release its essential oils.
* Kalamata olives. Buy them with their stones. Pitted Kalamata olives lose their firmness quickly and become very saggy. If the feta and olives you find are very salty, add less salt in your salad.
* Do it the islander way: Greek islands are full of capers, so there Greek salads are garnished with beautiful caper buds, leaves and berries, try it out!
* Last but not least. Serve Greek salad with bread or, even better, rusks, crackers, croutons, anything crunchy that can be dunked in the juice at the bottom. Greeks even have a word for it, they call it “papara” and it encompasses all the deliciousness of the Greek salad for a grand finale with your own piece of glory.