An Authentic, Disappears-in-Minutes Greek Salad Recipe
As a child, I spent a couple of summers in Greece, and I remember Greek salad being one of the best foods I ate there. While the meats, potatoes, and moussaka were all a bit too greasy for my taste, the salad was as fresh as can be, made with sheep's milk feta brought down into the seaside town we stayed in on the back of a mule. That same mule would deliver tubs of delicious sheep's milk yogurt to our doorstep early every morning, and other mules were laden down with the reddest tomatoes, sweetest peppers, and so on.
When I order Greek salad in a restaurant, I'm almost always disappointed because it's usually stuffed with cheap lettuce, or it's served with those flavorless, pitted black olives from a tin. An authentic Greek salad recipe worthy of the name should be free of such imposters.
Let's start with the basics: you need high-quality ingredients and the right combination of vegetables, cheese and olives to make a successful Greek salad. Here's what I usually start with:
As you can see, I've got loads of red peppers, some field tomatoes, a couple of thin-skinned cucumers such as English cucumbers (a pound of fresh pickling cucumbers does nicely as well), olives, fresh sheep's milk feta, and a red onion. For the seasoning, nothing but olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme, with an optional garlic clove if you aren't planning to get up close and personal after dinner. The feta in the photo is a modest portion; I usually go for more, but that's all that was left in the fridge by the time I started working on this salad!
Here's what I throw into a Greek salad. Mine get rave reviews and usually disappear within minutes:
- 4 large or 6 medium red bell peppers
- (or combination of red, yellow, orange, and green)
- 3 large or 4 medium field tomatoes
- 2 English cucumbers
- 1/2 a medium sized red onion
- 1 cup Kalamata olives, not from a can
- 1 lb sheep's milk feta (goat or cow's milk is okay too)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt (optional - the feta is often salty enough for the whole salad)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 garlic clove, crushed in a garlic press
- Slice the cucumbers lengthwise, first in half, then slice each half into three long wedges.
- Chop the cucumber wedges into 1" to 1 1/2" lengths.
- Quarter the tomatoes, remove the hard part at the stem and any blemished or soft parts, and cut into cubes about 3/4" to 1" in size.
- Dice the half red onion coarsely into 1/2 inch squares. We use this handy onion storage container to store partial onions in the fridge - when a recipe calls for half an onion, we either pull a half out of the onion storage container, or cut a fresh onion in half and put the extra half in the storage container. This saves us from throwing out a lot of half onions long forgotten in unlabelled containers in the fridge - the onion storage container is pretty easy to spot! For this recipe, we sliced the onion in half and put half of it away for another day.
- Core, seed, and remove any pith from the red peppers. Chop lengthwise into 1 inch strips and then chop each strip into 1 inch squares. (While you can use a mixture of sweet peppers, such as red, orange, and yellow peppers, along with green peppers, keep the green peppers to a minimum - they are essentially unripe peppers and their bitterness can overpower the salad.)
- Drain the feta cheese and pat dry with a paper towel, or let sit in a colander for 5-10 minutes before cutting. Slice the feta cheese into slaps 1/2 inch thick, then cut each slab into squares 1 inch on a side. (In some Greek restaurants you'll find the feta is served crumbled, but I find cutting cubes of it makes it easier, at least for family dining, to take cubes away from people who aren't fond of feta, like my son, and give it to people.
- Assemble the vegetables, olives and cheese in a bowl. In the photo below, the cucumbers are buried below the other ingredients, but will surface once the dressing is mixed in!
- Combine the olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Add in the oregano, freshly ground black pepper, and the salt if using (unless you like your salad salty, don't bother with adding table salt, as the salt from the feta is enough for the whole salad). Stir vigorously and pour over the salad just before serving.
- Toss carefully to avoid breaking up the pieces of feta. Serve with a focaccia, an Italian campesino bread, or a baguette crisped briefly in the oven - we make this into the centerpiece of a vegetarian meal.
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© 2017 Martin