Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Authentic Greek salad

I remember a while back having a discussion with Karen about how to prepare a Greek salad. It's something that people often ask me about, especially after they've tried to recreate this very simple dish at home, only to find it tastes nothing like what they had on holiday.

I've been wanting to do a post about Greek salads for sometime. Luckily, we've had some nice, warm weather recently and I've been inspired to cook Greek, so I took a picture of one of my (hastily prepared) Greek salads to show you what the real thing looks like. You can improve on the looks by chopping and arranging the ingredients more carefully, but this is the basic idea.

First, some things you might not know about Greek salads.

Greek salad or village/rustic salad (horiatiki in Greek) is a summer dish. In Greece, you'd never serve a Greek salad in winter time, the reason being that its ingredients are only in season in the summer, and Greek cuisine is very much seasonal. It has to be, because it relies very heavily on the natural taste of the primary ingredients, since herbs, sauces and spices are rarely and sparingly used.

Greek salad isn't made with lettuce. Ever. Lettuce is in season during winter, so by definition (if you're cooking with seasonal ingredients) you can't have fresh lettuce and fresh tomato in the same dish. Either your tomatoes are grown in a greenhouse and fertilized to within an inch of their lives, or your lettuce has been imported from South Africa. If you see lettuce in your Greek salad, it's because lettuce is cheaper than tomatoes.

Greek salad isn't an appetiser or a main course. It's meant to be eaten as a side dish, shared amongst a group of people.

You need the following ingredients to make an authentic Greek salad for 3-4 people:

2-3 Beef tomatoes - organic, cut in wedges
half a cucumber - peeled and sliced
1 green pepper - sliced
half a white onion - sliced
a handful of black olives
a slice of feta cheese - the best quality you can afford, made with sheep's and goat's milk, not cow's milk
a generous sprinkling of dried oregano
some extra virgin olive oil - best quality

Optional ingredients: capers, lemon juice or vinegar, a tiny amount of fresh parsley.

The most important ingredients are the tomatoes, the feta and the olive oil. If these don't taste like they should, your salad will never taste right.

Prepare the ingredients as outlined above and place them in a big bowl in order: first the tomatoes, then the cucumber, then the pepper and onion, the olives, finally the slab of feta cheese. Sprinkle oregano all over and season with salt, if using. Finally, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Once the salad is at the table, you can break the feta up with a fork. Bon appetit!


Marg, the Sal. said...

Having eaten innumerous Greek-wannabe salades on this side of the Atlantic, I subscribe to this post with hands and feet! Even during my Easter dinner at an otherwise very good restaurant, the salad had lettuce, pepperonchini and dressing instead of plain oil. Argh!

Marg, the Sal. said...

Oh, and I only have one small preparation comment to make. Add the salt before you place the feta slab on. That's something I do with every feta-topped dish to avoid the salt sticking on the already salty feta, and get close to the tomatoes where it ought to be!

Sandi said...

YUM! thanks for the recipe Tinsie, I will definitely try this one at home ;)

Tinsie said...

@ Marg: Good point! I don't use a lot of salt so I tend to sprinkle a small amount around the feta, but otherwise it makes a lot of sense to do it as you're suggesting, salt first, then feta, then oregano and finally olive oil.

I have to say, most Greek salads in London are vaguely authentic, even if the feta is cubed. At least it's easy enough to find the type without the mountains of lettuce.

@ Sandi: My advice to you is: good tomatoes, organic/taste-the-difference feta and Filippo Berio olive oil. You can't go wrong :-)

ShadowFalcon said...

Ok its not lunch yet but this made me so hungry am noting down the ingredients

Karen said...

What a great reminder, Tinsie. I've shopped for the week (although growing children--TM has gained TWO INCHES in two weeks--are creating challenges to my menu), I will add it for next week.

I'll have to go back and look at my salad, but I don't remember green pepper, and I'm certain I used red onion. Did I commit a crime?

Tinsie said...

@ ShadowFalcon: Sorry I made you hungry that early :-)

@ Karen: Put it this way, red onions were virtually unheard of in Greece until fairly recently... and green pepper is a must! But I'm sure no one knew or noticed. Hehe.


Karen said...

I guess I'd better do it right next week!

Tinsie said...

I hope you will show us photos :-)

palmtreefanatic said...

that looks so good!

Tinsie said...

It tastes good too :-)