Sunday, May 9, 2010

Perfect Greek Salad

Greek food is the perfect example of why less is more and why the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference in the world. Last week after watching an episode of “The Best thing I Ever Ate,” my husband asked me what my favorite dish was, and the things that came to mind were sea urchin, octopus, tomatoes and fondue. It was an interesting exercise in self-examination, because I realized that my favorite dishes are often the simplest. One of my other favorite things to eat is a Greek salad. Not the one you get at diners or your average Greek restaurant, but the one they serve in Greece. The simple one, the one without radishes, anchovies, dolmades or lettuce. Yes, lettuce, you heard me correctly, there is NO Lettuce in a Greek salad.

Now don’t get me wrong, Greeks like lettuce and in fact we have many salads and dishes with leafy Greens. It is just that lettuce has no place in a classic Greek salad. I have pondered why lettuce appears in the Greek salad west of the Atlantic and have come to two conclusions. First, lettuce helps to keep costs down since it acts as filler and two, restaurant owners were probably afraid that if lettuce wasn’t present, customers wouldn’t think it was an actual salad. You would think that something as simple as a Greek salad would not need a lengthy post or recipe, but I can assure you that other than in Greece, there are very few places where I can get a decent Greek salad.

What makes this salad difficult is finding the right ingredients. Your tomatoes need to be perfectly ripe, your olive oil needs to be the best and your black olives cannot come out of a can. Kalamatas are preferable, but I have gotten away with Nicoise. In Greece you can order either a tomato-cucumber salad (Anguro-Tomata) or Greek village salad (Horiatiki). The difference is that the latter has cheese and olives, but other than that they are the same.

Greek Village Salad a.k.a The Greek Salad

2-3 super ripe tomatoes cut into eights

½ an English or seedless cucumber halved, then sliced

½ small red onion sliced

4 oz Feta either crumbled or in a large slice on top (omit Feta to make this a vegan entree or side)

10-15 Kalamata olives, depending on your taste and the size of the olives.*

1/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup vinegar (I like a lot of vinegar which will add to the

dipping experience which is described below)

1 tsp Greek or Mexican oregano

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, black olives, salt, pepper, ½ of the oregano, olive oil and vinegar to a serving bowl and toss. Top with feta and add the remaining oregano on top.

*My grandmother also will include thinly slices light green peppers if they are available.

Serves four as a side or 2 as a main.

Serve with crusty bread, which you can dip in the juices that collect in the bottom of the bowl. This is not rude and considered proper form at the dinner table. In fact we frequently eat out of the same bowl and don’t bother to serve the salad on individual plates.

For a variety of bargain-priced, quality feta, olive oil, olives and oregano, go to Titan Foods in Astoria ( When I lived in Miami I used to ship from them and even with the shipping included it was still cheaper than buying local. If you are feeling adventurous and want to try other Greek products, feel free to email me for other recommendations on what to buy.



Peter M said...

Katerina. thank you for your kind words and comment on my blog. Looking forward to more of your dishes and stories.


astrid said...

Too bad tomatoes here don't taste nearly as good as the ones there...

Food Advokat said...

True! I almost wrote a paragraph on the tomatoes but then I realized it was going on for too long. Farmers market in the summer has pretty good tomatoes which give the ones in Greece a run for their money.

Food Advokat said...

Thank you Peter for the support! K

Anonymous said...

yeah, made this and it was great. just bloody delicious.

Devaki said...

Dear Katerina - I am so glad you gave me a shout on my blog because if you hadn't I would not have found your blog & I would have sorely missed all of this delightful food you are cooking up here!

I am in fact determined to make some of your spanikopita and Greek salad for Jain friends visiting next week. The only kicker, they can't eat onions or eggs (and no meat of course).

So please can you tell me if I can make spanikopita as a pie without the eggs??? Or am I better off making them as triangles?


Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

Food Advokat said...

Devaki, thank you for your kind words. You can certainly make the spanakopita without eggs and I have even made them vegan without eggs or cheese. To make vegan ones I add a little nutritional yeast and lemon juice for flavor. I would suggest making them in triangles (although you don't have to) since the eggs help to bind. Greeks fast throughout the year so contrary to popular belief many dishes are vegetarian and vegan friendly. You can also add scallions instead of onions, but I assume (I do not know much about the Jain dietary restrictions) that is not allowed either. Funny enough last year when I was in the grocery I bumped into a shopper who was Jain and was making spanakopita for dinner! I had to warn him about defrosting the phyllo before hand but he seemed excited to try the dish. I am sure your friends will love it! I look forward to future exchanges. I am new to this, but have been cooking and taking pictures for many years.



Anna said...

Oh Boy, I miss that market in Astoria, they have the best feta cheese ever. I'm looking for a place similar here in LA and so far nothing can be compared. Have you tried the Greek salad at Cafe Mogador in the East Village? It's awesome, very yummy. Your salad looks beautiful.

Food Advokat said...

Ana, thanks for the comment! I have not been to that restaurant. Will check it out! I say ship in from Titan Foods!

Unknown said...

OMG, I agree so much about the letucce in the salad. I do not get it. That said, I discovered that at our greek restaurant (Bahari) if I specify that I dont want lettuce, I get the classic greek salad :-)
To add to your conversation with Devaki :-), I make my spinach pie without eggs, but I prepare a mixure of thinly sliced spinach, very thinly sliced leeks (as they are mild in flavor) and an entire bunch of dill. You can also add other leafy greens, in Greece I have had pies with at least 3 different greens mixed together. I do add a bit of cheese, as I never add salt and the feta adds that salty flavor. I bought some amazing black baking pans last weekend Katerina for making small pies for MH and SH. You have to come one day and try my meat pie, made with my own phillo dough :-)