Greek Salad

I love salads, especially in the summertime.

And they are so easy, so simple really, but I have found that often, the simplest recipes are the ones which can go the most awry if a careless cook takes “simple” to mean “I don’t need to give this any thought, and so I can just throw it together willy-nilly and it will come out okay.”

It won’t come out okay.

Salads, especially tossed green salads, require the freshest and tastiest ingredients, or else you might as well not take the time and effort to make them and eat them.

For instance, let us look at the often maligned Greek salad. Found on take out menus from gyro huts to pizza places to sub shops, the Greek salad most of us are familiar with is a very sad thing indeed, a pale ghostly imitation of what it could and should be.

Wilted iceberg lettuce freckled with flecks of brown funk mixed indifferently with bottled “Italian” or “Greek” dressing made of some sort of vegetable oil that never saw an olive in its existence, and acetic acid standing in for vinegar is garnished with a couple of tasteless California black olives, some indifferent blobs of briney American feta cheese a few slices of dried out cucumber and a wedge or two of pink, crisp, watery hothouse tomatoe sits in a slimy mess in a take-out container and is a mockery to any good self-respecting salad.

I don’t eat that crap, and I don’t suggest that anyone else should, either.

What makes a salad Greek, according to the lady who made the moussaka I ate a couple of times a week while I was pregnant with Morganna, isn’t the olives, or even the feta, though they help, but the quality of the greens, and the dressing. And she swore to me that she and everyone in her family preferred to make their dressing with nothing but olive oil, lemon juice and salt with a good cranking of black pepper. She said that the lemon was a “sweeter sour” than vinegar, which she claimed was too harsh to go on a salad that was to go with her moussaka. (Some people insist on oregano or mint in the dressing, she said, but she liked it best plain.)

Of course, she also used good greens–romaine, usually, but also butterhead lettuces, and real Kalamata olives, and wonderful feta cheese that was just salty enough, but not too salty. She also used homegrown tomatoes in the season, and crisp cukes, but would also use hothouse tomatoes in the winter. At least she grumbled about them.

So, I pattern my Greek salad after hers–and like her, I prefer my dressing to be very plain. I just use salt, good olive oil and lemon juice in it, and it dresses the mixed greens, fresh homegrown tomatoes, Hungarian hot wax peppers, Kalamatas, cukes and Mt. Vikos feta cheese perfectly.

The recipe for the dressing is so simple, I am going to give it as a formula, not even a recipe. This way, you can scale it to whatever amount you want.

Take 1 part lemon juice and 3 parts good olive oil, and put them into a sealable jar. Shake well to combine. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and shake again. (A part can be any unit of measurement–ounces in weight or volume, or tablespoons or increments of a measuring cup. Just keep your proportions the same no matter what size measure you use so that there is three times more oil than lemon juice, and the dressing will come out beautifully.)

That is it, folks.

As for the salad itself–use a good mixture of excellent, fresh greens, garden fresh vegetables and maybe some minced fresh herbs, and use this simple, delicious salad dressing and you will make an awesome salad.

Add kalamata olives, the rich, ripe purple-black brine cured olives of Greece, and some of the very milky, lightly salty Mt. Vikos brand (or your favorite brand, for that matter) crumbled feta and sprinkle them all over the salad before tossing it, and you have a wee bit of heaven in a bowl.

Eat a large bowl of this alongside a small portion of moussaka, to balance out the saintly food with the sinful.

Besides, they taste really, really good together.


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  1. Barbara, I wonder if the specialty stores’ promotion of artisanal vinegars, and vinegar tastings, and vinegar pairings, has made people forget about other forms of acid as the base for vinaigrette-type dressings. Lemon and orange both make wonderful light dressings for fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, and don’t compete with the sharp flavor of cheeses like feta. Thanks for the reminder about the joys of a true Greek salad!

    Comment by Lydia — September 1, 2006 #

  2. MMmm, so delicious. I’m also a big fan of the Greek salad. (Don’t get me started on a nice Nicoise. Or an old-school Caesar made with farmers market eggs. Mmmm.) I’ll often sub the wrinkly oil-cured olives for the kalamatas, though, which I sometimes find too salty. Or I’ll add a little oil-packed tuna to make it a full meal, in which case I’ll just squeeze a lemon over the whole thing rather than make a dressing.

    It’s so true, though – when everything’s beautiful and in season, you’ve got to make as many salads as possible.

    Comment by Bomboniera — September 1, 2006 #

  3. Here in Florida Tarpon Springs is the local Greek community. Louis Pappas is the Grandaddy of Greek food and the local “Greek Salad” contains all the things you mention, and… in the middle of it, somewhere you will find a lump of potato salad. Very firm, with oregano and wine vinegar usually in the mix. Not the slippery, mustard based kind. A hunk of fresh Greek bread and a glass of anything you like and these salads make the perfect summer meal while sitting next to the sponge docks and waiting for the day to cool down.

    Comment by FatFred — September 1, 2006 #

  4. Funny, I have never had a greek salad with greens. For me it is just: tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper (bell pepper), onion, olives (preferably kalamata), and feta in slices. Olive oil and indeed some oregano. But than every salad has many versions.

    Yours looks yummy, so definetely will try it, as my husband (after eating choriatiki in Greece almost every day) does not want to eat another one for a year.

    Comment by Isis — September 2, 2006 #

  5. Lydia–citrus based dressings are among my favorites, ever. Especially lemon. But, I will not turn my nose up at lime or orange-based dressings, either!

    Sometimes vinegar is too harsh–even the really nice ones. I find that citrus has a lighter, less obtrusive flavor that just opens up the flavors of the vegetables and greens and wakes them up.

    Bomboniera–I agree–some kalamatas are just too salty. But the really excellent ones–the fruity ones–oh, they are divine and to die for! They are just so damned good!

    Hey, FatFred–good to see you here again!

    That potato salad business sounds fabulous, just fabulous. Maybe I should try to recreate it….

    Isis–I suspect the greens are a Greek-American thing, not a Greek thing. And I think they came about in the restaurant business, because greens are cheap compared to the other ingredients.

    But, you know, when it isn’t iceberg lettuce and you use fresh good stuff and the cheese is good and the dressing is fresh and fabulous–man, is it to the good! You should try it!

    Comment by Barbara — September 3, 2006 #

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