Happy New Year everyone! We are starting 2016 with a fresh and healthy recipe: Greek salad!
New year resolution? Not really. Let’s just say that this month will be dedicated to Greek cuisine and we could not visit the culinary heritage of this beautiful Mediterranean country without talking about this emblematic salad.
This year, we will spend more time in each country or region, as we will explore the cuisine of the same country for an entire month. This month, we are starting with Greece. On January 15th will be celebrated the 3rd annual Greek Dinner around the World, an initiative started in 2014 by fellow authors, bloggers, chefs to honor the cuisine of the country. For the past 2 years, people around the world have gathered on January 15th to share Greek food with friends around a table at home or at a restaurant, and we encourage you to do the same.
One of the people who started this initiative is my fellow local blogger Mary Papoulias-Platis, from CaliforniaGreekGirl.com. We are excited to say that Mary also recently accepted to be our new Greek Culinary Expert and will now validate all of our Greek recipes.
But back to our Greek salad or Horiatiki salata (Χωριάτικη Σαλάτα) as it is called in Greece. Horiatiki means “village-style” or “in the peasant manner” and it defines exactly what this salad is all about: simplicity and freshness. Greek Salad however, is not really part of the country’s long established traditional cuisine. Indeed, tomato did not become popular in Greece until the end of the 19th century.
Tomatoes were first brought to Europe from South America by the Conquistadors. The Italians were among the first to include tomato in their cuisine towards the end of the 16th century, but tomato seeds were not introduced to Greece until the early 1800s when the country was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
The first tomatoes were first grown on the island of Syros, then in Santorini, but they only became popular and started to be integrated into Greek recipes that we know today later in the 18th century.
There are a number of versions for this fresh and healthy salad across the Mediterranean countries.
The same salad with the addition of sumac and toasted or fried pita but without cheese is known as fattoush salad in a number of Arab countries.
Turks serve ezme salatası, which is a more finely chopped version of the salad. Ezme salatasi does not include olives and feta but it contains red bell peppers and paprika. It is served as a salad, side or even a condiment.
In Greece, Horiatiki salad is served in tavernas across the country. Although it is fairly similar throughout Greece, there is a variant of the salad served on top of bread in Crete that is called dakos.
Greek salad is very famous outside of Greece, especially in North America. Unfortunately, like a number of traditional recipes such as Niçoise salad, it has been bastardized and nobody really knows what a real Greek salad should look like.
So, let’s get the record straight!
Thanks to Chris Rock, we all know that there is no sex in the Champagne room. None! But now, let me share with you the biggest misconception about Greek salad: there is absolutely no lettuce or any other leafy green in a Greek salad. None! And don’t even try to add parsley or mint. You’ve been warned!
Also, the tomatoes and cucumbers should be cut in fairly large chunks, not small cubes. Absolutely no lemon but olive oil and red wine vinegar instead. You can add green bell peppers, but no red, yellow or orange peppers. There is a reason why it’s not called a rainbow salad! Also, it is a fresh salad, but only dried oregano should be used.
You want to serve pita with it to add a “Mediterranean flair”? Great, but this is not how Greeks eat it. A good old crusty bread will do the trick. And forget about croutons!
We all know that feta cheese is the cheese that is used in Greek salad, but… do not use cubed or crumbled feta. Rather, one large piece or a couple large pieces should be placed on top of the salad. Please don’t take away the pleasure of breaking the large feta chunk into smaller pieces while savoring it!
Also, the salad should hardly be mixed before it is served. Yes, another one of those small pleasures in life is to toss the salad yourself as you’re eating it (and it’s not what you think…)
A Greek salad is easy to assemble but it all comes down to using the best and freshest ingredients, including plump and juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, extra virgin (Greek) olive oil, Kalamata (or Throubes) olives, and Greek dried oregano. I had the chance to use Greek olive oil and Greek black olives from my friend George Menzelos from Arianna Trading Company. You might remember him from the makaronia tou fournou recipe I recently made when stopped in Cyprus in September.
Now, let’s talk about eating traditions when savoring a horiatiki salad. One of them is called papara and it defines the action of dunking a small piece of bread into the oil, vinegar, crumbled feta and vegetable juices while allowing the bread to soak up all these juices before eating it. We do not recommend doing this at a business lunch, but don’t waste this delectable leftover dressing if you’re eating with friends and family!
Bon appetit or shall we say καλή όρεξη everyone!
- 4 tomatoes
- ½ cucumber
- 10 Greek black olives (e.g. Kalamata)
- ½ red onion
- 1 (3 oz.) piece feta
- ½ green bell pepper
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- Cut tomato in wedges.
- Peel cucumber and cut in ½-inch slices (optionally cut in half)
- Thinly slice bell pepper.
- Slice red onion thinly.
- Toss together tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion in a shallow bowl. Add olives on top.
- Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add salt to taste.
- Place a piece of feta on top and sprinkle entire salad with oregano.