Whenever you are lucky enough to find excellent tomatoes, immediately change the day’s menu to include a Greek salad. Yes, you’ll have to pay for a few other ingredients, but it would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to make one of the most simple and delicious dishes on the planet.
Greek salad is also called horiatiki, meaning village salad. On an English menu, you may also see country salad, rustic salad, or peasant salad. They all refer to a basic recipe of tomatoes, cucumbers, thinly-sliced onions, and olives, with a slice of feta cheese on top. The dressing? The highest quality Extra Virgin Greek olive oil. Maybe some mountain oregano and salt. After that, there are variations…just depends on the cook and what’s in season.
Every celebrity chef tries to take a Greek salad and “improve” it, or messes with the simple dressing, by adding wine vinegar, mustard, or some herb that’s not even used in Greek cooking. Lettuce? Potatoes? Don’t even think about it, even if your favorite Food Channel cook encourages you. Resist!
Greek Salad: As easy as it gets!
No measurements. Just combine the ingredients according to how much you have of each and which ones you want more of.
Tomatoes: Depending on the type and size, cut into chunks. If using cherry or grape tomatoes, cut them in half to release the juice.
Cucumber: No need to seed. Peel or not? That’s up to you…
Onion: Red or white, but slice them thinly. If you decide to chop, that’s okay, too. The pieces shouldn’t be too big.
Olives: Kalamatas are the best, but if you prefer green olives, go for it. Add as many as you want or can afford. Nicoise and Gaeta olives will work, too.
Feta Cheese: Find the blocks and slice them. The crumbles in plastic tubs are terrible. The feta is served on top of the vegetables. You can cut it as you go, or chop it up before you start.
Olive Oil: This is no time to cheap out. Use the very, very best. Extra Virgin Greek olive oil is the obvious choice, but I’ll leave it to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Greek Oregano: Also called mountain oregano, dried oregano is sprinkled in or put on top of the feta slice.
What else? Green bell pepper, maybe a little parsley. Salt, of course. Pepper? Sure! I’m not going to prevent you from adding mozzarella, mint, chickpeas, or capers…but consider trying the basic recipe before going rogue.
IMPORTANT: Greek salad is served at room temperature!
A word about feta cheese…
Cows are expensive to raise in Greece, so authentic feta is made from sheep or goat milk, maybe a combo. It’s an everyday cheese for Greeks, set on the table at meals, and used in a million recipes.
Since 2002, feta has been a protected designation of origin cheese. According to European Union law, only those cheeses produced in a traditional way in particular areas of Greece, which are made from sheep’s milk, or from a mixture of sheep’s and up to 30% of goat’s milk from the same area, can legally be called and sold as “feta.”
For many of us, finding great feta can be a challenge. Specialty markets and grocery stores may carry it. Here are a couple of websites that did taste-testing, to help you locate some that may be available in your local store: Choosing the Best Feta Cheese and 10 Best Feta Cheeses.
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