19 Jun2008

greek3

I have always enjoyed “Greek-style salads,” despite never having visited Greece in my first 43 years on this planet. Yet like Cesar or Caesar Salads, the versions of “Greek Salad” that you get in restaurants vary so much in quality that it is truly a hit and miss proposition. On the “miss” side are versions with watery tomatoes and cucumbers, lousy olive oil, puny amounts of totally crumbled feta, a lack of oregano, and a mushy consistency… Now that I HAVE been to Athens, and in the course of a week tried about 7 different greek-style salads, I think I understand the basic dish and a superior version is no mystery at all… You need superb tomatoes. Very crisp, smaller/thinner cucumbers. You need a hunk of cheese. Fresh or freshly dried oregano, rubbed in one’s palm before being added to the salad to release more of the herb’s aroma. You need mild, thinly sliced red onions and green peppers. Based on the salads I tried, olives may or may not be used (I suspect the saltiness of the cheese often suffices), and a few pickled mildly spicy green peppers are another optional ingredient. Generous amounts of FANTASTIC Greek olive oil and some mild red wine vinegar or a splash of lemon juice and salt and pepper seals the deal. So back at home in Manila, and writing the previous posts on the trip to Greece, I wondered out loud, is this impossible to do in Manila???

greek1

No, not impossible at all. I would only say that if the samples we tasted in Greece were a solid 9-10 on the MM scale, then this salad that I made was a solid 8, and THAT is good enough for me. How did I do it? I hit the markets on a Saturday morning and located the best possible beefsteak tomatoes I could find, made sure they had NEVER been refrigerated, brought them home and ripened them on the kitchen counter for another two days. I also bought a nice hunk of feta cheese from Australia at S&R at the Fort. I purchased the thin slim cucumbers which cost more than the fat limp specimens, and stuck them in the fridge. I also found fresh oregano at Rustan’s grocery in Rockwell. We had red onions, kalamata olives (bottled, unfortunately), olive oil, red wine vinegar and dried oregano… Here’s how to do it as close to the “originals” as possible given these ingredients…

greek2

Peel and slice the thin cucumbers and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut into bite sized pieces and stick in a bowl. Thinly slice one CRISP green pepper (capsicum) and add to the cucumbers and place the bowl in a refrigerator. Place your serving bowl in the refrigerator as well. Next, thinly slice a small red onion, soak it in iced water for at least 30 minutes and drain them on paper towels just before using them. Wash and cut up tomatoes (I like a fairly even mix of tomatoes and cucumbers, and less green peppers and much less onions), remove some of the seeds and chop these up into bite-sized pieces. Minutes before your meal, take your chilled bowl out of the fridge along with the cucumbers and peppers. Toss the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes to mix and place in the serving bowl. Add the sliced onions and some kalamata olives. Generously splash the best olive oil you can afford over this and just a touch of red wine vinegar. Add some salt and freshly round black pepper if desired. Chop up some fresh oregano and sprinkle on the veggies. Add some dried oregano if you like. Add a huge chunk of feta (don’t scrimp) on top, unbroken, and pour more olive oil over than and sprinkle with more oregano. Serve with some good bread and a bottle of white wine. This was so easy to do, and with some attention to the quality of ingredients, it yields a pretty darned good result. And this, in MM’s book, is also perfect diet food, if you need it like I do after a two week trip with non-stop eating… :)

Note: My one error in the salad photographed above is that I cut the green pepper into bite-sized pieces as well… but after reviewing several of my photos from Greece, I realize Greeks slice the green pepper much thinner than this… It is a minor thing that you can easily correct when you make the same salad.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. GayeN says:

    I looove Greek salad! Especially if a generous amount of feta cheese is added…YUM-O! (ala Rachel Ray hehe)

    MM, just a quick question. Aside from S&R & Santi’s where else can I buy cheese – feta, parmesan, etc.? Thanks!

    Jun 19, 2008 | 10:25 pm

     
  2. corrine says:

    What a refreshing salad! Thanks for the recipe! MM, do you know where to buy kalamata olives? I often see them in recipes.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 11:12 pm

     
  3. Angela says:

    Mmmm, that salad looks good!

    Jun 19, 2008 | 11:43 pm

     
  4. Raneli says:

    Yummy salad indeed! You know, thats the question I’ve always asked myself especially when i go out and eat at so called high brow resto here in Manila. You’ve got excellent chefs now all over the city. So many locally grown and imported “foreign” ingredients are now available (like Arugula,for instance). Somehow,They don’t make the cut when served on your plate. Whats this? Sobrang pagtitipid na ba? Yeah, i know people are on the budget now. More so now then ever . But if some dish is really Good and prepared well- There are people who will spend and will pay for it!
    Thats why I do share your sentiments about eating out-sometimes its a rip off !. If one has the energy,the time,the creativity,the budget and the skill to cook even at small attempts..best to cook at home! At the end you get better taste,satisfaction and even more servings to share with. Thanks for the Greek salad recipe. I’m sure my family will love it.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 5:56 am

     
  5. Quillene says:

    Looks wonderful MM!

    although as you say, olives may or may not be part of the salad, I am happy you say this because well, I am not a big fan of olives and at least if I have the budget to try this one of these days… (the tomatoes and cheese have me drooling!) at least I know it is not a big sin not to have olives in the salad… hehehe!!!!

    BTW, were you able to try the moussakka while in greece?

    Jun 20, 2008 | 6:42 am

     
  6. Myra P. says:

    Food pet peeve – “greek salad” tossed with lettuce, which is what you usually get in restaurants. Still haven’t found a resto that serves it authentic; “greek-style” or “inspired” salads more of an accurate description. Is it so hard to leave out the tasteless iceburg lettuce?

    Jun 20, 2008 | 7:10 am

     
  7. chunky says:

    yum, yum, yum, feta! they say that red onions abroad are sweet, while ours is spicy and strong-smelling. so, were you able to get the imported kind or the local one? i could just imagine biting into raw onions and get that “smell” all day long.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 7:14 am

     
  8. AleXena says:

    Ganda Umaga!=)

    The feta cheese look so divine. I never thought that the cheese serves to be the “star” of the Greek salad. All along I thought it was a compliment to the vegetables since most “Greek” salad I tried put only a tiny weenie portion of the cheese, except for Manos.

    Can I take out the green bell pepper? I never liked them in salads sad to say=(

    Thanks a lot MarketMan. Keep the the post on Greek food coming.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 8:41 am

     
  9. Hatari says:

    I don’t remember the complete list of ingredients but I’m sure there were tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and feta in the Greek Salad I tried at the Manos greek restaurant in Tagaytay, along the same row (but the opposite side of) Discovery Suites. The dressing was just right – tart and olive oil-y and the vegetables were very fresh – the best greek salad I’ve had in this side of the world. Thanks for sharing your take on the salad MM.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 8:48 am

     
  10. Apicio says:

    Especially to Raneli

    I adore good restaurants though not gougy ones but let’s not lose sight of the fact that a restaurant is a business and the goal of any business is to make money. On the other hand, the goal of a home cook is to efficiently turn his or her food budget to tasty and nutritious meals. That’s why I suspect that learning to cook well is up there with learning to play a musical instrument among the life skills that one can acquire and develop which can significantly improve one’s enjoyment and quality of life. I see this plain among friends who cannot stand the heat of the kitchen.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 8:55 am

     
  11. zena says:

    Great looking salad! I love salads, diet or not diet for me. Especially the cold crisp ones and i love all of the ingredients here as well, bad breath be damned, hehe. I almost never order salads in resto because they are so not worth the money. Limp veggies, super tipid on the olives, cheese and other protein.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 8:59 am

     
  12. erbie says:

    Yummy…a gastronomical feast indeed…i love the big portion of feta cheese..i’ll save up and try the recipe for myself.thanks MM.:)

    Jun 20, 2008 | 9:04 am

     
  13. Lissa says:

    GayeN, I noticed that the SM Hypermart supermarket along C-5 has a wider selection of cheeses in their chiller compared to other supermarkets I go to. If that fails, you can go to the small deli stand located near the entrance of the same supermarket — there’s a Galileo Enoteca there that has a selection of cheeses and hams. Rustan’s Makati is also a good bet.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 9:13 am

     
  14. Marketman says:

    Lissa and GayeN, yes, many of the larger groceries carry some packaged cheeses including parmesan, mozzarella and feta. I do tend to buy cheese at Galileo, Terry’s, Santis, S&R, and some of the bigger groceries. But here’s a trick I also resort to, if I come home from a trip or have balikbayan relatives, ask them to bring you a hunk of good parmesan cheese. Just wrap in shrink wrap and it stores well in the freezer. It sometimes dries out, but you can moisten it up with a wet paper towel in the fridge overnight. erbie, I figured this recipe cost roughly PHP400 to make (half of that the cheese which you could cut in half to reduce the cost, and it fed 4 easily. So for PHP75-100 per person it was delicious and far cheaper than most restaurants… zena, I’m with you, getting a decent salad in a restaurant is often a challenge, but lately I think things are improving, albeit with a bent towards sweeter ingredients in house salads like fruit or sweet dressings… Apicio, I so completely agree that cooking is a skill that one can acquire and its benefits are huge over one’s lifetime. Not only cost savings, but generally better food… and dinners with friends and family in your home are still far superior than hosting a meal at a restaurant! Hatari, you are right, mano’s does have a nice greek salad. And I believe his family in Greece grows the olives and makes the olive oil that he often uses in the restaurant, hence a NOTICEABLE taste difference… Alexena, I understand your dislike of green pepper, but its flavor is a nice part of the salad…but remove it if you like! Also, you may be used to unfresh or very strongly flavored green peppers, rather the sweetish varieties that are meant to be added… Mrs. MM dislikes green peppers as well. :) chunky, our red onions are strong and pungent. Just soak in chilled water as suggested in the post and it takes the pungency down a notch or two, it really makes a difference. But they still aren’t sweet like the Western ones. Myra, extenders, extenders… I must say that I have seen a few recipes that include the lettuce, but I don’t like it in a greek salad either. Quillene, about half of the salads we tried in Athens had olives, the other half did not, so put what suits you… Raneli, I understand that at most restaurants, food/ingredients costs run roughly 40-45% of the cost of the dish. Remember that every time you eat out. Because for me so many restaurants don’t seem to provide decent value for money… I think it gets eaten up by high mall rents, staff costs, etc. though staff is far less of the equation here than in Western set-ups. These days, with skyrocketing food prices, I think dishes at restaurants will either increase in price, or look a little light… corrine, you can sometimes find kalamata olives bottled and sold in large groceries. But you can also buy them by just 50 or 100 grams at Santis, which I find is more expensive by weight, but you can buy just what you need…

    Jun 20, 2008 | 9:36 am

     
  15. mcdl says:

    Hi, MM!
    I love Greek salad. We grew up always having it since Mom’s a total Med-foodie. In Singapore, we always had access to fresh feta, the kind that comes in brine. Yum!
    Hubby and I, being newlyweds, are cautious about eating out now. With a good selection of recipes (and my, I believe, taste for trying new things), I think we fare well at home. We like to invest in our dining room and kitchen (My hubby is the only guy I know who likes to spend time in Gourdo’s), and so entertaining ourselves and our handful of friends at home is more rewarding than an overpriced meal at a resto. (Of course, during weekends I tend to boycott the cooking, hehehe.)
    Does the taste alter when you use the dried bottled oregano? We got pre-packed and dried spices in a nifty spice rack for our wedding, and it seems a shame to waste them in favor of fresh spices. What do you think?

    Jun 20, 2008 | 12:46 pm

     
  16. lee says:

    Eat this in front of a computer while googling metaphysics and star trek and you have a Geek Salad.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 2:45 pm

     
  17. quiapo says:

    Everytime you order any salad at a restaurant you are performing a serious act of faith. You trust that the salad ingredients will be washed and cleaned in properly sterile conditions. I wonder if that is possible in Manila now with the current deterioration of Sr Carriedo’s gift of a water system in early 19th Century Manila. It appears the water has to be bottled to be sanitary. Secondly, you trust that the vegetables will be at their peak and prepared with the respect they deserve. Hence I never order any restaurant salad when I am in Manila, but enjoy the salads prepared by loving hosts.
    I find that the years of living overseas have deprived me of my acquired resistence to microbes of the Philippines, so perhaps locals can order with impunity and immunity.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 3:04 pm

     
  18. maddie says:

    Thank you for this post MM! This is my favorite salad of all time. And I will definitely attempt this using your recommendations!

    Jun 20, 2008 | 3:20 pm

     
  19. Marketman says:

    quiapo, surprisingly there is a huge improvement in lettuce sources in Manila, mostly hydroponically grown, so less flavor but actually chances are less cooties, I would like to think. lee, hahaha. mcdl, I did a feature on Gourdo’s a few years back… :) And yes, dried bottled oregano can be used as long as it isn’t too old…

    Jun 20, 2008 | 4:35 pm

     
  20. lojet says:

    Alas there is a salmonella warning on tomatoes (Roma and the round ones) here in the US now. The grape tomatoes are deemed to be safe..I like them, they are sweeter and more flavorful than their bigger cousins anyway so i am going to use them. I am guilty of just using bottled Italian dressing on my salads shame on me.

    Jun 21, 2008 | 1:31 am

     
  21. kate says:

    the feta cheese looks divine! i am suddenly hungry again! thank you for the recipe :)

    Jun 21, 2008 | 1:35 am

     
  22. maddie says:

    MM, where could you purchase good, greek olive oil here? are here any at Santi’s or Terry’s?

    Jun 21, 2008 | 10:07 pm

     
  23. Marketman says:

    maddie, I haven’t found any good greek olive oils here… I used to rely on gallon cans sent in by balikbayan box by a sister in NY…

    Jun 22, 2008 | 7:12 am

     
  24. quiapo says:

    I try to use olive oil from Crete when using Greek olive oil, it has a richer, fruitier flavour in extra virgin quality.
    As an aside, I was amazed that in Korea a common dessert is raw cherry tomatos, just popped in the mouth – they dont have a sweet tooth for desserts, which may partly account for their longevity. However I notice many of their barbequr dishes incorporate sugar, as we do in ours.

    Jun 22, 2008 | 7:25 am

     
  25. Anna Banana says:

    I am not too fond of red wine vinegar, can i substitute with freshly squeezed lemon juice?

    Jun 22, 2008 | 10:26 am

     
  26. Marketman says:

    Anna Banana, yes, a spritz of lemon would work…

    Jun 22, 2008 | 4:08 pm

     
  27. Jade186 says:

    Had this today for Sunday lunch, prepared according to your recipe, served with wholemeal bread and white wine. Deliciously refreshing!

    Jun 29, 2008 | 6:49 pm

     
  28. jade186 says:

    It has been over a year since I’ve tried your recipe, and I must say that my Significant Other is very much hooked with this salad – he’s always asking me to prepare it!
    Many thanks MM :)

    Aug 10, 2009 | 2:23 am

     
 

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