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???
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…
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.