Saturday, 9 June 2012

Greek Salad

One of the bitterest disappointments I've ever experienced in the realm of mediocre restaurant food is Greek salad. After ordering it twice (at different restaurants, too!) and landing myself a plate full of lettuce and shredded carrots, with two or three olives and a few pathetic flakes of feta cheese, I learned my lesson; when I want Greek salad (also known as horiatiki salata, meaning "country salad"), I make it at home!

A couple of summers ago, the intense heat led my mother and I to create a Sunday night ritual: I'd go over to her place, we'd make a gargantuan bowl of Greek salad and stuff our faces watching "True Blood" and drinking ice-cold white wine. Good times! It is our ritualistic recipe I'll be sharing today. I can't guarantee the authenticity, but I can promise you it contains no boring lettuce and carrot filler (a crime against good Greek salad committed by Americans).

Greek salad is made to be very refreshing; that country enjoys the kind of weather which requires cooling food and lots of long naps. Needless to say that very fresh and crisp ingredients are key to a great Greek salad. Crunchy, cool cucumbers, ripe tomatoes bursting with flavor, piquant red onions and the briny taste of lots of feta and Kalamata olives, the ensemble drizzled in fruity oil and lemon juice. That's what fresh summer food is all about!

One should be very generous with the feta and olives when making a Greek salad, since it's a defining feature of the dish. My mom and I love both, so we tend to go a little crazy... Some people add green bell peppers to it. If that's your thing, simply julienne your pepper and add to the bowl. I skip the bell peppers because I find they don't really add anything to this vegetable equation of awesomeness, but that's just me.

I like to keep the dressing very simple because I want the veggies' flavors to really shine through (fresh, ripe vegetables are supposed to taste great without any fuss; if they don't, there is a big problem), but this is one recipe where there is absolutely no excuse to not use cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. If you can find some that's imported from Greece, kudos! Drizzle the colorful mix with the liquid gold, a hint of red wine vinegar and some lemon juice and you are good to go!

This recipe serves 4, unless you are as voracious as my mother and I are. It's also a fail-proof crowd-pleaser, so if you are bringing it to a pot-luck or barbecue, double the quantities.

2 cucumbers, cut into thin half-moons
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 medium red onion, cut into thin rings
1 to 1 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
1 to 1 1/2 cup feta cheese, cubed
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
2 lemons, juiced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt and ground pepper

Cut up all the vegetables and put them in a large bowl with the olives and the feta. Toss to mix well. In a small bowl, pour about 4 tablespoons of olive oil, add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, the lemon juice, the chopped garlic and the oregano. Blend vigorously. Divide the salad in serving bowls, drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with a few crushes of sea salt and pepper.

I could live off this beautifully colorful salad when it's hot and sunny outside. It makes a great light meal, paired with a piece of bread and some hummus, or a refreshing side to grilled meats. Dry white wine is great with Greek salad, but it also goes perfectly with cold light beers.

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