The Quintessential Greek Salad—Always a Winner

Although I’ve seen many versions of Greek salad on menus in the States, it wasn’t until recently when my husband and I traveled to Greece for the first time that I saw how truly versatile this dish could be. On this side of the Atlantic, this popular salad typically includes a mound of mixed greens tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives, all drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice or other dressings, then sprinkled with crumbled feta. In Athens, and while visiting the islands of Syros and Mykonos in the Aegean, I saw other variations.

At a taverna in Athens, the chef combined the requisite trio of cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives with sliced red onions, then garnished this mélange with a mound of cooked, wilted greens. In a souvlaki eatery in the heart of the city, the Greek salad was topped with a block of feta dusted with herbs and lemon zest. The talented cook at the house we stayed in on Syros, offered Greek salad almost every day, changing the dressings often. He would also cut the feta into cubes and toss them with other salad ingredients or serve the diced cheese separately.

You might say that anything goes with Greek salad, and you’d be right!  When we arrived back home, I couldn’t wait to create my own combo. I used Campari tomatoes which are deep red and flavorful all year long. Pitted Kalamatas, plus cucumber rounds, and thinly sliced green bell peppers completed the mix. For the garnish, I opted for a block of feta sprinkled with oregano and lemon zest for a little dramatic effect, and drizzled everything with a classic lemon and olive oil dressing.

The following recipe serves two for a light lunch or supper, or 3 to 4 as a side, but it can be doubled easily. I found thick pita bread rounds at my local Whole Foods and warmed them to serve with the salad. Although we loved the colorful, simple components, feel free to change or add ingredients as you like. “Make it your own” as my fellow cooking teachers always say. The Greeks certainly do!



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Quintessential Greek Salad

 Lemon Vinaigrette
4 tsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil  

Salad Ingredients
10 to 12 oz Campari tomatoes or ripe plum tomatoes (See cooking tip)
1/2 medium cucumber
1/2 green bell pepper (Cut a whole pepper cut in half lengthwise.)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamatas, or pitted Greek black or green olives or a combination
5 to 6 oz block of feta (See cooking tip)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest

 2 small pita rounds, warmed for serving.

1.For the dressing, place the lemon juice, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a medium salad bowl. Whisk well to combine. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste and add additional lemon juice if desired. (Dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes and whisk well before using.) 

2.Halve the Campari tomatoes and cut into wedges about 3/4 inch thick. With a vegetable peeper, cut and remove alternate lengthwise strips from the cucumber and then cut the cucumber into 1/4- inch slices. Remove and discard membranes and seeds from green pepper. Then cut crosswise into thin, half rings.

3. Place the tomato wedges, cucumber slices, green pepper strips, and olives in a medium salad bowl and toss with half of the dressing. Let stand for 10 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

4.Drizzle salad with just enough of the remaining dressing to coat lightly. (You will have some dressing left over; save for another use.)  Sprinkle the feta with oregano and lemon zest, and then arrange it on top of the salad. Serve salad with pita breads.  

Serves 2 for as a light lunch or supper or 3 to 4 as a side  

Cooking tips: If you can’t find a 5- to 6- oz block of feta, buy an 8-oz one and slice off some of the sides to make it smaller. (Save trimmings for another use.)  

Campari tomatoes work well when homegrown or local ones are not available. When the latter are in season, feel free to use whatever variety you like, including heirlooms. Just be sure to cut them in bite-size wedges or pieces.  

Note: If you are doubling this recipe, you won’t need to double the feta, an 8-ounce block will work fine.  

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2024                              

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