It’s a common occurrence to find a food made in its homeland significantly more appealing than the neutered counterpart we are served stateside. Pizza comes to mind. All Thai food falls into this realm. Who among us has had a proper fish taco outside of Baja? Well, to my surprise, the Greek Salad is also one of these dishes and I’m amazed that there is actually something more to this dish.
On any menu the LAST, I mean LAST salad I would ever order was the Greek salad. Frankly, I never knew who did. Why was it there? Who was it for? In the US the standard recipe seems to be iceberg lettuce paired with sliced olives, tomato wedges, chopped cucumbers, crumbled feta, onions and sport peppers crowned with a vinaigrette. What’s interesting is that it is not terribly different from the proper version, but subtle differences mean a lot here.
In Greece, the “Greek” salad uses tomatoes as the base. In fact, I’d like to say that the Greek Salad is a tomato salad, first and foremost. Everything else is there to compliment the tomato. They also cut their wedges in half, to make them bite sized without comprising the burst. There is no, or very little, lettuce in a Greek salad. It is very American to require roughage in our salads. Take it away and you have a much more focused offering. Feta comes in a block, topped with some finé herbs, which makes more sense, as you can add as you need. A nice hunk goes well with a tomato bite, rather than a smattering of crumbles randomly accumulated. The olive is one of those things that doesn’t translate well at home. Here they are buttery and light and add a compliment as opposed to a bitter contrast. We’ve mostly seen a variety with wrinkled black skins that are amazing. Include them whole, with the pit.
An important element in the mix is the red onion. Clearly they are using a small, fresh variety here because I am gobbling them up raw and with abandon. At home I often avoid the massive, thick sliced, musky rings pawned in salads. When I shop for onions I always seek farmer’s market treats – small, shiny skin, picked within a few days. You can’t beat the flavor. For this salad, a nice sliver size works best.
I’ve yet to see a sport pepper here, but have universally seen green bell peppers. Now I’m no big fan of the green pepper. I prefer yellow and red for their sweetness and rarely find a use for green. But here it works perfectly. A crispy bite texturally and in flavor, it just makes sense. The dressing tends to be a very light olive oil and lemon or vinegar. Not much needed.
I’m clearly interpreting what I see and giving props to the Greeks for surprising me with simple, clean and sometimes elegant food. In fact, today, we had the best meal so far and one that could hold its own with many in my travels. But that’s the next post. For now, go try to make a proper greek salad and give it some respect.