Today’s the first day of summer, so we’re celebrating with one of the best summer salads on the planet: Greek Salad. This is the typical salad that Susan had during her visits in Greece, perhaps to the surprise of those of us who are expecting some variety of leafy green lettuces, olives, and so on. Instead, like many authentic dishes, it is made with a select few ingredients, picked fresh when they’re bursting with flavor and served within minutes so you can taste every nuance.
Now, I’m sure that you’ve wandered down those aisles in the supermarket where the “salad dressings” are housed. We like to call those the non-food aisles, because there is little there that we would consider food. And, you probably spotted, and perhaps even bought, a bottle of “Greek” salad dressing. But, we’ll tell you that if you showed the list of ingredients to a yiayia (a Greek grandmother) she would just shake her head in despair and say “That’s not Greek! That’s skoupídia! (trash — thanks, Google translate!)” So, together, let’s try to make a salad that would make a yiayia happy.
Look at that minimal number of ingredients and think to yourself, how will this taste the best? By getting the best, of course! Ideally, these are tomatoes that you’ve just picked from the backyard, same for the cucumber and basil (and, if you have fresh oregano, pick that, too). And, remember, never refrigerate tomatoes; the cell walls will break down, making the tomatoes mushy and decreasing the flavor. Failing that, head out to the farmers’ market and get the best you can find. The olive oil is true Extra-Virgin, so that it will have a peppery-olive flavor. Feta cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk is the best and most authentic choice; we’re lucky to get an artisan feta direct from our cheesemaker.
Procedure in detail:
Slice cucumber. Peel the cucumber, especially if the peels are bitter or coated in wax. Slice in half length-wise and cut each piece into 1/4-inch thick half-moons. Divide between two salad bowls.
Slice tomatoes. Slice each tomato into eight wedges. If it’s a larger tomato, you can get a few more wedges out of it, but try to keep the wedge shape. Place on top cucumbers in the bowls.
Cube cheese. The cheese really isn’t cut into cubes, but more the shape of a brick with a square cross-section. Yeah, we know that we are getting pretty specific, but all of this is easy to do, and helps your salad look the best it can. Distribute, trying not to crumble, between salads.
Chiffonade basil. Take about half the leaves, place them together, roll them up so they look like a little cigar, and cut cross-wise to make very thin strands. Sprinkle over salad. Place remaining basil leaves on salad in an aesthetically pleasing way. Remember, your yiayia is watching.
Add oregano. Apply just a light sprinkle of the dried oregano. It’s a strong-tasting herb and you don’t want it to overpower the other flavors.
Drizzle with olive oil. Yep, just olive oil; no vinegar, no lemon, just olive oil. We suggest about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons for each bowl, but you know how much you like.
Serve immediately. Do not set this salad aside to wait for the rest of whatever you are having. Serve it now! Add a quartered pita bread around the edge and call it a light meal. That’s what we did.
With the best ingredients, this salad rocks! The tangy-ness of the tomato is tempered by the oil and the slight blandness of the cucumber; it also has the well-deserved classic combination of flavors, tomato and basil. Looking at the ingredients, you can see that this is truly an authentic salad — easily predating the time when our food was shipped across the globe, and long before producers were adding xanthan gum to anything — since each of these ingredients peaks in flavor at the same time. The goats will be producing milk, the tomato plants will be loaded down with fruit, cucumbers, cool and crisp waiting to be picked, along with huge stands of fresh basil. Only the olive oil might be stored from last year’s pressing. When you went all the way and got those super-fresh ingredients for this salad, your yiayia was smiling; she knew it would be authentic. Five stars!