The following post was originally posted on March 22, 2014 in Stephanie Apostolou’s blog GreekGourmetTastefullyChic.com.
Thank Goodness Spring has sprung….I think? Yesterday, being the first day of Spring has everyone excited about Sunshine and the Outdoors. It especially has everyone craving Cool Crisp Salads! I get more requests for my Classic Greek Salad and my Creamy Greek Yogurt Dressing more than any other salad. As popular as this salad is around the world, I still receive many questions about what ingredients are in an authentic Greek Salad. Many Greek and Non-Greek restaurants sell Greek Salads, but they are not Authentic Greek Salads, they are American-Style Greek Salads. Plus the traditional Greek salad dressing does not include Greek yogurt, just extra virgin Greek olive oil and red wine vinegar.
My love of Greek yogurt, especially Fage has helped my dressing become creamy and delicious. When we were young, Fage was not available so we made it. Yet it was never put in my Mom’s Greek salad dressing. Even today in many Greek households the dressing is not made in advance. It is not pre-made or pre-measured, the olive oil and vinegar are poured free hand and spices tossed in and mixed. I never saw my Mom ever measure, never.
With that said, there are also many variations of the Greek Salad, even in Greece. It changes depending on the island or village you visit and they all are considered authentic. Yet, it is the “Horiatiki” Greek Salad that represents a true salad of Greece. This salad does not include lettuce. In fact the term “Greek Salad” in North American always includes lettuce and unless you go to a very authentic Greek Restaurant you may not find a “Horiatiki” (no lettuce) salad on the menu.
Horiatiki means “in the Peasant Manner” and is often called “Country Salad”, “Village Salad” or “Peasant Salad” depending on the village. A true Horiatiki Salad must have certain ingredients to make it worthy of this name. First, no lettuce and always a green bell pepper, not red or yellow. It should not include croutons, parsley, mint, fresh oregano, yellow onion, black olives and crumbled Feta cheese.
I know you are thinking “What” a Greek salad without feta cheese, black olives, onion and oregano? Don’t worry, of course a Horiatiki Greek Salad includes feta, olives, onion and oregano, but the oregano must be dried Greek oregano not fresh, a red not yellow onion and plump kalamata brined olives, not those little black things that come in a can and have holes in them!! Lastly the feta cheese needs to be one large piece of this delicious salty, hard yet creamy cheese.
The “lettuce style” Greek Salad is still the most popular here in the US, and the variations are endless, some add radishes, anchovies or sardines. In Tampa Bay, Florida it is common to find potato salad on your Greek Salad and in Detroit, beets are served on many of their Greek Salads. Even cold vegetarian dolmades have been known to show up on some Greek Salads!
No matter your preference, the one thing everyone agrees on is that Greek Salads are one of the very best salads and most popular salads around the world. The cravings outrank all others for that combination of crisp fresh flavors, textures and a tastes of the Greek Islands.
The only thing that could possibly make the experience of eating this Greek jewel is a big loaf of crusty bread. If you have a Greek market or bakery close by go in and grab a loaf. If you get there in the morning you will likely get a hot loaf right out of the oven. Unbelievable!! When we were young one of my best memories is going downtown to the Greek store with my sisters and Mom on a Saturday morning. Just the smell when you walk into a Greek or Mediterranean market has you wanting to eat your way through the Greek delicacies that surround you, yum!
As much as we loved the smells and the samples we could not wait for our shopping trip to be over. Not because we didn’t love being there and not because my mother was picky about her purchases’. Definitely not because this market was a huge building that took forever to shop through. In fact most of these specialty markets were tiny little stores wedged in little row homes. What had us girls so restless was the 1 hour, yes 1 hour my Mom spent talking to the store owner after our our purchases. My Mom’s business of shopping and tasting was complete in about 15 minutes. Then it was down to the real business and that was catching up on all the news around the town. Well…as soon as we got in the car with our bag of goodies, my mom would pull out this warm crusty bread, unwrap cheeses and open containers of olives and we would dig in! Oh yes she was driving, and the crumbs from the warm crusty bread were flying everywhere as we filled our bellies on these Greek delights. I guess the ride home was worth the wait, for as much as we tugged on her to get going, we couldn’t wait to do it all again the following week!!
American-Style Greek Salad
- 1 head iceberg (cut in small pieces – I also like a blend of romaine or arugula with mine)
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes (cut in small wedges)
- 1 large cucumber (seeded, peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch pieces)
- 1 green pepper (seeded and slice thin)
- 1 red onion (cut in half and sliced thin)
- 6-8 peperoncini
- 10-12 Kalamata olives (pitted or with pits)
- 1-2 cups feta cheese (good quality, crumbled or in pieces)
Cut up first 5 ingredients, lettuce through red onion. Add peperoncini’s and olives and toss everything together. Then add the Feta and the dressing and toss again. I like to save some of the feta and sprinkle some on the top or you can build this salad and not mix it at all before adding the dressing. If you want the OOH AHH (not sure about that spelling, but the feeling is there, lol), you can place all the ingredients on top of the lettuce for a beautiful display. In fact most restaurants serve it this way and you mix it together yourself. The dressing is usually served on the side as well.
Greek Yogurt Salad Dressing
- 1 cup Greek yogurt (if not homemade, then Fage)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (half a large lemon)
- 2 tbsp. dried Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp. black pepper (or fresh ground better yet!)
- 2 tsp. granulated garlic
- 2 tsp. salt (sea salt is the best)
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
If you have a container of homemade Greek yogurt or Fage and you think there is about 1 cup left in there you are in luck. You can use this container to make and store the dressing if you have an emersion blender or a strong arm and a wire whisk. If not, measure out one cup of yogurt and you will be able to use a blender or cuisinart as well. Add all of the ingredients from yogurt to sea salt in whatever you are using as a blending method. Mix very well to incorporate all ingredients until they are emulsified. Then slowly add the olive oil and continue blending until you have a creamy smooth dressing. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, I like extra pepper. It will not be very thick, if you like a real thick dressing add more olive oil and adjust spices. You can double the recipe and keep it in frig for several days.
Now the classic “no lettuce” Horiatiki Salad. When I was in Greece I noticed that the tomatoes and cucumbers were cut into big chunks. Yet the green pepper and red onion were cut paper thin. The waiter told me that the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and crisp cucumber should not be lost under the very strong flavors of the green pepper and red onion. A balance if you will, providing the ultimate flavor of this salad. Also, I was never served pitted kalamata olives, which I have to say I have become quite fond of. In Greece the kalamata olives were big and plump and worth eating around the seed to get every bit of it. I have a bit of legal advice for you if you have ever eaten a Greek salad and bit down on a Kalamata olive pit. I saw on Judge Judy a case involving a customer that was suing a Greek Restaurant because she bit down on an olive and broke her tooth on the pit. Judge Judy asked that customer if she knew what went into a Greek Salad before reading the menu. The customer said yes she had eaten many Greek salads, then Judge Judy read her the riot act and told her the pit in the olive is to be expected that all Greek Salads have olives with pits. She ruled in favor of the Greek Restaurant, go Judge Judy, haha! Ok, now for tomatoes, in the winter it is hard to find great tomatoes, I have found that some of the vine or grape tomatoes are very sweet during the winter months and are an ok substitute. If you knew my Mom, she would tell you that no tomato is better than a “Jersey Tomato”. She was raised in Philly and a trip to the Jersey shore to get tomatoes was not a problem. Of course that is just one more thing she missed when we moved to Baltimore. Now it is time Jersey tomatoes or not, pitted kalamata olives or not, here is a great Horiatiki salad!
- 6 vine ripe sweet tomatoes ( cut in thick chunks or wedges)
- 1 large cucumber (I like the English cucumbers, their skin is thin and no need to peel)
- 1 med red onion (sliced paper thin)
- 1 large green pepper (seeded and sliced paper thin)
- 10 kalamata olives (I like pitted)
- 1 large 1/4 inch slice of good Greek Feta
- 1-2 tbsp. good dried Greek oregano (be generous)
- Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients except Feta cheese in a bowl, then sprinkle half of oregano all over the top with salt and pepper. Drizzle about 1/2 to 3/4 cups Greek olive oil and about 1/8 cup red wine vinegar and toss well but gently. Top with the Feta and the remaining oregano and a quick drizzle of olive oil. You are all set, just don’t forget the bread because this salad will make the most amazing juice that you will just have to dip your bread in to get every drop!
Remember for Lent, top either of these salads with a nice piece of broiled Salmon or other fish that has been topped with fresh parsley and Dill, perfect! Hope you enjoy!