I had my first true Greek Salad with a Persian friend. He had an odd name, maybe even by Persian standards. Kamran Manoocherie. I think his first name is the origin of our English name Cameron. I was living in Albuquerque New Mexico at the time and the only Greek restaurant in town made a Greek salad with briny black olives and Feta cheese. It was delicious. Surprisingly, it was at Costco that I found black olives for sale in New Mexico, a place not known for it gourmandaise. So it made all the more sense that Costco would have briny olives. Costco sold them in one-kilogram tubs. So I now had one of the two most important ingredients in a Greek Salad. OK, OK, I hear you . . . a man’s cooking column with a salad recipe? “Come on?” I hear you guys saying . . . but I gotta tell you . . . A Greek Salad is a satisfying meal in the summer. Some pita bread, a beer or glass of wine and you can still move around out in the heat.
Move forward a few years, I still make Greek Salad, even though I now live in Los Angeles. But, I have made one improvement. Rather than break up the Feta Cheese with the tines of a fork and eat the cheese mixed whole into the salad; I mix the Feta with the salad dressing and some hummus. The cheese and hummus cause the dressing to thicken and caress the greens and veggies like Dennis Rodman to Carmen Electra. Ooopppsss! Sorry for that allusion.
It would be a good idea to purchase your black olives and Feta from the same place if that is at all possible. There are some ideas for the types of cheese and olives at the end of this column.
Here is the list of ingredients, including the dressing, which starts out as a common vinaigrette recipe.
Casa del Marco Dressing
½ to ¾ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Teaspoons of Dijon Mustard
1-2 Tablespoons of Wine Vinegar (red, white, sherry, champagne . . . it doesn’t matter which, it should be sharp and tangy)
½ Teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
¼ Teaspoon of Salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and pounded into a pulp with the salt
½ Teaspoon of Oregano, Greek Oregano if you can find it. It is milder than the Mexican variety, which at least, in the Western part of the US is much easier to find
1-2 ounces of Feta Cheese, broken up with a fork, for easy mixing -- If you are friends with a cheese monger, ask him to get some Dodoni Feta. It is the least salty tasting of all the Greek Feta Cheeses, and comes from the largest dairy cooperative in Greece. Fantis is the importer into the US. Or ask them to find it for you on the net at: http://aridjis.com/dodoni
1-2 Tablespoons of Hummus, or more to taste (Freshly made at a Middle Eastern grocer, if possible)
Into a clean, empty, glass jar with a tight fitting lid, mix the mustard and the vinegar. Peel the garlic and chop it with the salt, to help extract all the garlic goodness. Add the garlic-salt to the vinegar. Add ½ a tablespoon of olive oil. Fix the lid and shake like crazy for 60 seconds. Repeat the oil and shake for a similar length of time. Repeat until the oil is emulsified. Which means well mixed. But, if you have a stick blender, just throw all the ingredients in a jar, bring on the stick blender and 30 seconds later, it’s done. I swear by these tools. Cuisinart makes one for about $100, but I’ve seen them at the supermarket for $10 to $20. If you don’t have the stick, once the olive oil is well blended, add the remaining ingredients. Put a cover over the dressing and let it rest on the counter or table for at least 30 minutes before using.
There is no salt in the above, because the Feta has plenty and the garlic got run over with salt, too. If, after the dressing is made, it is not salty enough, add some more of something salty, even salt, if you have eaten all the Feta cheese.
Why do I have you make the dressing first? So that the flavors have time to meld. Are you actually going to measure out the Feta by the ounce? Not likely, dude. Break up a 1” cube. If more crumbles off the block, pop it into your mouth and say: “yummmm”. It would be a good idea to make the dressing in the morning, or the night before you are going to use it.
There is also some prep work for the salad makings as well. I wash my lettuce and then dry it in a salad spinner (see below). Once spun “dry” I put it in an open bag in the ‘fridge, overnight. The cold helps completely dry the lettuce, which if damp, when dressed, doesn’t taste right.
While you are at the store, with your shopping list in hand to buy the ingredients for the dressing, also remember to purchase:
End of Part 1.
Greek Salad with Hummus Vinaigrette
1 head of Iceberg lettuce
1 head of another lettuce – such as red leaf, Romaine, just not another Iceberg
1 cucumber – ask your produce man if they get Persian cucumbers – if they do, buy 4 of them
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 Cup of Kalamata Olives – Taste them, if they are too salty, soak them in water for 20 to 30 minutes before adding to the salad. Fotis and Sons, Importers has the extraordinary Mani Province Kalamata Olive, which has more flavor than any other olive I’ve ever tasted, including the olives of Nice, France.
Tomatoes – here you must buy the most expensive tomatoes you can afford. As they are not cooked and/or have extra ingredients added, they must have as much flavor as possible. They also must point out, by their acidity the flavors of the other ingredients in the salad, and the redder they are, the better they look in the Greek Salad.
1 Red Onion
a package of pita bread, 14 jack if you can find it
do you have some salt? A pound of salt has to be on hand . . . no you won’t use it all for this recipe beer or wine – by wine is meant a rosé
AS A REMINDER TO THE FORGETFUL, OR FOR THOSE COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED IN MAKING SALADS
You won’t be using all the lettuces, or the onion, so if you need plastic wrap or zip-lock bags don’t forget to buy those as well.
Here’s the tricky part of giving this recipe, some markets wash their lettuces and some don’t. If you are the paranoid type, when you get home, wash the lettuce in a colander in the sink. Allow the lettuce to drain the water away thoroughly before putting it in the ‘fridge, at least 30 minutes. If you are serving the salad to your food loving friends, you can probably forgo the washing, after you tear off the outer leaves.
At last, it’s time to put the salad together, this will require about 45 minutes. Don’t get fidgety. Begin by finding a bowl large enough for the amount of people who will be blessed by your service of Greek Salad. Four is a good size for a sporting event. Peel the cucumber, seed it, (say, you did make the dressing already, right? If you forgot, make the dressing before starting on the cucumber). I pray you have a vegetable peeler, but if you don’t try your teeth, or a sharp paring knife. Peel the cuke. Using a spoon, carve out the seeds and discard them. Cut the remaining cuke into ½” cubes. Put the cubes in a colander and sprinkle them with salt. (about 1 tablespoon will do, this is why I reminded you to buy salt) Put the colander in the sink or on plate to drain. They need 30 minutes. Meanwhile, if the lettuces are wet, dry them with paper towels, or in a salad spinner . . . yea, I know, it’s probably not cool for a guy to own a salad spinner, but I own one. Maybe I should do a column on cooking cool versus jerk cool . . .
Returning to the instructions:
Once the lettuce is dry or dry-ish. Tear it by hand into bite size pieces, over the salad bowl. If you make enough salads, eventually you may come to the same conclusion that I have that hand-torn is better then chopped up. At least for “house” and other such salads.
Next, using your vegetable peeler, skin the bell peppers. The skin of these things is hard to digest, when uncooked. They won’t skin perfectly, but a little skin won’t matter, I hope. Cut the peppers into bite size squares, or rectangles or triangles. Whatever shapes you fancy. Toss them into the bowl. Cut the onion in half. Peel off the outer first or second layer of onionskin. Chop the onion into bite size pieces. I would cut them from stem to stem, and then into bite size pieces. Toss into the salad. Core the tomatoes, if you want to be really fancy, peel them as well. Cut them in quarters, over a sieve. Using your tomato shark, or the tip of a paring knife, remove the seeds and the yellowish-green goo into the sieve. Toss the tomato pieces into the bowl. Using a spoon, a wooden spoon would be best, lightly rub the goo, over the salad bowl. Why? Because the goo has some of the best of the tomato flavor. You will only get ½ a Teaspoon or so of this liquid. Discard the seeds. Taste one piece of cucumber. If it is too salty, rinse the remaining cubes, lightly. Shake the colander and add the cukes to the bowl. Toss the salad. Open the tub of olives, and toss a cup of the olives into the bowl. Grab the dressing, and dress the salad. (if the salad wasn’t dressed, why are you looking at it? Are you a pre-vert?) Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat, for 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, using tongs, dish the salad onto salad plates or into salad bowls. Cut the lemon into wedges and serve each guest one wedge in their salad bowl. Once the pan is hot, cut the pita bread in half-moons, heat the pieces, two at a time, and when you have a few heated through, serve them, alongside the Greek salad, with the beer or wine. Tell your guests that the olives have pits, and serve them a napkin to put the pits on. I guess you could pit the olives, but that makes them look bad.
Ahh! Summer! The flavors meld incomparably on the palate.
Oh – don’t forget to wrap up the lettuce and onion. If the weather stays warm, you’ll want to make another Greek Salad before the week is out. Note to self: you’ll probably need to buy more beer or wine and some more of that pita bread, a little more Feta.
End of Part 2.