Normally I'd do 2 salads for this article, but as a big lover of Greek Salad, I have decided not to mess with perfection.
As Nia Vardalos' father character points out in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there are a lot of GREAT things the Greeks have come up with. I don't know if the Greeks came up with Greek Salad or if it just got the name because it's made of popular Greek ingredients; either way, it's a great salad with only a few elements consisting primarily of cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, onion, and if you like 'em, olives. Leave out the feta, onions, and olives and you've got Israeli Salad. Greek Salad makes a tasty side dish, or you can pair it with a good hunk of bread or top it with grilled meat and enjoy it as a meal. If assembled correctly, it also makes a refreshing crowd pleaser at parties, particularly BBQs when you need something light and refreshing to cut through all the heavy grilled protein (I say 'protein' because I know not everyone eats meat).
Here's how you do it
1 English Cucumber - You know those giant cucumbers you see covered in a sleeve of plastic wrap in fruit and grocery stores? Those are English cucumbers. I like them because I find them more refreshing than the warty, tough skinned little guys you also find in the produce section.
IF it's summertime - 1 or 2 Fresh tomatoes, rinsed, cut into 1/4s or finely chopped depending on personal taste OR FOR ANY OTHER TIME OF YEAR - 1 basket or small box of Cherry or Grape Tomatoes - rinsed - I like Cherry and Grape tomatoes because unlike other types of tomatoes that tend to get mealy in texture when the cold weather hits, they stay juicy and sweet year-round.
1/2 a small or medium Onion, thinly sliced and the layers broken up
Black Olives - Optional - to make it easier on yourself and your tasters, get -em already pitted - if you're extra lazy, you can also buy them pre-sliced
Feta Cheese - Feta is a white solid cheese kept in brine that is usually made of goat's milk, though there are varieties made with cow's. I find feta is best bought at the grocery cheese counter (if your store has one) or in small fruit stores or at ethnic grocers, as they tend to have different types like Greek, Bulgarian, and Canadian, and they sell by weight and size rather than a lump sum for small, pathetic looking bricks. Greek feta, while delicious and creamy, is extremely salty. Bulgarian feta is slightly less salty, but it also tends to be dry and less creamy. I find Canadian feta to be the perfect balance of salt and creaminess, but my advice is to try a few varieties of feta and choose the one you like. Many a cheese shop and counter will let you taste the cheese before you buy it.
1 Teaspoon dried Oregano
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Lemon Zest (the outer skin of the lemon) - Optional - I find this adds extra brightness - but it isn't necessary
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil - plus more for drizzling
Salt and Pepper - To Taste
1 Large Bowl - this can be a salad bowl or Mixing Bowl
1 Wooden Spoon
1 Regular Spoon
1 Jar with tight fitting lid or small clean water or soda bottle
1 Cutting Board
Take the plastic off the cucumber, cut the very ends off, and then slice the cucumber in half lengthwise.
Using the regular spoon, scoop the seeds out by running the tip of the spoon down the length of the cucumber, trying to get as little of the cucumber flesh as possible. See the image below. Although the seeds are perfectly edible, I find removing them makes the salad less watery.
Slice the cucumber as thinly as possible and dump it in the bowl with the tomatoes, onion, and olives (if using).
In the jar or bottle, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon zest (if using). Put the lid or cap on and shake well.
Pour your dressing over the vegetables, and toss to coat.
Cut the feta into squares or rectangles and put it on top of the salad.
Drizzle with a little Olive Oil and you're ready to go!
Serves at least 6 as a side dish, or 3 very hungry people as a main course.
Next time I'll be looking at that French classic, Salad Niçoise!
So stick around!
-Samantha R. Gold
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