An authentic Greek Salad is a revel in summer flavors. Sweet, tart tomatoes, floral cucumbers, and piquant peppers countered by creamy feta and succulent olives. Lacking the adornment of dressing, it relies completely upon your ability to select the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. If you’re not already familiar with your local farmers market, consider this an opportunity to change that.
Speaking of markets, if you live near any significant population of Greeks, seek out their supermarket and get your feta and olives there. Supermarket specimens of each will do, but they lack a certain something. Here in Los Angeles, I stock my Greek pantry at Papa Cristo’s.
In lieu of dressing, have your favorite unfiltered olive oil and red wine vinegar at hand as well as a bit of salt. But use them only on what’s on your plate, and sparingly at that. The idea is to enjoy each bite as an individual celebration of the vegetable. It’s all very Spartan, I’m sure.
This recipe serves four as part of a larger spread, two if just accompanied by bread and wine.
1 large, ripe tomato
3 Persian cucumbers
1 ripe bell pepper of any color
3 – 5 thick slices of sheep’s milk feta
8 – 12 brine cured Kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Greek oregano
Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Trim white parts off of scallions and cut lengthwise into quarters. Thinly slice the green part of the scallion into rings. Lay the majority of the cucumbers at the bottom of a wide bowl and scatter over the scallion greens. Cover with tomatoes, then peppers. Scatter remaining cucumbers around the outer edge and lay on the quartered scallion whites. Scatter olives at the center of the salad and then lay on the planks of feta. Sprinkle over the oregano and eat!
This salad can be made up to three hours ahead and held in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Wait to add the cheese, olives, and oregano until just before serving.
There’s nothing Grandma Kay didn’t braise in this ubiquitous punchy, herbal Greek tomato sauce. If the technique is new to you, think of it as stewing – low heat and flavorful liquid. In my own kitchen, as in Greece, I find the ultimate marriage to be with creamy white beans. Garbanzos are the path to maximum bean bliss, but lima and great northern won’t ruin Christmas.
Regardless of your bean choice, for the love of all that is good and right in this world, please use freshly cooked beans. I employ a Fagor pressure cooker to fulfill my leguminous whims. Canned beans hurt my feelings. Cooking them the old fashioned way is an afternoon you’re not getting back. But the pressure cooker gets you from bean-shaped rocks to dinner in under an hour, usually more like 30 minutes. You know that’s something you want in on.
Depending on your willpower, you can serve these beans in a variety of ways. Straight up with rice or toast. Chilled as a hearty summer salad. Or reheated and lightly mashed into a cast iron skillet with a couple of eggs cracked on top and some Cholula. Whatever’s clever.
This recipe yields enough for four as an entree.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 small onions, halved and sliced
a heavy pinch of cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano, finely ground
2 tbsp tomato paste
a glug of dry red wine
2 1/2 cups dried garbanzos (about five cooked), cooked to al dente with plenty of salt
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper
Cook the onions over medium low with olive oil and a heavy pinch of salt until golden and lightly caramelized. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns brick red.
Add cinnamon and oregano and cook for a minute, continuing to stir. Add wine and stir to loosen tomato paste, then add beans, diced tomatoes (and their juice!), and garlic powder. Stir well to incorporate. With lid on pot, raise heat to medium-high and stir every five minutes until bubbling vigorously.
Reduce heat to low and taste for salt and pepper. Amend as needed. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes with lid off, stirring about every five minutes, until sauce thickens and beans become creamily tender. The beans will take up salt quite quickly at this point, so taste for seasoning every time you stir.