I suppose this would tell you something about my personality, but sometimes I eat the same thing every day for weeks on end. A few months ago it was steamed mussels whenever I could find them. Before that it was a sushi kick. Recently we discovered a little coffee shop in East Hampton owned by a Greek family and I rediscovered the Greek Salad which became my new obsession. The Greek salad is a pretty simple, fresh dish that represents Mediterranean cuisine at its best. Healthy, refreshing and balanced, every bite of what the Greeks call “horiatiki salata” invites a sensation — be it the saltiness of the olives and feta cheese, the sweetness and acid of the tomatoes, the bite of the onions, the richness of olive oil or the herbaceousness of Greek oregano. Add to that the vibrancy of the ingredients’ colors, the contrasting textures and the fact that the salad requires so little to put together, and the sum total is addictive.
Naturally, my quest for the perfect ingredients ensued. The most critical to a truly great Greek Salad is high quality olive oil, red wine vinegar, feta cheese, kalamata olives and Greek oregano. One item most everyone agrees does not belong in an authentic Greek salad is lettuce. However, I think that it is perfectly fine to have lettuce in a Greek salad.
After a little investigation, I found an olive oil made by Lakonia, an extra-virgin olive oil made from kalamata olives grown in the Lakonia region of Greece, and is considered some of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil in the world. The taste is velvety with a peppery finish. Lakonia is family owned and their products are very difficult to find, so I ordered it online at www.lakoniagreekproducts.com. Lakonia products include delicious Greek Infusions, Greek Olives, and Greek Oregano. After tasting all of their products I can truly say you won’t find anything better.
I am a red wine vinegar snob. The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills makes their own red wine vinegar aged in a wood cask and it has a deep and rich flavor and is a beautiful garnet color. The secret to great red wine vinegar is the quality of the wine that is used. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavor. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than white or cider vinegars. There are very good red wine vinegars that you can buy online. One that I would recommend is made by Delouis Fils. The house of Delouis was founded in 1885, with the purchase of a vinegar factory in Limoges, France, and they have produced high quality vinegar products ever since. Based on a tradition of “Natural Quality”, that is no additives, preservative or artificial flavors aggregated, Delouis produces some of the finest vinegars out in the market today. Delouis Fils red wine vinegar is distilled from the finest red wines available, and bottled after being aged in casks to produce a high-quality, fresh, and perfumed condiment. It might cost a little more than the grocery store brands, but it is well worth it.
If you are a Greek Salad purest, feta is the crowning glory of a Greek salad, its quality makes all the difference. If you have a good cheese store near you, it is always a good to try a couple of different feta to see what appeals to you. There are a few good brands in your local grocery that would work just fine. Fage makes a feta that has a bright, lemony flavor without too much salt with a moist and creamy texture, yet firm and crumbly. Athenos feta comes in a chunk and has a sophisticated, aged flavor and is slightly drier. I look at it this way, sometimes you have to try on a lot of shoes to find the perfect pair, the same applies to feta and your personal taste.
There are a lot of good kalamata olives available today. There are two types, kalamatas in a brine and kalamatas in olive oil. Either are fine.
Lastly, Greek oregano. Oregano was quite obscure in this country until after World War II. Returning GIs wanted their wives to make pizza, which they had grown so fond of overseas. Oregano was a key flavor note. This one dish actually caused the sales of oregano in this country to increase 5000%! Greek oregano has a bright, sweet flavor with clean, lemony overtones. Lakonia has a wonderful Wild Greek Oregano that is robust and distinctive. Its leaves contain more oil glands than ordinary oregano giving it the potent and pungent flavor of the Mediterranean. The Spice House has a very good Greek Oregano as well.
There are many different recipes for the classic Horiatiki salad, but I’ve put my own twist on my version. Have a loaf of hot crusty bread to sop up the tasty dressing. Apoláf̱ste (enjoy)!
Not So Classic Horiatiki – Serves 6
2 pints cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 English (seedless) cucumber cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
5 radishes, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded if you like, cut into thin slices
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 8 oz. block feta cheese cut into 2 inch chunks
Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, bell pepper radishes, jalapeno, olives, salt, vinegar, 1/2 tsp. oregano and 1/4 cup olive oil in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly.
Divide evenly among 6 plates. Top each portion with feta cheese chunks and sprinkle the cheese with the remaining oregano and drizzle with remaining olive oil.