Okay, I’ve got a confession to make.
I used to think very little of Greek salads. To me, Greek salad has always been the Aquaman of all salads (forgive my Big Bang Theory reference); it is one salad that I wouldn’t even think about ordering at a restaurant; the one salad that I think doesn’t make sense at all.
That was till I had my first Greek salad in Greece…
It was a warm day on Naxos island, we had been driving around and walking around under the unfaltering hot sun. It was not until 3pm till we sat down for lunch at a beach-side restaurant. They were barely open for the season and only had a few items on the menu. So in a way, I was kind of “forced” to order the Greek salad due to a lack of options.
I’m happy that I did because from the first bite, I was nearly exclaiming, “What is this thing that taste soooo good? Why don’t I remember it tasting like this!”
Upon my careful attempt at trying to unravel this mystery, I came to the conclusion that while all salads need fresh ingredients, the Greek salad relies entirely on the quality of ingredients to make the salad sing.
Quality ingredients aside, I too realised that the Greek salads that I have had before are all bastardised versions of the Greek salad – lettuce with Greek salad? Or an Italian dressing with the salad?
All the ingredients in the Greek salad are there for a reason – they are in harmony and the harmony is thrown off balance the moment you use flavourless tomatoes or as I like to call them, “cardboard tomatoes”.
You need the ripest and sweetest of tomatoes, the plum yet most flavourful black olives (Like kalamanta), the sweet and low acidity red onion, good olive oil, sharp, firm but crumbly feta.
After coming back to Singapore, I’ve been inspired to recreate some of our wonderful eating experiences in Greece. The first – the Greek salad.
While it is pretty difficult to get the same quality ingredients in Singapore, I think with a few touches, you can make a pretty decent Greek salad.
First of all, start off by buying some proper tomatoes. I paid more than double for these nice and ripe ones (Aren’t exactly like the Greek ones but it is a good enough second). I used the olives that I lug back from the Athens market (I bought 2 kg of them after sampling countless! Yay me!).
I find that the red onions that we get here in Asia tends to be very sharp unlike the Greek ones so I macerated them in vinegar. It helps to mellow the sharpness of the onion to the right levels. This is a technique that I’ve learnt from Chef Yotam Ottenlenghi and I do that every time I use raw red onions in my dish.
Things get a little trickier with the cucumbers. I find that Greek cucumbers are almost entirely seedless. I have yet to find a seedless variety so I make do with these Asian ones that I had on hand.
I do realise that I spent 800 over words going wax-lyrical about a salad that I didn’t used to care for.
One last word on the Greek salad: eat it like the Greeks do!
Recipe: Greek salad
Makes two hearty portions
2 medium size, ripe tomatoes (get the ripest and sweetest you can find)
1/2 medium red onion
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 large cucumber
150g – 200g block of Greek feta
a handful of black olives (try using Kalamanta), left whole
3-4 tbsp Greek extra virgin olive oil or other good quality olive oil
black pepper, freshly ground
dried Greek oregano or any Mediterranean oregano
1. Slice the onions as finely as you can into thin rings. Immerse the sliced onions in the white wine vinegar for about 15 – 20 minutes to remove the sharpness of the onion. Discard the vinegar.
2. Peel and slice the cucumber into rough crescent shape. Slice the tomatoes into wedges.
3. Place the cucumber, tomatoes, onions, olives into a salad bowl. Season it with sea salt, pepper, dried oregano.
4. Pour over the olive oil and toss with your hands to distribute evenly.
6. Place a block of feta cheese on top of the salad – add more dried oregano on top of the feta and add a little more olive oil onto the feta cheese.
7. The Greek salad is best served after 10-15 minutes after it is made, you can leave it in the fridge for the flavours to penetrate and amalgamate (unlike other salads that should be eaten as soon as they are made). Of course, you do not make this a few hours ahead or the cucumbers and tomatoes would start giving out too much moisture.
1. Please do not use lettuce in your Greek salad. It has no place in a traditional Greek salad. But you can add thin strips of green peppers if you like. And/or,
2. Greek salad only uses olive oil to bind the ingredients so no lemon juice is needed.
3. Try to get seedless cucumbers for the Greek salad. The Asian variety has a lot of seeds which is not ideal but I couldn’t find other alternative.
4. Do not chop up the feta. In Greece, it is served in a block. You just break it up when you eat it.
5. Do try to get the best ingredients you can afford for this salad. It makes ALL the difference.