Make a Real (Simple) Greek Salad

A few Septembers ago, we went to the Greek Islands. It was a place that had always been on my dream travel bucket list, with its deep blue seas, white-washed walls, and abounding sunshine. But one thing no one ever seemed to talk about? The food. 

With places like Italy, you hear it all the time. Spain, too. France, definitely. But Greece? All I knew was that I was just hoping that Greek salads were really a thing. Because if I had to pick just one food to eat for the rest of time, that would be it.

When we arrived, I couldn’t believe it. The food, you guys. The food. Crispy, fresh vegetables; gorgeous streams of rich olive oil; herbs galore; and seafood plucked right from the sea that morning and grilled with fresh lemon on everything. There was so much flavor paired with simplicity that even the fanciest foodie couldn’t deny the amazingness of such pure ingredients assembled without fuss.

I loved it so much because it’s how I think every meal should be — good, but not overdone, or too fancy, or time-intensive. 

So here’s their most famous dish — one we all know (or think we know): the Greek Salad. But they do it better. And I took notes, because I’ve been doing it all wrong, and I never even knew it. And now, I can’t stop making my own renditions at home, because it just works.

Lessons in (real) Greek Salad making:

  1. Use green peppers, not red or orange. And only very thinly sliced.
  2. Use sweet white onions, not red. All the time. Walla Walla sweets, you’ve got my number.
  3. Use the best, most flavorful, and deeply colored olive oil you can find. Use enough so you almost feel guilty about it. Almost.
  4. Herbs. Mixed. Dried or fresh. But definitely use fresh oregano. No questions asked.
  5. Feta. Real feta, in a block and brine. Not crumbled or dry, and definitely not the weird reduced-fat stuff. Or whatever salty cheese you can find the freshest and softest version of. Just so it almost blends into a creamy dressing as you take your first bites.
  6. Real (big cranks) of sea salt and pepper.
  7. Vinegar. Just a splash. Red or sherry are the mildest and best, but white or lemon will do.
  8. One thing to make it your own (smoked paprika, chili powder, smoked salmon or pepperoni, capers, olives, grated garlic, mint, etc).

Sarahʼs Easy Real Greek Salad

Makes 2-3 servings

Notes: Pure, simple, and almost impossible to eat without a side of salty olives, a cold glass of rosé, and some grilled fish, this dish has earned a spot on our weekly summer rotation. This salad keeps great in the fridge for a few days with just the vinegar on it. Hold off on the olive oil and feta until you’re ready to eat. I adore this salad straight up or spooned over a big bowl of arugula or mixed greens. Add-ins like gigante or white beans, grilled chicken, pepperoncini, olives, capers, or roasted potatoes (though not traditional) are all delicious as well.

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 pint baby tomatoes, sliced in half

2 English cucumbers, skins peeled, inner seeds scooped out, and sliced

4 to 6 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried or fresh parsley, basil or mixed Italian herbs

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 teaspoons red wine vinegar

High-quality olive oil, to drizzle

1 block (about 2 ounces) feta cheese, sliced into 4 pieces

Combine all ingredients except cheese in a mixing bowl, and drizzle with vinegar. Toss to mix together well. When ready to serve, add olive oil, feta, and chicken (if using) on top, and sprinkle to finish with sea salt and pepper.

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