Imagine yourself on a sun-drenched Greek island, toes wiggling in the warm sand, the aroma of fresh herbs and salty air filling your senses. Then, a vibrant plate arrives, bursting with juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, Kalamata olives, and the crown jewel – a hefty chunk of creamy block feta cheese. This, my friends, is the magic of the Greek Salad, a deceptively simple yet incredibly flavorful dish that embodies the spirit of the Mediterranean.
We first fell in love with this salad during our recent trip to Corfu, Greece. Every oceanfront restaurant seemed to have their own version, each showcasing the freshest local ingredients and the unique personality of the chef. But one thing remained constant: the use of block feta, a crumbly, brined cheese that adds a salty, tangy punch to every bite.
Ready to bring a taste of Greece to your own kitchen? Forget the pre-shredded versions and the bottled dressings. With this recipe, you’ll unlock the secrets of the authentic Greek Salad, using simple, fresh ingredients and a touch of Mediterranean flair.
A Legacy of Simplicity: The History of the Greek Salad
While its exact origins are debated, the Greek Salad is believed to have emerged in the 20th century, reflecting the country’s reliance on readily available ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. Unlike its international counterparts, it avoids lettuce, focusing instead on the vibrant flavors of the Mediterranean. It’s a testament to the Greek philosophy of “meze” – enjoying simple, fresh dishes in good company.
Unlike in the United States, the vegetables are cut in thicker pieces, and there is rarely — if ever — lettuce in this dish. The only Greek Salad we ordered in Corfu that had a hint of lettuce was at the Cove Bar in Paleokastritsa (below), which caters to a tourist market. This is not an authentic Horiatiki salad recipe, but you can certainly try making it that way if it sounds appealing.
An authentic Greek salad is one of the healthiest choices you can make. Feta cheese is much lower in both calories and fat than other cheeses, and the olive oil provides additional benefits, such as heart-healthy fats and antioxidants. One of my favorite Greek olive oils is made by Theotoky Estate, an organic winery and olive oil farm in Corfu.
There is no such thing as “Greek Dressing” like we get in America. Speaking to several locals, I learned that their traditional salad dressing is nothing more than good olive oil, some red wine vinegar, and dried oregano.
I found it interesting that dried oregano is preferred over fresh oregano on most of the islands. Apparently it dates back to earlier times, when the Greeks would preserve the treasured herb so they could use it year-round. If you would like to use fresh oregano in this dish, plan on using three times as much fresh chopped Greek oregano in place of one part dried.
Key Greek Salad Ingredients and Ratios
The beauty of the Greek Salad lies in its simplicity. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Tomatoes: Ripe, juicy tomatoes are the heart of the salad. Choose a variety like Roma or vine-ripened for optimal flavor.
- Cucumbers: Crisp, refreshing cucumbers provide a cool counterpoint to the tomatoes. Opt for English or Persian cucumbers.
- Red onion: Thinly sliced red onion adds a subtle bite and depth of flavor.
- Kalamata olives: These briny, slightly bitter olives are a quintessential Greek ingredient.
- Block feta cheese: Crumbled block feta, ideally imported from Greece, adds a salty, creamy contrast and is the star of the show. Avoid pre-crumbled versions that lack flavor and texture.
- Extra virgin olive oil: High-quality olive oil is the base of the dressing, adding richness and aroma.
- Red wine vinegar: A splash of red wine vinegar adds a touch of acidity and balances the flavors.
- Dried oregano: This aromatic herb is a staple in Greek cuisine and provides a subtle earthy note.
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper: To taste, these essential seasonings enhance the natural flavors of the ingredients.
This authentic Greek salad recipe is sure to be a hit at your next summer dinner party.
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Authentic Greek Salad (Horiatiki)Recipe by Jason Hill – CookingSessions.com
Greek Salad Dressing:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (cold-pressed Greek olive oil if you can get it)
- 1 seedless English cucumber sliced in bite-sized rounds
- 1 red onion sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 2 heirloom tomatoes sliced into bite-sized wedges
- 1 red or green bell pepper sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup Kalamata or Corfu olives
- 4-6 ounces Greek feta cheese cut in slabs
- 1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
- 12-15 capers optional
- Salt to taste
- Whisk together the olive oil and vinegar.
- Add cut vegetables to a bowl and toss with the dressing. Season with a bit of salt to taste.
- Serve on a plate, topped with the block of feta cheese, 1-2 tablespoons of additional olive oil, capers (if using), and the dried oregano.