On our first night of our honeymoon in Greece, it was only fitting to order the Greek salad. It arrived, with enough fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and feta to serve 8 people.
I had enjoyed it here in Chicago a handful of times, though it was usually from Panera (I know, not authentic) and often dotted with pepperoncini and covered with an oregano vinaigrette. So I was surprised at the simplicity of the salad there on the island of Crete: big chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, a few slices of red onion, feta, olives, and a simple dressing of red wine vinegar and olive oil.
I set out to re-create it, complete with the big chunks of tomatoes that I loved. I scaled it down to actually serve two people since I was making dinner for two, which worked great until it came to the red onion.
There was no way I’d use an entire red onion in this salad, so I ended up saving it for a future pico de gallo (see my recipe in the middle of this post). But if you were making this salad with Chicken Souvlaki with Golden Rice, and I highly recommend you do, then I’d serve the rest of the onion as a side dish. First chop the rest of the onion into chunks and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grill until they’re tender—roughly the same amount of time that it takes to cook the chicken. Just make sure to flip them a couple times to get those nice char marks on all sides! Then serve them on top of the rice with the chicken.
This salad is really all about the chopping. You could go large, keeping the tomatoes in big chunks and the cucumbers in half moons or even in full rounds. Or you could chop everything into ½ inch pieces and create a chopped Greek salad—that sounds delicious actually! My only recommendation is to use a serrated knife on the tomatoes so you don’t squish them while chopping.
For the cucumbers, I almost always buy seedless. You’ll find them on the produce wall, all wrapped up in a piece of plastic shrink wrap. While it may seem silly to wrap something that already has skin (ahem, pre-peeled oranges), the shrink wrap keeps the cucumber from losing moisture and ultimately keeps it fresher for a longer period of time. The best part about seedless cucumbers is that you don’t have to go to the hassle of removing the seeds with a spoon—just give it a quick rinse and start chopping.
For the onions, I like a nice thin sliver that melts into the red wine vinegar dressing and even starts to turn a little purple as it sits (that’s just the acid reacting with the onion). I get the thinnest slices by first cutting the onion in half and then chopping off both ends. Then I carefully slice tiny slivers of the onion. But if you’d like your onion diced or in a larger chunk, by all means do what you like!
Feta does indeed make it “betta”. I love the salty, tangy creaminess it adds to the salad. I usually buy feta in blocks instead of chunks. Then I can make the feta into whatever size chunks I’d like. The leftovers also keep longer in the refrigerator that way, since there’s less surface area. I store it in the brine that comes with the feta.
Now to the love-it-or-hate-it addition to the salad: the olives. I love the deep purple color and slightly fruity flavor of kalamata olives. They’re full of heart-healthy fats, just like olive oil, and they add a richness to all of the fresh fruits and veggies in this salad. This salad really is the Mediterranean diet all in one—lots of fresh produce with the cheese and olives as accompaniments, instead of the main event like us Americans usually make it. 🙂
If you’re making this for more than two, the recipe is easily scalable. Maybe you’ll even get to use the whole red onion that way! It’s the perfect side dish for this Chicken Souvlaki with Golden Rice, also inspired by our honeymoon to Greece.
Classic Greek Salad
Yield 2 servings
Exactly how they made it in Crete!
- ½ seedless cucumber (use the other half in this Tzatziki)
- 2 tomatoes on the vine
- ¼ of a red onion
- 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 oz feta, block or crumbled
- ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives
- Chop the cucumber into ¼ inch rounds and then slice each round in half to create a half moon shape. Using a serrated knife, cut each tomato into 8 sections. Cut the red onion into thin slices.
- Combine the red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Place the cucumber slices, tomato slices, and red onion slices on a serving platter. Crumble the feta into bite size pieces if it’s not already crumbled. Top with the feta and olives. Drizzle with the vinegar and oil and then serve.
Tip #1: I know, I know. ¼ of a red onion? Red onions is classic in a Greek salad, but you definitely don’t need a whole one. I’d recommend sticking it into a resealable plastic bag for another use (pico de gallo, guacamole, etc.) or grilling it as a side dish: brush with oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and grill until tender.
Tip #2: I almost always buy feta in the block form instead of crumbles. First, I can create larger crumbles that way. 🙂 And it’ll also keep longer in the fridge. Just remember to store any leftovers in the brine that comes in the package.