I have had Greek salad at many restaurants, picnics and other functions but there are few places that compare to the authentic Greek salad with dressing I had here in Greece. Now I asked the question, are there varieties? And the answer is yes. It’s like meatloaf in the U.S., are there varieties? Of course there are, and the Greek salad varies from region to region in Greece. But here was one super piece of advice I got from a Greek chef, the olive oil to make the dressing is very important.
Greece is a Mediterranean country and all Mediterranean countries are olive oil producers. Each country and even the region within a country have its own variety of flavors to the olive oil. For example, if you ever tried an olive oil from the south of France you will experience a buttery flavor. Italy, one of the most famous olive oil producers has many varieties throughout. Olive oil from Sicily is big and earthy flavored, while olive oil in Tuscany tends to be much more peppery. Olive oils from Greece as a whole tend to be rich and mellow. As explained to me, a great chef/home cook will have a variety of olive oil in their kitchen for different dishes. In other words choose an olive oil to match the type of dish you are preparing. Use more full-bodied olive oils for vegetables, meats, garlic and heartier green salads like Caesar salad. Use a lighter, softer olive oil for delicate fish and Greek salad. Using good olive oil is imperative and makes a world of difference.
The Greeks have some herbs that are staples within their kitchen and oregano is one of them. Throughout Athens I have noticed many markets and private venders along the streets selling fresh and dry herbs. The flavor is a bit more robust from what one might buy in a jar in your grocery store and certainly more flavorful.
When it comes to the Greek salad and the dressing they both will vary slightly and as any good chef will attest, it’s all about personal taste. The salad itself can have a variety of things in it. The Greek salad always has tomatoes and the tomatoes will be not only a personal preference, but what is more flavorful at the time of purchase. Sometimes cherry tomatoes are preferred to another type of tomato. The Greeks always use an English cucumber, a bit more mild and with far less seeds than the traditional cucumber most commonly used in the states. Everyone knows the Greeks love olives and the kalamata olive is what is used in the Greek salad. There are some olives that are brined and this too is a personal preference.
Red onion is typically the onion of choice and some will slice it and some will chop it. Some chefs will soak the red onion in cold water for 12-15 minutes to reduce the strong flavor, again a personal preference. Then there is the famous feta cheese and if you think there is not a difference from one feta to another try again. Most Greeks purchase feta in a block or large piece and then crumble it themselves. Yes you can buy it already crumbled but the Greeks take their feta cheese as serious as the Italians take their pasta being al’ dente. These are the so-called authentic Greek salad ingredients, but then again, there are varieties. Some will add red and green peppers and or pieces of romaine lettuce too.
You also have the dressing, and this too will vary. My suggestion is to try creating a few and test to see what makes your taste buds dance. I will give you the version I had and will include some options for creating a few varieties. So here is my take on the authentic Greek salad with dressing.
Authentic Greek salad recipe
Greek salad dressing
¾ cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 cloves garlic
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh pepper
(OPTIONAL) Dijon mustard : Try first without and then add just a little in a small cup with above ingredients to test if you like it
Using a blender combine all ingredients and blend until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use.
Authentic Greek salad ingredients
4 vine ripe tomatoes cut into 1-inch pieces
1 English cucumber peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
12-15 kalamata olives
½ medium size red onion sliced or chopped, soaked in cold water for 12-minutes then drained
½ cup good quality feta cheese broken into small pieces
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl add all ingredients and drizzle Greek salad dressing a little at a time and fold. Add more dressing if needed.
Find Chef Michael Van Horn on YouTube.