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Learning the Joys of Greek Salads Firsthand


Horiatiki

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

HERSONISSOS, Crete — When a friend with a timeshare calls and invites you to spend two weeks with her on the island of Crete, you don’t say no. At least, I don’t. So, I found myself on an island in the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by some of the best food I’ve had in ages.

Tomatoes drying in the sun in front of Marianna, a taverna in Mesa Potami, part of Crete's Lasithi Plateau

Tomatoes drying in the sun in front of Marianna, a taverna in Mesa Potami, part of Crete’s Lasithi Plateau

One advantage that Cretans have is that they grow or raise most everything that they use in their diet. Almost everywhere you look, there’s food growing, whether it’s olives on the many acres of trees that run up and down mountains, grapes in the growing number of vineyards or orchards filled with apples, oranges or pomegranates. We didn’t see all of the family gardens bulging with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more; some of those items were just after season for our visit, but we were given freshly harvested grapes, persimmons and walnuts by some of the wonderful people we met.

In the mornings, I could hear the bells of the goats roaming through the undeveloped lands nearby, reminding me of how close one source of all the feta and yogurt was. Lambs and sheep often grazed close to the road, while the Mediterranean offered the promise of untold seafood specials.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the eating was built on the numerous herbs that were oh so easy to forage. It seemed that most every time Carol stopped our rental car, I could find something worth taking back to our kitchen, whether it was oregano or mint, dill, arugula or thyme.

I used those in the series of Greek salads, called horiatiki (hor-ee-ah-tee-kee), that I made most every day. There is no hard and fast recipe for this beloved dish, and you can make plenty of substitutes to suit your tastes. But the foundation for ours included tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olive oil. To that, we added green bell pepper and olives. The first supermarket we went to only sold onions by the large bag, so we used scallions until we found another place where we could pick up a red onion. We also tried lettuce in the mix; it worked, but it wasn’t necessary, so we left it out after one or two tries. Cabbage worked much better, adding crunch in a way that was different from the cucumber or the bell pepper.

The olive oil was so good that red wine vinegar or lemon juice wasn’t necessary to dress the salad with. Plus, if you find the freshest, most flavorful ingredients, especially the tomatoes, you didn’t need much oil, either. A little salt brings out the juices of the various vegetables, making it’s own dressing that the olive oil only takes to another level.

A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

We discovered a variation native to Crete. It is, of course, the Cretan salad, and it adds rusk, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, capers and sun-dried tomatoes to the mix. See, even they don’t follow a single recipe. And in the case of the rusk, you’ll see them using up every last scrap of bread rather than throwing it out. That, to me, has been the secret of some of the best meals I’ve had in my travels.

The third salad recipe you’ll find below is for a Socrates salad, which Carol’s friend, Clairy Panagiotou, made for us when she joined our group. Clairy runs the Bouradanis Hotel on another Greek island, Kos, where she makes the meals nightly for her 70 guests. On the basis of this salad alone, I am ready to make a trip to her hotel.

It’s named after the Greek philosopher, Clairy said, because it’s supposed to open up your brain cells and make you smarter. I don’t know that my IQ shot up any while eating it, but my happiness level certainly did.

Again, there is no hard and fast recipe for the dressing or for the salad. Just make it to taste. Just make sure you’re using the best ingredients you can find, ingredients that tasted like they were grown in your own backyard and tended with care. You can taste the difference.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Make this salad to suit your tastes. If you don’t like or don’t have bell pepper on hand, leave it out. Want to add lettuce or shredded cabbage? Go ahead. I added anchovies and occasionally some slices of radish to mine. Capers would also work.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Cucumber, sliced
Green bell pepper, sliced
Red or white onion, sliced
Olives
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab about 1/3-inch thick
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (optional)
Herbs, fresh or dried

Mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and olives. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, if using. Top with feta. If using a slab of cheese, drizzle olive oil on top.

If you’re using vinegar with the oil, drizzle these on before you add the cheese. Top with herbs.

Herbs both dried and fresh can be used. A few to consider are oregano, parsley, mint and thyme.

Or you could serve with the oil and vinegar on the side.

From John Griffin

Cretan Salad with Rusk

Cretans love rusk, dried clumps of leftover bread that soak up olive oil and tomato juice. They serve as a foundation for this salad, a variation on horiatiki that, once again, can be made using whatever ingredients you have on hand. One version we had used various field greens and was crowned with pomegranate seeds.

A Cretan salad with hard-boiled eggs, rusk, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.

A Cretan salad with hard-boiled eggs, rusk, sun-dried tomatoes and capers

Rusk or zwieback
Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Cucumber, sliced
Green bell pepper, sliced
Red or white onion, sliced
Olives
New potatoes, boiled, peeled and quartered
Hard-boiled eggs, quartered
Sun-dried tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (optional)
Capers
Herbs (optional)

Place the rusk at the bottom of your salad bowl. Top with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, olives, potato, egg and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle salt to taste over the salad.

Top with feta, then a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle capers over the top and finish off with a sprinkling of dried or fresh herbs.

From John Griffin

Socrates Salad

Open your brain cells to the wonders of this salad laden with dried fruit and nuts.

Socrates Salad

Socrates Salad

Dried figs, cut into bite-sized pieces
Dried cranberries
Lettuce
Radicchio
Pine nuts
Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
Parmesan cheese

Dressing:
Balsamic vinegar
Honey
Olive oil
Water
Salt

Toss the figs, cranberries, lettuce, radicchio, pine nuts, tomatoes and apple in a salad bowl.

Make the dressing from a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, a little water and salt to taste. Whisk together then lightly toss with the salad.

Top with Parmesan cheese shavings.

From Clairy Panagiotou/Bouradanis Hotel

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