Salads, usually made fresh from the garden, are an integral part of the traditional Greek diet. They accompany main dishes or are eaten as a light meal with bread and olives or cheese. There is an endless combination of vegetables, herbs, garlic, onion, lemon or vinegar and olive oil to choose from for a successful salad. There are no secret ingredients other than a thorough mixing. All countries bordering the Mediterranean, with local variations, practice the same or similar salads. However, if the salad has a name other than the main ingredient(s) e.g. Greek, village, Caesar or if the ingredients are large or nicely arranged it is not a genuine traditional salad.
The basic rules for delicious salads are:
- Use genuine olive oil – called virgin nowadays.
- Chop the ingredients to small sizes so that they can be eaten with the fork without the use of a knife and with each mouthful you can taste a bit of everything.
- Dice other ingredients such as onion, garlic and herbs (fresh or dry).
- Some vegetables require cooking and a common practice is to cook them well – until soft.
- Salt is always added to salads.
- Thoroughly mix the salad – until every ingredient gets a shine. Without it the wonderful flavours will not be developed.
- Use preferably home-grown vegetables that bring even more flavours.
Pay extra attention in the choice of olive oil. Always use virgin or extra virgin olive oil. Only the word virgin promises genuine olive oil. Words such as pure, natural, 100% and genuine that accompany the name olive oil on the label are meaningless. At least 70% of its content is refined olive oil.
There are some myths to be exposed. There is no typical Greek salad or even a “horiatiki” – village style. The only name a salad has is that of the main ingredient(s). Neither fetta cheese nor olives are added to the salad. Olives and / fetta or other cheeses, as with bread, are always on the table for people to help themselves. The addition of these ingredients in salads is a modern restaurant tradition and often leads to waste.
There are also paradoxes to consider. While the traditional Greek diet is regarded as the prototype of the healthy Mediterranean diet some aspects of this diet are not in line with modern dietary recommendations. For example, salt is always added to food and as mentioned above some vegetables are always cooked well. However, there are claims that a diet high in plant food, especially leafy vegetables, is protective against salt intake and that the “overcooking” of some vegetables breaks down their matrix making them easier to digest.
- Fresh or dry mint
- Celery (the inner tender stems and leaves)
The juice of a tomato salad is something Greek children, and adults, fight for.
Late in the tomato season i.e. late Autumn, you can add coriander and / or rocket which are in season at this time.
- Radishes (including the young tender leaves and stems)
- Spring onion
- Continental parsley
- Lemon (generous quantity)
The potatoes are cooked whole in their skin. For easier peeling, they are peeled while they are still warm.
- Cooked green beans – chopped to smaller sizes
Variation: Zucchini, potatoes and carrots could be cooked with the beans. Also, the use of freshly shelled beans (before they dry) gives a very interesting dimension to this salad.
- Cooked, freshly shelled beans (before they dry)
- Continental parsley
- Salt – during the cooking
Borlotti, a famous Italian variety, is the most common bean for this salad but other beans will give very satisfactory results. If fresh beans are not available use dry beans but they take longer to cook. (As with all legumes, overnight soaking of dry beans is essential. Of equal importance is the changing of the soaking water before cooking.)
Variation: Cook with zucchini, potato and carrots. Green beans could be cooked with the dry beans. Fresh vegetables such as cucumber and tomatoes can be added to this salad.
Amaranth (Vlita in Greek) or other green leafy vegetables
- Garlic and or / onion
Harvest young amaranth shoots by hand, so that tenderness is assured, wash them well by dipping them in plenty of water and cook them in boiling water until soft (it only takes about 5 minutes).
Variation: Any other green leafy vegetable, including wild greens, could be cooked until soft and served the same way. Many of these vegetables will take longer to cook.