Michael, my youngest brother, has this fraternity shirt that reads “Go Big, Go Greek” in giant letters across the chest. He wore it all over Greece, which was rather amusing. Can you go any bigger than by going to Greece?
Everywhere we went in Greece, bouzouki players plucked out the same song, which my grandfather identified as the theme to Never on Sunday, a black and white 1960’s comedy flick starring Melina Mercouri as a free-spirited Greek prostitute. And everywhere we went in Greece, we found ourselves la-la-la-ing along. It’s a catchy song.
And everywhere we went, we were entertained by traditional Greek dancing. It’s an interesting kind of dance to be entertained with. It’s not particularly fast, and not particularly athletic, but it’s mesmerizing in its own way with its slowly repetitive steps that sometimes build and sometimes don’t. And sometimes there’s some quite athletic kicking, and sometimes everyone joins in the circle for a little swing step.
But best of all, everywhere we went, there was Greek salad. I wasn’t always impressed with the food in Greece, but the salads were consistently good. Big, ripe hunks of tomato and cucumber, salty olives, sweet red onion, crisp green bell pepper and a feta quite unlike the kind we buy in Berlin. It was creamier – and later, I found out, made with part goat’s milk (I found this out by trying to feed it to David, who hates the taste of goat cheese. Now I have a brick-sized chunk of Greek feta I’m slowly trying to make disappear.).
I loved the simplicity of the dressing – a little more acidic than oily, a perfect fit for the ripe vegetables’ natural sweetness – and rife with dried oregano. It was so uncomplicated and so eminently eatable.
So when I think back on how to “go Greek,” I think of those three things: bouzouki music, dancing, and big plates of salad. Of course there’s the sunshine, the ruins, the sweet blue sea, and all that history – but the salad, at least, I can take that home with me.
Classic Greek Salad
There isn’t much to Greek salad, but to make a really good one, the trick is in using the freshest, ripest ingredients possible. Don’t skimp on good olives and cheese – every component really needs to shine. In Greece, I was surprised by how coarsely all the vegetables were chopped – and this is why using excellent, fresh ingredients is important. Their flavor beautifully balances the tart dressing without getting lost in it.
2 small, very ripe tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 small red onion, sliced
1 green bell pepper, cut into large chunks
½ cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, seeds removed
4 2-inch squares of Greek feta
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. oregano
½ tsp. salt
Black pepper, to taste
Prepare tomatoes, onion, green pepper, cucumber, olives, and feta and place them in a large mixing bowl.
In a small bowl, mix olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine. Pour over salad and toss.