The Greek Salad

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I call this not A Greek Salad, but The Greek Salad because it’s reached celebrity status in our family. Whenever my mom talks about it or asks me if I’m making it, in a hushed voice as if daring to even utter its name will prompt Zeus to rain lightning down upon us, she simply calls it “The Greek!” (It’s always said with an audible exclamation mark.) In our family, this meal has taken its rightful place alongside such legendary figures as Hercules, Athena, Poseidon, and all the other worthy Greeks of history. It’s got a lot going for it: the vegetable-heavy, salty, crunchy fresh salad sprinkled liberally with herbs, hefty skewers of tender, flavorful chicken, two insanely moreish, strongly garlicky dips, and triangles of squishy pita bread for dipping and scooping. You may not want to make The Greek Salad to impress a first date (channel Aphrodite for that one), as the whole thing is chock-full of garlic and onions; make it for your family, friends, or just for you, and revel in your allium-breath extravaganza. Then raise your arms, praise The Greek! (Salad), and feel the power course through your veins.

I’m not gonna lie—this meal’s a bit of a labor of love. And this is a slightly pared down version of what my mom used to make! But if you spread out the work over time (make the hummus, salad dressing, chicken marinade, and even dressing up a day or two ahead), it’s totally manageable. You can also skip the hummus, tzatziki, and chicken if you want a lighter, vegetarian meal. Go as crazy or simple as you feel like!

A note on ingredients: this is one of those instances where Farmer’s Market veggies will bring a dish to the next level. Get those peak season cherry tomatoes and enjoy the almost shocking burst of bright flavor each time you come upon one in the salad. I use a mix of Kalamata olives and any green Greek olives I can get my hands on in bulk (but jarred olives are fine too). Regarding feta: I always prefer sheep’s feta over goat or cow (no offense, goats and cows). Sheep’s feta has the most flavor, with a punchy, salty presence that makes you want to eat it by the handful. My favorite brand at the moment is Valbreso, which is a French cheese that you can find in giant bulk packages at Santa Cruz’s Staff of Life or in bulk containers at certain Whole Foods stores. (Yes, I do have a forearm-sized block of cheese in my fridge, swimming in a homemade brine because brine makes it last way longer. To make your own brine, combine 1 tsp kosher salt for each cup of cold water you need to fully submerge your block of feta.)

The Greek Salad

Serves 6 | salad inspired by Michael Psilakis’s recipe in How to Roast a Lamb

1 recipe hummus
1 recipe tzatziki (jump to recipe below)
1 recipe yogurt grilled chicken skewers (jump to recipe below), marinade started at least an hour before cooking
1 pack pita bread

for the salad:
1 large red onion
1 large head red butter lettuce, cleaned and torn into pieces
1 medium head iceberg lettuce
1 large fennel bulb, root removed and sliced as thin as possible
1 large cucumber, peeled if waxy
2 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
roughly 50 pitted mixed olives, sliced in half
3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (or 3/4 cup chickpea confit—yum!)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped parsley, washed
a couple handfuls of crumbled feta, roughly 1/3 cup (I love sheep’s feta)

for the vinaigrette:
1/2 small red onion or 2 tiny red spring onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
1 small shallot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 cloves garlic (use 1 if they’re large), smashed and peeled
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup olive oil

Slice the ends off the large red onion, peel it, slice in half and then into very thin half moons. Heat a medium or large cast-iron pan over medium heat and add a couple glugs of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, toss in the onion slices, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are darkly caramelized and soft, about 15-20 minutes. Turn the heat down to low if the onions are scorching in spots.

Meanwhile, tear any grungy outer leaves off of the iceberg lettuce. Slice it into thin strips, then clean and dry it all before adding to a large mixing bowl. Cut the ends off of the cucumber and then slice it in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon (to avoid excess water in the dish) and slice each length into 1/4 inch thick slices. Add to the mixing bowl along with the thinly sliced fennel, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced olives, 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas, 1/3 cup finely chopped dill, and 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Toss everything together.

To make the vinaigrette, heat the same medium cast-iron pan you used before over medium heat. Add a small glug of olive oil if the pan’s dry (don’t if there’s still some oil left from the other onions). Cook the onion slices for a few minutes on each side, letting them cook undisturbed for those few minutes, until soft and lightly charred all over. Add to a blender or food processor along with the remaining vinaigrette ingredients, and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt, acid (vinegar or lemon), or oil as needed.

Heat the same cast-iron pan that you used for the onions over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil or a dab of butter and heat a pita bread until hot and a little browned on one side, then flip and cook for another minute. Repeat with the remaining pita breads, then cut them all into wedges and put the stack on the table to share.

While the pitas are heating, place the cleaned and torn red butter lettuce in a large salad bowl. Top with the mixed veggies, then sprinkle with the feta. Pour 3/4 of the vinaigrette over the top and toss. Use the rest of the dressing if the lettuce looks too dry. Taste and season with salt as needed.

Serve the salad alongside the grilled chicken skewers, hummus, tzatziki, and pita bread on the side. Enjoy!

Tzatziki

I know it’s not traditional to use mint in tzatziki, but I really enjoy the way it boosts tzatziki’s already refreshing, cooling properties up to the next level. Also, use 1 small garlic clove if you want less of that spicy, dragon-breath-fueling garlic flavor in your meal. Or use 2 large if you want to avoid all other humans for 24 hours—look, I get it, sometimes we all need a break.

1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 large cucumber, peeled if waxy and grated on a cheese grater
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 large lemon
2 tbsp finely chopped mint
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated (or minced)

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Taste and add more salt, acid, or herbs as needed. So simple.

Yogurt Grilled Chicken Skewers

makes 6 skewers | adapted from Clare de Boer‘s recipe in The New York Times

1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 inch fresh ginger, unpeeled and grated on a Microplane
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly ground with a mortar and pestle
a few cracks of black pepper
2 lbs boneless chicken thighs

Stir everything but the chicken thighs together in a large bowl. Slice the chicken thighs into 1 to 1.5 inch wide strips, then mix into the yogurt marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 15 minutes before using. I prefer metal ones because they’re reusable and reliable, but do whatever you need to do.

When you’re ready, heat the grill to medium. Thread the chicken through the skewers in N or M-shaped curves, depending on the length. Try to get an even amount of chicken on each skewer. Rub the grill down with a paper towel dipped in neutral oil—use tongs to move the paper towel around so you don’t burn yourself! Space the skewers evenly across the grill and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover, turn the skewers over, and cook for another 5 minutes. Rotate the chicken as needed to get an even color on each skewer and cook for another 2-4 minutes. Chicken thighs are done when the interior of the meat is no longer pink and the internal temperature reaches 165°F—an instant-read thermometer is the easiest and safest way to ensure your meat is properly cooked (they’re also inexpensive). Let the meat rest for a few minutes, then serve while still hot!

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