As a Classics student with a convenient bolt-hole at the British embassy in Athens, I spent several of my long university summer holidays in Greece, often travelling alone. My go-to evening meal at any local taverna (in Patmos, say, or Loutro or Porto Rafti) was Horiatiki or ‘garden’ salad (Χωριάτικη σαλάτα) washed down with a cold half-bottle of Retsina. Back home, in the kitchen at Gale, I felt flattered to have Greek-salad-connoisseur-status conferred upon me by Granny, and would pronounce with confidence upon the slicing of the feta or the ‘correct’ colour of peppers to use (green). The secret to this dish lies in the simplicity and quality of the ingredients: juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumber (sorry, Zita), creamy feta cheese, good quality extra virgin olive oil and tangy black olives. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a summer barbecue, with or without Retsina, which is definitely an acquired taste.
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced
1 cucumber, sliced into thick half-moons
1 green pepper, sliced or cut into chunks
16-20 black olives (ideally Kalamata)
200g good quality feta cheese, cut into blocks and NOT crumbled
1 tbsp red wine vinegar or juice of half a lemon
4 tbsp (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh
Salt and pepper
Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate them all. Slosh over 3 tbsp olive oil, add black pepper, half the oregano and stir. If you’re preparing the salad in advance, don’t add the olives and feta until close to serving: their high salt content will cause the cucumber to disgorge its liquid and you’ll be left with a watery soup at the bottom of your serving bowl.
When you’re ready to serve, add the olives, vinegar or lemon juice and a little salt to taste. Arrange the feta slices on top of the salad, drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining dried or fresh oregano.