Friday, September 20, 2013

One more Salad for Summer's Last Gasp—Greek-style Tomato Salad with Cucumber, Feta & Olives


It appears that this was the summer of the salad (for me, at least).  By my rough calculation, about a third of my blog posts over the course of the summer months were for salad...exceeding the number of posts for pasta and cake (my two main food groups) by a wide margin.  Since we are saying good-bye to summer this weekend (Autumn officially begins on Sunday), it seemed appropriate that I should post one last recipe for a summer salad.

I hate to refer to what I'm sharing today as a "recipe".  Whether you think it should or not, for most people the word recipe conjures up images of exact measurements and precise methods.  And this is not at all what I have in mind here today.  Rather, I have in mind an idea—an idea that I found earlier this year (before the summer even officially started) on Martha Stewart's site.  The original recipe lists quantities...and I will too...but I hope you won't use them.  Instead, I hope you will use the idea—a big, chunky, lettuce-less salad using all of the ingredients that Americans have come to associate with a "Greek Salad":  tomatoes, feta, olives, red onion, cucumber and herbs—to make your own exuberant platter. 

I made my version this past weekend as part of a birthday spread for my mother (a spread that also included grilled hamburgers, sautéed sweet corn and potatoes roasted with bacon and sage).  The salad I made was basically a "Greek-style" celebration of the tomato.  It has been such a good summer for tomatoes.   The displays of multicolored heirlooms and cherry tomatoes at the market have been abundant and breathtakingly beautiful...I don't ever seem to be able to purchase just a few.  I even heard one grower say a couple of weeks ago that he doesn't ever remember such a good year for tomatoes.  To make the salad, simply layer multi-colored tomatoes (some sliced and some in wedges) and halved cherry tomatoes on a large platter (or individual plates) with thinly sliced red onion and cucumber, halved Greek olives, and big chunks of feta.  Season with salt and pepper and bathe generously with vinaigrette as you build. 

This salad added the perfect touch for what was our family's last dinner gathering of the summer.  As much as everyone in my family likes corn and potatoes, I think the salad was the favorite dish on the table.  (The next day the leftovers made a delicious lunch as the garnish on a leftover hamburger.)  

And because I still had a mountain of tomatoes on my counter several days later, we had the same salad for dinner later in the week.  With a big chunk of toasted bread, it was just the thing at the end of a long, hot day of work when the last thing I wanted to do was cook some more.    

I hesitated to post this salad so late in the season.  But I'm certain the tomatoes will be coming into the market for at least another week or two....and as crazy as the weather has been, there will probably be more than a few hot days to come when a salty, tangy, juicy tomato salad will be the perfect addition to your evening meal.  And, if by chance you haven't made it to your local farmers' market yet this year, getting tomatoes so you can make this salad would be the perfect reason to go. 

Greek-Style Summer Tomato Salad

The Vinaigrette:
2 T. red wine vinegar
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 small clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/2 t. dried oregano
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

The Salad:
a generous 2 lbs. multi-colored tomatoes of varying sizes and's nice to include some cherry tomatoes in the mix
1 small red onion (about 2 oz.), trimmed, halved, cored, sliced very thinly and rinsed under cold running water
1 cucumber, peeled if the skin is tough, halved, seeded and sliced thinly (about 1/8-inch) cross-wise—you should have about 3/4 to 1 cup sliced cucumber
3/4 to 1 cup mixed olives, pitted and halved lengthwise
6 to 8 oz. Feta (preferably in brine), sliced 1/2-inch thick and broken into randomly sized chunks
Salt  & freshly ground black pepper

To build the salad:
First, make the vinaigrette.  Place the vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and oregano and whisk to combine. Let sit for five minutes or so. Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Taste and correct the seasoning. Re-whisk before using.
Rinse and core the tomatoes.  Halve the cherry tomatoes.  Cut the vine-ripened tomatoes into an assortment of attractive wedges and slices. 

You may build the salad on one large platter or on individual plates.  Arrange half of the tomatoes on the platter (or divide among the plates), followed by half of each of the cucumbers, onion, olives and feta.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the vinaigrette.  Repeat the layering of the salad elements, finishing with salt, pepper and vinaigrette.  Serve with crusty bread for sopping up the tomato juices and vinaigrette.  

Serves 4 as a light entrée or 6 to 8 as a side salad.
(Recipe inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, May 2011)

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