It's funny how some foods can create a memory and then later take you, almost instantly, back in time. I can remember the first time I ever tasted a Greek salad. It was years ago, in my college days, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My sister Marlene, picked me up one day and treated me to lunch at a charming little Mediterranean restaurant overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan. I ordered their house salad, not being sure what to expect but when it arrived at our table I was so pleasantly surprised! I loved the juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce and cucumbers along with the salty Feta cheese and Kalamata olives. The dressing was fresh and vibrant and perfectly complemented the other ingredients.
Ever since that day, I have been "hooked" on Greek Salad. When I finished school and began cooking more, I embarked on the quest of finding a really good Greek dressing. I can't tell you how many recipes I tried and discarded; "too bland", "too garlicky", "too oily", "too vinegary"........ and so it went until several years ago I stumbled on this recipe. Hip, hip, hooray!! It was almost perfect!! Over the years I tweaked it a little here and there and now it has become our "house dressing". If you sneak a peak into my refrig you will almost always find a cache of this fine condiment. It lasts for several weeks however never stays around that long at my house! If I am having house guests, I will triple or quadruple the recipe and it always is well received.
Even though it is called "Greek" salad dressing, it is also fantastic with an Italian meal like lasagna or manicotti. In the summer I like to combine this dressing with tiny cooked potatoes, barely blanched green beans, sliced red onion, Kalamata olives, Feta cheese and anything else that I think looks interesting. We take a big bowl of this to the beach and it makes a wonderful lunch! The veggies just get more and more flavorful as they marinate in the yummy dressing. And heavenly is the word for tomatoes, warm from the garden, drizzled with a bit of this and showered with tiny ribbons of fresh basil.
One more thing about this salad. My husband does not like anything strongly "vinegary". Because this recipe calls for fresh lemon juice and only a small amout of red wine vinegar, he gobbles up anything I make with this dressing. Give it a try, I think you will love it's delicious flavor and versatility!
For the Salad Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves, chopped fine*
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
*the mint leaves are optional but they add a delicious, unique, authentic flavor to the dressing, not minty at all!
For the Salad
8 cups lettuce, romaine is traditional but I have tried a variety of different lettuces
3 plum tomatoes, cut in wedges (I actually use whatever kind of tomatoes look the freshest and prettiest at the market)
1 English cucumber, sliced or 1 regular cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 green, yellow or red bell pepper (seeded and cut into rings or sliced)
3/4 cup cannellini beans
3/4 cup tiny potatoes cooked till tender and cooled (if you don't have tiny potatoes just diced up a large potato and cook till tender, it just won't be as cute) :)
3/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled (or to taste)
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, halved
1. Place all salad dressing ingredient in a glass jar. Cover and shake well.
3. Chill in fridge for a couple of hours before using to blend flavors.
3. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour dressing over to coat lightly; toss to combine.
A few ideas
Sometimes I make this salad without the lettuce. Particularly when the tomatoes are fresh from the garden, I slice them in wedges and combine with whatever other vegetables I have along with the Feta and olives. I might add fresh basil and fresh oregano if I have it.
Artichoke hearts and different colored peppers are fun in this salad too. Honestly, the sky is the limit! Have fun with it!