I feel bamboozled. I feel hoodwinked. I feel like all things I’ve learned in this world should be questions all because of a recent trip to Greece. Some friends and I were out ordering food and I kindly asked for a Greek Salad. It was hot so my body was craving the veggies and hydration as well as something light to get me through the heat. It had been a few days since I had a salad, and I was so looking forward to that big bowl of lettuce. If you can’t tell, I was truly excited for what was about to happen; until it didn’t.
The food came out and my plate was put in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely stunning in color and presentation. Everything was fresh, vibrant, and ready to be eaten. Except, it was missing the main ingredient in my educated, foodie opinion. It was completely bare of the lettuce. I was shocked as to how they could send out a salad with not once piece of lettuce, spinach, or even kale. I’m not even a fan of kale but I had hoped for even that. They kindly explained to me that Americans were doing it all wrong. Say what? Salads don’t require greenery? Well, Greek Salads do not require the green mention above. I was about to be schooled.
A traditional Greek salad will always and only include tomato, sliced cucumber, green pepper, sliced red onion, Kalamata olives and of course feta cheese. It must be seasoned with dried oregano and salt and dressed with good quality extra virgin olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. This version of the salad actually did not come about until the 1960’s when Greece was trying to distinguish itself as a European powerhouse and not so much of a Middle-Eastern country. As Greeks have migrated to the states throughout the years they found ways to Americanize their dishes to fit our liking. It never crossed my mind that this occurred. I felt silly for never even thinking that they conformed to what Americans liked in order to please us.
So back to the salad, after hearing this story and feeling a little guilty for being ignorant, I thanked the server for the history lesson because it truly was one I’ll carry forever. I always say that knowing the history behind something will always connect people to the things associated with them. I ate all my salad that day. I felt it was the proper way to honor the history I just learned and truly dive into their food culture with an open mind. Next time you ask for a Greek Salad, be sure to say a traditional one.
Don’t wait to travel to Greece to learn about traditional Greek food! Take one of The Chopping Block's upcoming Mediterranean Meze classes this summer at the Merchandise Mart: