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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Village Greek Salad (Χωριάτικη Ντοματοσαλάτα)

Village Greek salad in all its glory - Click to Enlarge Image

Exactly when the tomato arrived in Greece is a matter of conjecture; there are various apocryphal anecdotes and references but nothing definitive. One thing is certain; it arrived sometime after Columbus returned from the New World in 1493. The tomato is native to the Americas and was introduced to Europe after the Discovery made by the great 15th Century navigator on his celebrated voyage across the Atlantic. If Christopher Columbus was of Greek origin as some claim, it may have arrived in Greece earlier than commonly supposed. In any case, the tomato qua tomato has been a part of European and Greek recipes for no more than a few centuries all told. It is downright astonishing how this species of nightshade spread and insinuated itself into the national cuisines of the European continent in such a relatively short time. After all, where would Italian cooking be without the tomato? How about the Spanish food fight festival known as the Tomatina? What of Greek salad?

Like the Italians and the Spanish, Greeks use the tomato in everything from casseroles to soups; they stuff them, roast them, bake them, fry them, dry them, grate them, pulp them, and turn ‘em into sauce. Opa! But the single most popular way for tomatoes to be consumed in Greece is in a salad; and not just any salad of course, but a Greek salad. Just what makes a Greek salad anyway? If you ask a Greek this question, he/she may require clarification. “What kind of salad do you mean?” they might ask. After all, Greeks have all manner of salads or salates as they call them (in Gk. pronounced “sah-LAH-tehs”, which is plural for “sah-LAH-tah”); from Taramosalata, to Lahanosalata, to every kind of salata you can imagine… and even some you cannot. In short, Greeks are the biggest salad eaters on the planet; for them everything is potentially a salad.

So, if what you mean by Greek salad is a tomato salad that includes feta cheese, olive oil and oregano as its most basic constituents, you will need to be specific. More often than not, if you are in a Greek restaurant, both in Greece and abroad, the classic tomato salad with feta cheese is usually referred to as a ‘horiatiki salata’. The word horiatiki is Greek for “village” and is pronounced as “hor-YIA-tiki”. Typically, a horiatiki salad will include onions and cucumbers as well, and in most cases black olives too. As my family is from Arcadia in the Peloponnese we also include Greek pepperoncini in our version of the famous salad, as the small “Golden Greek Peppers” are a specialty of our region.

My father's pride and joy, a 1 kg. tomato! - Click to Enlarge Image

I used tomatoes from our kitchen garden for this dish, as we still have quite a few left. My father-in-law brought us some seed from Greece in the spring, so our tomatoes are actual Greek tomatoes. Yesterday, I pulled the remaining tomatoes off the vines as we had a frost warning for the overnight period. This year, the family prize for the largest tomato went to my father who managed to grow a truly behemoth bunch of tomatoes; the largest of which was a 1 kg (2.2 lb) monster, as pictured above. The award was a bottle of ouzo. The monster tomato ended up in a salad exactly like the one pictured in this recipe, and it was tasty!


3 medium sized ripe tomatoes cut into quarters or sixths
½ a cooking onion, sliced
½ a cucumber, peeled, halved and sliced
Several Greek pepperoncini (be sure to squeeze them to drain the brine before using)
Some Kalamata or wrinkled black olives (the choice is yours)
½ cup (125 ml.) crumbled Greek Feta cheese
¼ cup (60 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (30 ml.) Greek wine vinegar* (optional, I normally do not add it)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) dried Greek oregano
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste* (optional, I normally do not add it as the Feta is already salty enough)

  1. Wash and cut the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and put them together into a salad bowl.
  2. Add several olives and pepperoncini to the bowl.
  3. Sprinkle the crumbled feta overtop of the vegetables, then follow with fresh ground pepper, oregano, and the olive oil (salt and vinegar are also options at this point, but are not required ingredients. I do not add salt because as I stated above the Feta cheese is already quite salty, and any additional salt will only serve to make the tomatoes drain their water, thereby limiting the standing time of the salad).
  4. Mix everything together a couple turns, but don’t overdo it, and serve.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Maria said...

Your father should very well be proud of that tomato! I know I've got to like it being Greek and all, but this is probably my favorite salad. I love those peppers. Everyone else I know tosses them to the side while we're eating and I scoop them up off of their plates. The tomatoes really look amazing.

Ivy said...

Here is another theory about Colombus. Well, Greek or not you are right, how would our life be without tomatoes or potatoes?

Zoe Francois said...

Hi Sam, thank you so much for visiting my blog! I can’t believe you didn’t mention that my name means “life” in Greek. As if I could get to the age of 40 without knowing that. People tell me this all the time and you, who are an authority on all things Greek, didn’t mention it! I so appreciate that! LOL ;)

Wonderful blog you have!

Best, LIFE

justfoodnow said...

I think you are correct in that Spanish explorers, probably Columbus, were responsible for bringing it to us. It seems to have originated on the West coast of South America, Peru and 8 species grow wild in the Andes to this day. It went from there to Tangiers, then to Italy and was dubbed Moor's apple, pomo dei mori! There is quite a complicated discussion backing this theory up, but surely this is not the place for it!!

As usual your food is divine and since I have summer now (and you not), I will adopt this one as my special present - presumptious I know, but .... :)

Peter G said...

Hey Sam that is one helluva tomato! 1kg! wow! I bet it did taste good. A great post on the famous Greek "horiatiki" salad. I love the peppers in this...they'e my favourite!

Anonymous said...

tomato salad is plain,just olive oil and oregano...all other ingridents are added in horiatiki(kapari goes great too)

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

@maria - oh no worries, my father is not deficient in the sense of self-satisfaction when he's done well... ;) As for the peppers, they add just the right amount of zip to the tomato zap, so I understand exactly where you are coming from.

@ivy - Yes, and it is an interesting theory as there are many indications in Columbus' own writings that he was intimately familiar with the Greek language. I also know that the Chians have believed this for a very long time, so I can keep an open mind when it comes to such historical events and personalities. I present it for information purposes and nothing more; a little piece of historical flotsam and jetsam.

@zoe francois - Hi "Life"! Yes, I figured that anyone named Zoe who was literate would already know the meaning of her name. But I'm Old Fashioned, so what can I say? ;) Thanks for the kind words.

My Best in Return.

@justfoodnow - Jacoba, you are right, this is not the place for such a discussion. But who knows, perhaps we can have that discussion someday.

And yes, the Spanish imported the tomato and my understanding is that they actually began (relatively) large scale cultivation of the plant in the mid 16th Century.

As for my gift to you, it is granted with an open hand, may you enjoy it in good health! :)

@peter g - Yeah man, 1kg!!! :-o Holy Moly I tell ya... When I saw, my salia started running. Grin.

@cook - Yes, you are right which is why I called this post "Village Greek Salad", because outside Greece, non-Greeks consider "Greek Salad" to also include Feta Cheese, as that's what - in their mind - makes it Greek. And yes, you can add kapari as well if that's what floats one's boat. :)

Be Well!

Andrew Abraham said...

Hi Sam... We love Greek food in our house... Thank you for posting your greek salad recipe... this will be todays lunch


Gabi said...

Sam! I grew up with that salad! Another cross-cultural breed! That tomato is worth of a prize!

You mentioned bringing the seeds from Greece. Any clue what tomato specie was that?

Also- what is "Opa"? We have the same word in Romania when you jump over something (?). Like "Whoopla"!


Gabi @

Jessie said...

Great information. Man, that salad looks great!

a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

parsnips aplenty said...

You've got me craving pepperoncini, now! That looks fantastic.

heidileon said...

oh, finally I know the story and true recipe of greek salate...gracias Sam

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Sam, I have a friend of Greek decent coming to dinner in a couple of days and I wanted to surprise him with a Greek salad. All I've been able to find have lettuce in them, which I didn't think was traditional. I'm going to give yours a try.

Maria VT said...

I am so excited that I came across your blog. I look forward to trying some of the recipes. Do you have any recipes on how to make the breakfast tiropites?