a very San Francisco Greek salad

I’ve had some amazing Greek salad, sitting by little marinas on Greek islands with the sun on my shoulders. Over there they are very simple – a big chunk of good feta, not broken up. Sitting on top of juicy, in season, sun-warmed tomatoes; chunks of crunchy cucumber and raw onion (the only bit I don’t like). The whole salad will be liberally sprinkled with sun-dried oregano – which for me is the taste of Greece. There will be dark purple wizened, stone in olives studded throughout. There won’t be any dressing but there will be a bottle of red wine vinegar and local olive oil on the table so I can dress it to my liking. Bliss.

But what to do when you can’t just hop on a plane, when you fancy something different and tomatoes aren’t yet in season? I’m writing this as a storm is raging outside and it is freezing. I quite fancy something fresh after a diet of winter food and this warm salad is perfect. This is my version of a modern Greek salad – influenced, in part, by one I had at Bar Tartine in San Francisco. Eat it as it is or use it to top freshly toasted flatbread or ciabatta. Always, always serve it at room temperature, never fridge cold.

You can make this salad with a chunk of feta instead of the whipped feta if you prefer. Leftover whipped feta is lovely on toast (think of it as posh Philadelphia) or tossed through warm greens with red wine vinegar and crispy proscuitto or dukkah.

If you have a good Middle Eastern grocer near you, head there to get the best olives, feta and cucumber. The quality will be much better than a supermarket and the price will be lower too. While you’re there grab some flatbreads to serve alongside your salad.

Ingredients (serves 2 people as a main, 4 as a starter)

450g (16oz) baby tomatoes

45-90g (a quarter – half a cup) of Kalamata olives, in oil rather than brine

1 large or 4 small Persian cucumbers – do try and get the less seedy, Middle Eastern cucumbers if you can.

4 spring onions (green onions in the US)

around half a tablespoon dried oregano

around a tablespoon red wine vinegar

around a tablespoon good olive oil

Whipped feta:

220g (8oz) Sheep’s milk feta

4oz (130g) Fage Total Greek yoghurt – any fat percentage is fine

Juice and zest of a lemon (around a tablespoon of juice)

1 level teaspoon of honey

Freshly ground black pepper

To make

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220c (425F)
  2. Put the drained olives and the tomatoes onto a metal baking sheet with a tablespoon of olive oil – ideally the oil the olives were packed in. Put the tray into the oven for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are popped and the olives are starting to blister. The closer to burn they are the better!
  3. Put the honey, Greek yoghurt, lemon juice and zest and black pepper into a food processor along with almost all the feta. Keep a little feta aside to crumble on when you serve the finished dish. Puree until you have smooth, airy cream.
  4. Chop your onions, the green and the white bits, into thin circles and set aside.
  5. To assemble your salad, slice your cucumbers in half length ways then cut them on an angle into 1 inch wide pieces. Scatter them onto a platter so they are evenly and widely spread out (or put them on top of toasted bread and use the bread instead of the platter).
  6. Use a spoon to dot blobs of the whipped feta around the plate amongst the cucumber.
  7. Spoon your cooked tomatoes and olives over the platter along with any juice they have created. Try not to totally cover the feta as it can melt it.
  8. Scatter the onions and crumbled feta over the salad along with the oregano and red wine vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Equipment

You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe through my shop. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools.

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