Greek Summertime Eating

In my family, this is a traditional summertime dinner or weekend lunch. It's a bit of a unique combination, but it's satisfying and quite delicious. We call this Burned Butter Pasta & Greek Salad. Stay tuned, please.

My mother prepared this once a week during my years growing up in Australia. As Greek immigrants, we carried with us books, clothing and family heirlooms. We also carried our family recipes and food traditions. One such tradition was to grow our own vegetables. Green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were essential. My summer memories are filled with this Horiatiki (Greek) salad for dinner. It fills my memory center with love and sunshine when I smell the aroma of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, green pepper, oregano and extra-virgin olive oil. My soul is transported to Sparta, Greece, and more specifically to my grandmother's courtyard where she had a table under the shade of a grape arbor that my grandfather and father had, no doubt, planted and constructed many years earlier. It's a memory-filled with love and laughter--a safe and comforting time. All of this from a salad? Yes, all of this and more, which is why I'd like to share it with you.

Similar or Authentic. You've, no doubt, seen loads of "Greek Salad" recipes in cookbooks and all over the internet. Perhaps you've eaten at a Greek restaurant and enjoyed their Westernized version of a Greek salad. I'd like to clear the air. Most of the salads in most Greek restaurants are not traditional or authentic.  These versions have been modified to suit Western expectations and the budget of the restaurant. It is rare to find an authentic Greek salad, known as Horiatiki in Greece. For example, if there's lettuce in your Greek salad, it's not a Greek salad. If there's vinegar in your Greek salad, it's not a Greek salad (although a few Greek home cooks like to add a little vinegar). If you've found "the best Greek salad recipe" on your favorite food blog, I'm sorry, it's probably not traditional or authentic. If Martha Stewart tells you to drizzle a little balsamic glaze over your salad, or basil is an ingredient or dry oregano is replaced with fresh, it's not a real Greek salad. Apologies to Ms. Stewart and to Ina Garten (who I love) and to so many fabulous food bloggers--if you stray from the traditional recipe, please call it a "Greek-style salad" or a "Greek-inspired salad" or "my take on a Greek salad." I do the same thing when I share Asian- or Mexican- or Italian- or French-inspired recipes. If I've done the research, I share the information and call it my version. If I haven't researched the traditional recipe, I say it's in the style of whichever country I've focused on.

Warning! Sound the alarm! This is another #norecipe recipe. Come on! You can do it. Just take a look at the following photo of assembled ingredients and copy that. It's easy. There's just one critical step.
Place the tomatoes in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle liberally with salt and toss well. The salt will draw out the juice (some call it water) from the tomatoes and it will combine with the liberal amount of olive oil that you'll add at the end and make the freshest, most balanced dressing you've ever had. This is why you don't need vinegar. *wink*

Authentic? The traditional Greek salad is called Horiatiki Salata which means village salad. During the summer, there's almost no village dinner table or restaurant table in Greece where a Horiatiki Salata is not present. Typically it's enjoyed while the main course is finishing cooking or being plated. During the height of summertime weather, when tomatoes are bountiful, there's a Horiatiki at almost every lunch and dinner gathering. Often, it's the only offering. The traditional and authentic ingredients are:
  • Perfectly ripened tomatoes at their sweetest and juiciest. These are cut into wedges.
  • Cucumbers, peeled and sliced. If there are a lot of seeds, those should be removed. If they are small and tender, they don't have to be peeled.
  • Sliced green bell peppers (capsicums, for my Aussie friends). Even if you cannot digest them, add them to the salad just for the aroma, and push them to the side of your plate. This salad is as much about the aroma as the flavor.
  • Red onion, sliced or diced. Again, if you cannot process onions, use them for the aroma.
  • Oregano, preferably Greek. Must be dried, not fresh.
  • Salt. No pepper. It seems uniquely American that we put black pepper or everything.
  • Extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek and PDO.
  • Feta cheese. Doesn't have to be Greek, but it should be made with sheep or a combination of sheep and goat milk to be Feta. Read those labels.
  • Kalamata olives.
THIS is your list of ingredients for an authentic Greek salad.
The only thing that's missing is good extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Greek.

Salading--Salad Assembly. There is a one-two-three method here, so follow along to get it 100% authentically Greek and delicious.
  1. Tomatoes and salt go into a large serving bowl. Toss and leave for 10 to 20 minutes.
  2. Toss again. Now add the cucumbers, onions and pepper. Toss well. Taste and adjust with extra salt, if needed.
  3. Sprinkle with oregano and toss again.
  4. Top with a big chunk of good Feta cheese.
  5. Drizzle with a very generous amount of good olive oil. Toss.
  6. Add the olives.
  7. Serve with a loaf of good crusty bread cut into large slices for dunking into that tomatoey salad dressing.
  8. Sit at the table and enjoy eating with the burned butter pasta.
And the pasta? Well, this may not be an authentic Greek dish, so I'll wave that banner upfront, but in our family home, this simple pasta dish was as traditional as the Horiatiki Salata that accompanied it and as common a lunch or dinner as fried chicken is in the American South.

Burned Butter? That's what we've always called it, but it's actually called beurre noir and it's a commonplace method for turning the butter solids a lovely nutty dark brown. It's a step beyond the now ever-popular brown butter (beurre noisette) that we see in so many recipes today.

Recipe? It's quite simple. You can almost make this in your sleep, but don't do it. It might get a little messy in there. Watch the quick video (above) for a rapid-fire tutorial.

One stick of butter. An ample amount of grated Parmesan cheese, one to two cups. One pound of your favorite pasta cooked in salted water. Cook it until it's tender--not al dente--and drain well. Brown the butter (see video, above). While that's happening, layer the pasta with generous amounts of grated Parmesan cheese. Finish with cheese. Once the butter is ready, pour it over the cheese-covered pasta. Toss and serve at once with the authentic Greek salad.

Sometimes we grill lamb chops to eat with the salad. Sometimes we just enjoy the salad.
Sometimes we call our friends over and have it all!


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