Traditional Greek Salads

Horiatiki

Horiatiki ~ Marouli ~ Lahano ~ Dakos ~ Roka

The aroma of vine-ripe tomatoes and dried oregano in a fresh Horiatiki salad bring back fond memories of my husband’s mother, Amalia.

Amalia loved to spend hours every day in her pantry-sized kitchen making traditional homemade foods for her family. Everyone knew to leave the kitchen when she put on her pastel housecoat and favorite faded apron. The kitchen was her domain and her sanctuary.

One of Amalia’s specialties was traditional Greek salads. With every meal, she made either a Horiatiki, Marouli, or Lahano salad to go with cooked dishes.

The secret to the tastiness of Amalia’s traditional salads was farm-fresh ingredients. She chose only the freshest and most flavorful produce at the weekly farmers market, known as the ‘laiki agora.’ She didn’t have to go far to reach the market. The noisy and crowded laiki was held on the street outside her kitchen window in Athens.

In Greece, traditional salads are not only a central part of meals eaten at home but also of meals eaten at neighborhood tavernas. Greeks love their salads. The most common traditional salads you will see on menus at tavernas are:

  • Horiatiki – known as the ‘Greek Country’ or ‘Village’ salad, horiatiki is a medley of cut tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and green pepper, topped with Kalamata olives and feta cheese. The salad is dressed with light red wine vinegar and olive oil and seasoned with dried oregano.
  • Marouli – a simple, chopped romaine salad with spring onions, and fresh dill, lightly dressed with olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Lahano – a light, crisp salad of finely shredded cabbage and carrots, lightly dressed with olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice.

Another traditional salad, dakos, a specialty from the island of Crete, has made its way to mainland Greece. It’s one of my favorite salads to enjoy as an afternoon snack on a hot summer day. Dakos is a salad of tomatoes with feta and ricotta, or myzithra cheeses layered on top of hard barley or wheat biscuits called rusks. Dakos isn’t on every menu, and when it is, it may be listed as a meze or small dish. If you find a taverna that serves dakos, be sure to give this tasty salad a try.

While not a traditional home salad, many restaurants (estiatorio) in Athens offer a wide variety of arugula (roka) salads. Roka had a long history in the Mediterranean and was once used for its medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities. Now used for culinary purposes, upscale estiatorio create interesting salad combinations using roka, romaine, and other salad greens, fruits such as figs, pear, or persimmons, nuts including walnuts or pine nuts, and various shaved hard cheeses or feta. The peppery flavor of the arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the other salad greens, the added fresh fruits, and sweet dressings such as honey vinaigrette.

A few more things to know before you go:

  • Greeks eat with the seasons. Your favorite salad may not be available at tavernas or restaurants when the produce is not in season.
  • Salad dressings are used sparingly to accent the sweet, tart, or bitter flavors of the salad ingredients.
  • When traveling to different regions of Greece, you may come across variations in the ingredients of traditional salads.
  • Feta cheese is made from either sheep or goat’s milk and varies greatly in consistency and taste. If you don’t like the feta at one place, try it at another. I love feta, but I don’t like all varieties of feta.

When visiting Greece, be sure to try one or all of the traditional salads. And, when craving a Greek salad back at home, here are five salad recipes for you to enjoy:

Καλή όρεξη – Good appetite!

 

Recipes

 

Horiatiki

Photo attribution: commons.wikimedia.org (JPatokal)

Greek Country Salad (Salata Horiatiki)

 4-6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tomatoes cut into wedges
  • 1 English cucumber peeled and sliced into thick half-moon pieces
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-2 inch long, thin pieces
  • 1 green pepper, cut into 2-4 inch long, thin pieces
  • 12-16 Kalamata olives
  • 2-3 tablespoons light red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 200-gram block of feta cheese (7 oz) cut into chunks or leave whole
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt (optional)

Directions:

  1. Wash, dry, and cut the vegetables. Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, and olives in a bowl.
  2. Dress the salad with the vinegar, olive oil, and salt (optional). Toss the vegetables together.
  3. Add the chunks (or block) of feta to the top of the salad. Drizzle with olive oil. Then sprinkle the salad with oregano and serve.

Notes:

  1. Horiatiki is a summer salad.
  2. You may see domatosalata (tomato salad) on a taverna menu. This salad is similar to horiatiki but served without the green pepper, olives, and feta.
  3. Save some bread to dunk in the heavenly mixture of tomato juice and olive oil at the bottom of the salad bowl.
  4. How to pronounce horiatiki: hoar-ee-ah-tah-kee

 

 

Marouli

Photo attribution: commons.wikimedia.org (AlMare)

 Chopped Romaine Salad (Salata Marouli)

4-6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 bunches of romaine lettuce sliced thin
  • 2-3 spring onions or scallions, sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons light red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
  • Salt (optional)

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry the romaine lettuce. Cut into thin strips with a sharp knife. Place in a bowl with onions and dill.
  2. Dress the salad with olive oil, vinegar, and salt (optional). Mix well and serve.

Notes: 

  1. The chopped greens are refreshing on a hot summer day and are easy to eat and digest.
  2. How to pronounce marouli: mah-rule-ee.

 

 

Lahano

Photo attribution: pixabay.com (lim-mikhall)

 White Cabbage Salad (Salata Lahano)

4-6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of white cabbage, shredded
  • 2-3 carrots, grated
  • 4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • The juice of two lemons or 2-3 tablespoons of light red wine vinegar
  • Salt (optional)
  • Kalamata olives as garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry cabbage. Place the shredded cabbage and grated carrots in a bowl.
  2. Dress the salad with olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and salt (optional). Mix well and serve.
  3. Olives may be used as a garnish.

Notes:

  1. This salad is not like the typical coleslaw made with mayonnaise. The finely shredded cabbage is light and crispy with a tangy flavor.
  2. How to pronounce lahano: la-ha-no.

 

 

Dakos (2)

Photo attribution: commons.wikimedia.org (Frente)

 Traditional Cretan Salad (Salata Kritikos Dakos)

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 round Cretan rusks (paximadia) about 4 inches in diameter, or 4 thick slices of toasted whole wheat or multi-grain bread
  • 4-6 medium tomatoes grated and drained
  • 4-5 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 ounces of mizithra or ricotta cheese (optional)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Kalamata olives for garnish
  • Romaine lettuce sliced thin for garnish

Directions:

  1. Moisten the rusks (if too hard to break easily) with 4 tablespoons of water each and drizzle with half of the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Don’t soften them too much. They should be hard but easily breakable. For the toasted bread, just drizzle with a little olive oil.
  2. Arrange the rusks or toasted bread on a serving platter.
  3. Core the tomatoes, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Using the coarsest side of a box grater (or a hand grater with large holes), grate the tomatoes until you are holding only the thin skin. Place the grated the tomatoes into a colander. Let them drain for about 5 minutes.
  4. Spoon the tomatoes on top of the rusks or toasted bread. Add the feta and optional cheeses on top of the tomatoes.
  5. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and sprinkle with oregano.
  6. Add Kalamata olives and romaine for garnish and serve.

Notes:

  1. Make sure the toasted bread is extra-crispy.
  2. For an authentic experience, use the Cretan paximadia to make dakos. As of this posting, ‘The Manna’ Big Cretan Rusks made by the Tsatsaronakis Bakery are available on Amazon.
  3. Some varieties of paximadia are lighter and crunchier and don’t need soaking.
  4. Rusks made of barley or wheat are very popular in Greece, a staple in the house for times when a loaf of bread has run out. They are eaten for breakfast or added to soups and salads.
  5. How to pronounce kritikos dakos: kree-tee-kose dah-kose.

 

 

Roka

 Photo attribution: pixabay.com (Mariamichelle)

 Greek Arugula Salad (Salata Roka)

6 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 cups romaine lettuce
  • 1-2 cups arugula (Roka)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or raw walnuts (optional)
  • 5-6 figs or 1 pear, peeled and sliced
  • Crumbled feta or shaved kefalotiri cheese (optional)
  • Salt (optional)
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Directions:

  1. Wash, dry, and cut the produce. Place the romaine, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and fruit in a bowl.
  2. Make the honey vinaigrette by combining the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt (optional), and pepper. Whisk well to emulsify. Taste the vinaigrette and adjust, if needed, to desired sweetness.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, lightly coating the greens. Mix well.
  4. If desired, add nuts and cheese to the top of the salad. Serve.

Notes:

  1. Arugula is known as roka or rocket in Greece.
  2. For variety, substitute or supplement the romaine lettuce with other greens such as radicchio or mixed baby greens.
  3. Other fruits that pair well with this salad: 1 sliced green apple, a few sliced persimmons, or ¼ cup pomegranate seeds.
  4. Shaved parmesan or pecorino may be used in place of feta or kefalotiri.
  5. How to pronounce roka: row-kah.

 

 

 

 

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