What the heck is a Greek Salad anyway?

This year I’ve made a real effort to bring my lunch to work.  It generally isn’t anything very complicated and I alway try to keep the calories down.  Fruit with yogurt, leftover grilled chicken; you get the idea.  Trying to  add some variety the other day I decided to make a salad: mixed greens, tomato, olives, salonika peppers, no onion this time (it was for work after all), a wee bit of cheese, oil, and seasoning.  Straight forward, simple, relatively healthy, easy to eat out of a plastic container. Lunch Salad showing mixed greens, feta, olives, salonika peppers, oregano, black pepper The feta and oregano got my mind to wandering (not that it takes much for my mind to wander) – what makes a Greek salad “Greek”?  I know it’s a stupid question, the answer to which won’t be some earth-shattering revelation, yet I wanted to know and still do.  I see it on menus, I see “real Greek” dressing in the supermarket but what makes it “Greek”?  Is it the cheese, the olives?  Is it the use of oil and vinegar and oregano? Was it made by some “real Greek” holed away in the basement of some factory?  I really want to know.  Is it still a Greek salad if the oregano comes from Mexico or Italy? What if salad oil is used instead of olive oil?  And what about the feta?  My guess is that most restaurants use some american made feta-like cheese made from cow’s, not sheep’s, milk.  At what point does a “Greek” salad become just a salad?  I started to ramble on about this to my husband.  He decided the car windows needed to be cleaned and headed off to the garage.  He also doesn’t eat salad, or veggies in general, but that’s another story for another time.  Back to my salad conundrum.

I grew up in a Greek-American home.  My Father was from the Athens suburbs and my Mother, although of Greek heritage, was from that exotic locale known as the lower East Side of Manhattan (NYC, not Kansas).  Thus I cannot speak to all the different regions of Greece or their subtle salad nuances.  Still, I can’t remember ever having a Greek salad like those on menus here in the States.  My mother had two interpretations of a Greek salad:

1)  “green” salad – romaine lettuce cut into ribbons, seasoned with fresh dill, olive oil, salt and pepper.  She might add some scallions and maybe some wine vinegar.  Yup, that’s all it was.  It had dill so I avoided it at all costs as a child.  Incredibly I actually found that recipe in a greek cookbook one time.; and,

2)  “tomato” salad – tomatoes, feta, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  She might add some sliced onion, preferably red, and she might add cucumber.  She never added vinegar; tomatoes are already acidic.  Growing up this was my preferred salad at home.

These are also the salads I remember from my many trips to Greece, so you can see my confusion.  I love anchovies but remember those being served on the side, never in my salad.  The brined peppers?  Nope.  Same for olives.  All those things I remember being served as mezethes -small nibbles to eat with a drink before dinner.  I looked to the internet to find some sage’s guidance without luck.  Do you know what makes a Greek salad “Greek”?  Do Italians feel the same about “Italian” salads?  Do the French make “French” dressing?  Does any of this matter if it tastes good?  Probably not.

Oh, I just looked at my watch – it’s getting late and I haven’t had dinner.
I think I’ll make a Greek Salad.

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