When we were in Maine, we ate piles and piles of tomatoes grown in the backyard garden. Such richness! I ate cherry tomatoes like candy (though they were better than candy) just because I could. Even when tomato season reaches its zenith in California and my farmers’ markets are overflowing, there is nothing – nothing – like the taste of a tomato eaten with minutes of its being picked (one day, a garden …). We ate them in salads, incorporated into a brown rice and Gruyere cheese gratin (the recipe for which I will share soon), folded into grilled cheese. I never got tired of them.
One afternoon Emily made a Greek salad swollen with tomatoes, almost indecently so, to take to a party. It looked glorious and I forced myself to stay out of the kitchen while she worked so I wouldn’t be tempted to sneak a bite or two. Now, we’d driven across state lines from Vermont that morning, leaving not-too-early but early enough, and once back in Bath the thought of organizing myself to go out seemed a bit much. But she was going for sure and she was taking that salad I eyed so covetously. So after a tiny run along the river, a cool shower, and a lot of water I rethought my position about tagging along. It would be fun to be social! To get out of the house! In all truth, I also just really wanted some of that gorgeous-looking salad.
So we did go, and it was nice of course. To get there we drove along a road that wound through meadows tipped with August sun, marked here and there by prim, two-story white houses and ramshackle barns, too, with a constant view of a river that shimmered in the early evening light. We ate delicious plates filled with quinoa salad, bean salad, vegetables, hummus, and bread and cheeses. I drank one bottle of beer and swatted mosquitoes away as we walked down from the house a ways to look at the boats in the river. There is something about being on the water as night falls; the light lingers, the birds swoop in low, boats clank gently on their moorings. It is very still and quiet and just-so. Then I came back up to the house and ate more of Emily’s salad.
True Greek salad – or horiataki – does not call for lettuce – in fact, it is quite disappointing when you order one at a restaurant and it is made up of mostly greens rather than a happy jumble of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and olives. Oh, and the feta must be served in slabs perched on top and not crumbled. This is key.
I started hankering for more of Emily’s salad almost as soon as the bowl emptied and vowed to come home and make a version of it myself. I took notes, even, carefully writing down about how much lemon juice to olive oil I’d need for the dressing (plus a little more olive oil; you want it to be quite oily) and trying to remember if I had olives in my San Francisco fridge. But when I came home I just … couldn’t bring myself to replicate it. I knew I couldn’t, and then I’d be homesick for Maine (silly, because it’s not my home and I was only there for 10 days. Still.), and anyway it was bound to be terribly foggy and not summery, and and and.
The crux of it is that whenever I visit Kurt and Emily we talk a lot about food and cook a lot and I am inspired simply by sitting in their wide, sunny kitchen. Happily, I took some of that inspiration back to California in the form of the idea to make if not a true Greek salad at least a Greek salad-esqe dish which completely hit the spot and which I’ve been devouring for lunch every day this week.
I’ll mention here that the recipe I’m sharing today, clearly, is not for a true Greek salad – it doesn’t call for greens, no, but it does call for quinoa. Also it calls for the feta to be crumbled (though I mostly did that because I was packing it all up to take for lunches; if I served it at home I’d probably leave the cheese in neat rows for diners to break into with their forks), which is not accurate.
But it’s pretty killer for all its deviations. Lots of tomatoes, lots of feta, lots of lemony dressing and salt and pepper, a bit of crunch from raw chopped red onion and red peppers. It’s not quite Maine but it will do for now.
Look for the absolute freshest tomatoes you can get, as well as the ‘Greek-est’ feta cheese (I like the imported stuff, because it tastes more of the cheese and, while still salty, is not overpowered by it). Greek salad should have cucumbers but I’ve omitted them here because I planned to pack this up to take with me to the office and cucumbers tend to get mushier as time goes on and that wasn’t too appealing. But if you are going to eat this all up in one go, peel and chop a (very fresh) cucumber and add it in to the salad.
Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I like the boil/steam method)
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
lots of tomatoes: 3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved; 2-3 very ripe, fresh tomatoes that ‘look good’ (by which I mean: red, juicy, probably picked within hours or days)
1 red pepper, seeds removed, and coarsely chopped into about 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup (or more) crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the vegetables. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and add the vegetables, basil, and feta cheese. Stir gently to combine. Whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together and pour into the quinoa mixture. Stir well to coat vegetables and quinoa with the dressing. Liberally salt and pepper to taste.