Before going to the motherland, I had a much higher opinion of Greek octopus and potatoes than their salad. I thought that the romaine with limp olives and hyper processed crumbled feta was the Greek equivalent of General Tso’s Chicken and Baked Ziti i.e. what silly Americans eat when they think they’re having Chinese or Italian food.
But it only took me until the ferry terminal on my first day in Greece to realize I was very wrong. Contrary to what my snarky Greek friend texted me in response to my instragram—that, they just call it “salad” here—Greek Salad is on just about every single menu you’ll come across in Greece. And it’s written as such on all the tourist menus. It’s also something that Greeks and tourists alike will eat with just about every meal.
My main gripe with the anemic Greek salads in the US was the feta (it smells like feet). But when I sat down at the ferry terminal to try my very first authentic Greek salad, I realized that what I had known as feta was very different from what was on my plate. First of all, the Greek’s serve their feta in blocks on top of the salad. The cheese itself is moister, firmer and much more mild than what I’ve tried in the past. It also works perfectly in harmony with the other ingredients—especially the raw onion and olives, two other things that I don’t usually opt for in my salads.
My favorite part of Greek Salad in Greece is that the olives are thrown in unpitted. This makes it really strange to actually take the aforementioned bite of all the ingredients together in one mouthful. The first time I did, I almost swallowed a pit and choked. But then I figured out how to kind of gnaw on the olive while eating other things. I was intrigued to watch a real Greek eating Greek salad to see what their technique was. I found this observation very useful in learning how to eat ramen without leaving the restaurant with a gentle mist of it all over my clothes.
I wondered if in Greece there was a similar childhood myth about swallowing the olive pit and having a tree grow in your stomach, much like what my parents told me about watermelon growing up (and perhaps one reason why I don’t eat watermelon). If this type of dexterity–like being able to tie a cherry stem in a knot with your mouth–meant you were a good kisser, as the consensus was in middle school, perhaps the Greeks French kiss better than the French? Unfortunately, that I was not able to find out.
But I’ve digressed…
All of this is to say that I fell madly deeply in love with Greek salad and never got sick of it, even after we ate the stuff for Every. Single. Meal. So when I got back I tried to think of ways I could put a spin on it without bastardizing the holy combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and onion. My conclusion: to throw some potatoes into the mix. After all, when I wasn’t eating Greek Salad, I pretty much just ate potatoes.
My stealth ingredient is capers, either the big berries you find at the antipasti bar or regular small ones. They add even more great briny acidity to the vegetables. The authentic Greek salads that included this wild card addition were always my favorite—they even tossed in the pickled leaves from the caper tree and little bits of the stalk.
This warm Greek Potato Salad recipe is a great healthy departure from the usual mayo version (though, I could probably eat a bowl of that too at every meal and not get sick of it). I leave it to you whether to take on the tongue exercise of using unpitted olives in there. I would love you to report back on your tricks for eating this salad without choking/spitting up food on yourself.
Greek Potato Salad with Olives and Feta
- 6 medium Yukon gold potatoes about 2 1/4 pounds
- Sea salt
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes or 1lb vine tomatoes, roughly chopped, halved
- 1 cucumber peeled, seeded and diced
- ½ small yellow onion thinly sliced
- ½ pound pitted Kalamata olives
- ¼ pound caper berries or 2 tablespoons capers, or a mix of both!
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ pound Greek feta cheese crumbled
- Place the potato in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to touch. Cut the potatoes into 1-inch chunks.
- Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, olive, capers, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Fold in the potatoes and taste for seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the crumbled feta.