Monday, August 8, 2011

As Greek As It Gets

The salad that I accompany eighty percent of my dinner meals with, is a Horiatiki salad (Χωριάτικη Σαλάτα) or Greek salad as it is called outside of Greece.

Horiatiki means "in the peasant manner" and it denotes the rustic character of the salad with its roughly chopped, colorful vegetables glistening under the rich coating of Greek extra virgin olive oil.

For me, there is no other salad that can even compare to Horiatiki in freshness, vibrancy, combination of flavors and utter simplicity which is, ultimately, the main characteristic of all traditional Greek food.

This is principally a summer salad, since its main ingredients—tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers—are at their prime during the summer months but I can honestly tell you that there isn't one day during the whole year that's not a good Horiatiki salad day for me.

In Greece, there isn't a single person (I hope) that doesn't know how to prepare this salad. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing for the rest of the world. I have never been to a Greek restaurant or taverna outside of Greece that serves a proper Horiatiki salad. They always tend to bastardize it with whatever ingredients they think "fit" with it. I get so annoyed by that.

Horiatiki is made with a number of specific ingredients. It is not a collection of random vegetables and herbs. It is not, "let's put anything in there that is remotely reminiscent of Greece or what is believed to be used by Greeks even if it's not".

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for experimenting and trying new things, adding or subtracting ingredients from a recipe to make it your own or suit your particular tastes but, when it comes to certain recipes and traditional Greek cooking in particular, then I'm a stickler for authenticity.

So, let me set things straight.

Ingredients that should never, ever, under no circumstances, even if you once ate it like this somewhere in Greece, be included in a Horiatiki salad:

—Lettuce or leafy greens of any kind
—Lemon juice
—Fresh oregano
—Yellow or red bell peppers
—Crumbled cheese

Ingredients that should be included in a real Horiatiki salad:

—Tomatoes. The freshest, juiciest, ripest tomatoes you can possibly find, cut into wedges.
—Cucumber. Long, fresh, chilled, peeled, sliced.
—Green bell peppers. The thinner-skinned you can find, the better. Cut into rings.
—Red onion. Strong, pungent, cut into rings.
—Olives. Pit still in. Plump, juicy, shiny, Greek Kalamata olives. Some people add throubes (a wrinkly type of black Greek olive) or even green Greek olives. Be my guest. I can be flexible, see?
—Feta. Greek feta (is there anything else?), hard, salty, creamy and in one large piece.
—Oregano. Greek, always dried and lots of it.
—Olive oil. Greek, extra virgin. My friends from other parts of the Mediterranean will have to excuse me when I say this but, Greek is the best.
—Red wine vinegar. A must. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

You retain the right to make whatever kind of salad you want with whatever ingredients you want but it won't be a Horiatiki (Greek) salad. It will be something else.

What you must always have on hand when you're eating this salad is bread. A big loaf of rustic, hard-crusted bread.
A typically Greek thing to do when you're eating a Horiatiki is a "papara". Papara is to dunk a small piece of bread into the oil, vinegar and vegetable juices that have accumulated at the bottom of the salad bowl, allow the bread to soak up all the juices that it can hold, being careful not to break it up, and then eat it.

Papara in progress

Papara is something you do when you're sharing a meal with friends or family and not when you're at a business lunch. Outside of Greece it is considered a bit rude but I think it's the best thing in the world. You haven't eaten a Horiatiki salad properly if you haven't made a papara.
If you want to be more "courteous" though, you can put a small piece of bread on your fork and dip it into the salad juices instead of holding the bread with your hand. Not the same thing but, eh, what can you do?

Greek dried oregano

Horiatiki Salata (Greek Salad / Peasant Salad)

It would be ideal if you could find Greek dried oregano, Greek red-wine vinegar and good quality Greek extra virgin olive oil to use in your Horiatiki but your salad won't be less flavorful if the ingredients you use aren't Greek.

This salad can either accompany your main meal or it can be enjoyed as your main meal. It can easily become a vegetarian dish or suitable for Lent by omitting the feta.

Always prepare Horiatiki salad right before serving it and since it doesn't keep well in the fridge (it gets soggy really quickly), make sure you prepare no more than you need.

Yield: 2 main-meal servings or 6 salad servings

4-5 vine-ripened tomatoes, about 350 g, cut into wedges
½ large cucumber, peeled and sliced
½ large green bell pepper, cut into rings
½ large red onion, cut into rings
10-12 Kalamata olives
200 g Greek feta, in one or two large pieces
1 ½ Tbsp red-wine vinegar
4-6 Tbsp Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tsp Greek dried oregano
Sea salt, to taste

Toss together the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion and salt in a bowl and then transfer them to a medium-sized salad bowl.
Add the olives and the feta on top and sprinkle with the dried oregano.
Pour the vinegar all over the salad and then drizzle the olive oil all over the ingredients.

Serve immediately along with lots of crusty bread.


  1. Okay, this is great. Now we know. Thanks. Your looks delicious.

  2. Might be a peasant salad but it looks unbelievably good and refined!

  3. Oh thanks so much for this. I've been really wanting to make an authentic Greek salad and now I have the recipe. I so admire inspiring salads; in Britain they mostly give you a pile of lettuce (no dressing and only mayonnaise to slater on), a tomato cut in four and some onion rings.

  4. Thanks for putting things straight! I've always wanted to know what the proper version was for a Greek - I've eaten hundreds of variations of it arount Europe and I was curious about the real thing.

    I'm totally familiar with the concept of 'papara': it is called scarpetta in Italian, and you have to do it after you eat pasta with any sauce, and several other dishes. It is the best part.

  5. Fantastic. I love how you've explained the "real deal" here... I feel the same way about many Middle Eastern dishes!

    That said, isn't it lovely how such a simple dish can encapsulate a culture?

  6. Aside form tasting absolutely wonderful, this salad is a feast for the eyes!

    I love that tradition is so strong in Greece and am glad to know the parameters for making an authentic Greek salad. I think the thing that surprised me most was the feta in one piece on top. Also, very lucky to have my own Greek oregano growing in the garden - and now I know to dry it before using. Thanks for this, Magda!

  7. Nice blog :D your recipe looks delicious.

  8. The Horiatiki Salad looks delicious and refreshing! I'm intrigued that the word "salad" appears to be pretty much the same in Greek as in English. A quick dictionary check suggests the word comes from old northern Italian for salt, rather puzzling, though I do douse my salads with perhaps too much salt (and black pepper). Makes one wonder about the migration of word itself, as of the migration of ingredients themselves. The vibrant tomatoes and peppers must have been introduced to the dish sometime in the last 500 years, as they are native to Central America and unknown in the Europe until after Columbus. The cucumbers are Persian in origin (remember the witty Arabian Nights tale of the Caliph and the Cucumbers?). The Olives as well as the wheat for bread originated in southwestern Asia and were disseminated throughout the Mediterranean before recorded history. Oregano and onions were recorded in Greece at least by 500 BC. So this beautiful, flavorful rustic salad seems quietly to record Greece's historic place at the crossroads of the world. What an exciting dish! Thanks so much for sharing. It will be on this week's menu for sure! - Mark

    1. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing! So interesting.

  9. Denise, Pola — thanks!

    Emily Vanessa — that's a disappointing salad you're describing. I hope you enjoy this one! :)

    la caffettiera — you're welcome! Italians and Greeks have so many similarities, even in the way they eat. Papara is made not only with horiatiki salad but also with numerous other dishes!

    Yasmeen — it sure is!

    David — you have Greek oregano growing in your garden?? Lucky you :)

    A gusto y piacere — thank you!

    Mark — thank you for your comment. You have done your research! Yes, the word 'salad' comes from the Venetian word 'salata' which comes from the latin word 'sale' which means salt.
    Olives are cited in ancient Greek literature as far back as the 8th century BC and of course everyone knows about the olive branch that used to be awarded to the winner of the Olympics in ancient Greece. I was discussing with S last night about how tomatoes are always considered "Mediterranean" when actually they are from South America. They do grow so well in Greece though :)
    I hope you enjoy the salad!

  10. This salad is one of my favorites. The photos are lovely.

  11. I am glad to say that when I make a Greek salad I usually make it almost right. Phew. I use tomatoes, cucumber, Kalamata olives. I don't always use onions for obvious reasons. And sometimes I omit peppers. Is it still a Greek salad? I use feta. Except I do admit that I crumble it...oops. You caught me.
    Papara, or scarpetta in Italian, is a must.
    Your post reminded me of a post I wrote on being a purist or not. It is funny that we all claim to be open to new ideas, that we like experimenting and fusion. Until it comes to our own traditional dishes. Then we become food nazis. In other words it is ok to play around with ingredients as long as it someone else's heritage. But that is the point: somewhere it will be someone's family recipe and messing with it is not acceptable. I get the goosebumps sometimes when I see recipes and pictures of risotto cooked by non-Italians or brownies baked by non-Americans. But what can you do? You shudder and try to be honored that someone appreciated your culture enough to imitate it, even if not perfectly. That is what I try to do because I am sure I have offended someone somewhere for ruining their grandma's food.

  12. A new follower from Spain here (altho' I am a Brit). Your images had me salivating completely over this gorgeous salad. Important ingredients have been noted; now off to write my shopping list ;-)

  13. taste of beirut — thanks

    nuts about food — yeah, it's kind of funny how we all do that. We're all free to experiment though with any type of food from any culture or country. I'm continuously doing that and I always enjoy other people's take on Greek food.
    Documentation of authentic dishes though is a rarity. They always include a "spin". There are many people out there who want to know how to make authentic, traditional dishes from their country of origin.

    Vanessa — hello there! Thanks :)

  14. A fabulous salad! Fresh, mouthwatering and so summery. Lovely clicks.



  15. I ate that same salad in Athens. Yours is prettier though, of course! I think the tomatoes were not quite as red. I get it that sticking to the "real" recipe sometimes is important. It's annoying when people try to fix what's not broken!

  16. Greek salad, is of course my favourite salad and a whole meal on itself. Now that I am on diet, I eat it almost every day sometimes as you have described it but when accompanying other dishes without feta or with low fat feta and no olives and a tbsp of agourelaio and lemon juice (no vinegar according to my dietician) but it is still the best salad ever.

  17. Now that my garden tomatoes are coming in by the basket, I will indeed make your true Horiatiki.
    thanks for setting us straight about what should Never be in it--I had no idea!
    the best part, for me, is always the meld of oil vinegar and juices at the bottom of the bowl.

  18. I grew up eating Greek food, living in New York city, and in between, it was on every other corner, so this brings back some fond memories.

  19. What's rude about papara?! Nothing rude about it! - it's lovely, it's enjoyment, it's savouring the food till the very last drop, which to me shows respect for the dish.

  20. I love a good Greek salad. Will definitely try out yours. It looks gorgeous, Magda,

  21. I love the fact that you've set it down straight here. No substitutions, no additions, just a perfect rendition of the original. Fabulous.

  22. Thanks! At least someone, who puts thinks into order for greek food!
    I'm getting so ennoyed, when I see crumbled feta on the salad...

  23. Wow, I haven't been to Greece in 21 years, but this salad has remained one of my very favorite food experiences in the world. I always think it's heresy when a restaurant puts lettuce in their "Greek" salad. I always thought the dressing was just olive oil and lemon juice. Didn't realize it was red wine vinegar. Thanks for clarifying! Now I'm longing for the islands. Have been wanting to go back so badly but am afraid my memory will be tainted with tourism.

  24. Hi Marga,

    I've taggged you to join in with 'My 7 Links'
    It would be nice if you joined in, but you are under no obligation.


  25. Your salad sounds wonderful and your photos make it look scrumptious. You continue to out do yourself. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  26. love love the title of this post! Even more so, I also want to try this salad asap!

  27. I'm so with you on the lettuce and fresh oregano.... But I have to admit I prefer to break up my feta and add a little lemon juice... whether it's right or wrong!

  28. Just got back from Greece yesterday (Thessaloniki and Thasos), and we have this with every big meal (usually lunchtime). I got a kick out of teaching my daughter about the obligatory "bouta" (I've never heard of the term papara...we always say "bouta! bouta!"). She LOVED it! =)

  29. Yum! I made this for dinner and am eating it right now! It is so simple and so delightful. If only I had some crusty bread! Delicious recipe, as always :)

  30. One of my favorite salad. Such a boost of colours and flavours !

  31. Beautiful salad, and I look for any excuse to use feta!

  32. wonderful. This salad, which I fortunately got to taste in Olympia, is what made me fall in love with salads, produce, food in general. After that magical Greek salad, I started becoming more conscious of what I eat, how it is grown, it's history, how it is prepared. In a very large way, it brought me to where I am now, being an organic specialty fresh produce grower in the Philippines. Who knows where this will continue to lead to? Thanks.

  33. You don't mention capers either as a forbidden or an acceptable item. Most of the variations I have had include capers, but I was hoping for your official word. Thank you, Curt

    1. Hi Curt. In certain Greek islands, the Cyclades in particular, they use capers or caper leaves in their horiatiki. It's not the norm though anywhere else in Greece and they're not part of the traditional horiatiki. It's an island variation.

  34. LOVE this post. My husband and I just got back from an amazing trip to Greece (we live in San Francisco, CA) and I swear I ate a "Greek salad" every single day, at least once a day. I'm going to a potluck gathering this afternoon and I'll be bringing a Greek salad and had exactly the ingredients you listed ready - so if nothing else, I learned how to prepare a proper Greek salad (plus, I scored some legit Greek olive oil while there)! And I agree - I did have a couple with capers in the Cyclades versions (and in Santorini, they did their own spin and used cherry tomatoes since those are more local there), but the best were the traditional, super cold and fresh salads. YUM.

    1. Hello Heather. The Santorini small tomatoes are unique and incredibly delicious. No wonder they use them in their horiatiki. Nice that you got Greek olive oil while in Greece. I may be biased, but I think it's the best. :)

  35. fnally somebody who posted the real deal. I can relate, I'm also tired of the different versions of a "greek salad". Being greek myself and being there every year, I know that this is the "right" way to eat it. It's not wrong to fix it up a different way, but if you wanna stay real, this is what to go with. Awesome!

  36. In Psiri in Athens, there is a restaurant called Nikitas which I love. Whenever I am there, I eat at Nikitas specifically for their Horiatiki and their fava! two of my favourite dishes. And yes, I believe that Greek olive oil is the best! I am good friends with a large Greek family ehre in Adelaide South Australia and am lucky to get the oil they make. The popouli always gives it to me in wine bottles ;)and I am nearly always laden down with vegetables and eggs too.

  37. Thanks for a great explanation of what comprises a true horiatiki. Your blog makes me learn a lot about Greek food, something I highly appreciate. I will follow you to learn more :) Best regards from Norway

    1. Hi Trude. Thanks for leaving me this note. I'm glad you discover new things about Greek food when you visit here. :)

  38. Απευθυνόμενη στον Ανώνυμη/η που άφησε σχόλιο περί ξιδιού.
    Είμαι από την Αθήνα και έχω φάει άπειρες φορές χωριάτικη που περιέχει ξίδι σε πολλά μέρη ανά την Ελλάδα. Αν δεν θες, δεν το βάζεις. Η ντομάτα όταν είναι καλοκαιρινή και ώριμη δεν εχει όξινη γεύση και το ξίδι της ταιριάζει. Η κλασική χωριάτικη σαλάτα περιέχει ξίδι.

  39. Thank you for this recipe! I just returned from a wonderful 2-week holiday in Greece and loved the Greek kitchen and the "traditional Greek salad". I want to try and make this at home. I'm glad I brought a big bag of Greek dried oregano home with me as a souvenir! :-)

  40. Hi,

    I just discovered your blog. I am happy that I did. 'Greek Salad' is the only Greek recipe I make. I love the names and I have seen many recipes on cooking shows. Spanakopita etc.

    I live in India and here we don't get puff pastry or phyllo pastry so it has always been on my to-do list. I have made tzatziki(spelling?) though recently. We loved it.

    I had my first greek salad 10 years back and we loved it so much. I am happy that you don't use lettuce because it was very tough finding it earlier. As soon as I found feta here I started making it. Its been 5 or so years. I am glad I can refine it a bit more thanks to you. I crumble the feta though because my husband and I fight for the cheese. We love it. :-P

    I have bookmarked so many recipes. I will let you know as and when I make them.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Sushma. Thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy my recipes and would love to read any feedback you may have.
      I love Indian food so much!

    2. Hi Magda,

      I just made horiatiki as per your recipe. I saw that you didn't include black pepper. Is it traditional not to have pepper in this salad? I didn't add it. I just wanted to know your ideas.

      It's amazing though. Tomorrow it is gigantes plaki sto furno. I have semi cooked it now. Will finish in oven tomorrow. Can't wait..we call it double b or double beans here. I don't like our traditional double b recipe(ussal)..I find it bitter. Hope to find yours amazing so that I can make it a staple at home.

      Thanks again,

    3. Hi Sushma. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. No, we don't add pepper to the horiatiki salad.
      Hope you enjoy the gigantes!