Horiatiki.

Did you miss me?

Well, I hope so. As for myself? Let’s just say that I am totally, absolutely in love with Greece. Not that I don’t fall in love with any and all vacations, but still.

The pictures will follow, at some point, as will the total recap that I like to do after a trip, but for now, I have to tell you about my new favorite dish in the whole wide world: the Greek Salad.

Fortunately, I have grown to love and utterly adore raw tomatoes. Okay, so I still won’t toss some salt and pepper on a slice and eat it all by its lonesome, but you get the point.

So on our first night, after a reallllllly looooonnnngggg trip to Athens and then another long trip to the island of Naxos, and yet another hour or so of wandering to find our hotel, we finally settled in to have dinner around 10 PM. Yes, one day in, and we already totally grasped the Euro-style-eat-late-mantra. At least in that regard, we fit right in. Which is to say that otherwise, we were absolute tourists. Well, I suppose not, since our luggage was nowhere to be found (stay tuned) and since I never did buy that fanny pack…

Anyway, I ordered a Greek salad to start things off (and duh, we’d already taken care of getting a bottle of wine – don’t be silly). Minutes went by, a couple of glasses of wine were tossed back, and then – then! – said salad came to our table. I realized, oh, about two bites in, that I could literally eat one of these salads every. single. day. And for the rest. of. my. life.

And that’d be alright by me.

I quickly realized that these salads were probably never going to taste as good as they did those first couple of nights. For one, I’m on vacation, which means everything just automatically tastes better because, well, you’re on vacation. And two, the produce was ultra fresh and ultra local – especially on Naxos. Feta cheese has never tasted so dang good. Oregano has never tasted so like, um, oregano. And the tomatoes? Holy moly on a Sunday – perfection. And I was right – but I promise you – even though the first few salads I had were the best, I never had nary a one that I didn’t eat every little morsel of – and wish there were more.

So without further adieu, I had a little backyard potluck party to attend this past weekend, and you best believe I decided to make one of these babies. Now, most Greek salads (called Horiatiki in Greece) have a certain set of ingredients. Most of them. Americans like to crumble the feta, they like to make a special dressing, and even some of the Greeks like to throw in some capers and different colored peppers every now and then, but I promise you one thing – there is only one true legit Greek salad. And I hope I did my best here to show you that.

If you want to hear it from a Greek herself (and not just a poser like me), check out this link. It’s sorta funny, how hardcore the true Greeks are about their salads. Sorta like the Chicagoans and their Chicago-style wieners. Regardless, I hope you like it, because I most certainly do.

Greek (Horiatiki) Salad

the quantities are totally serving-dependent, but the measurements below are for the size salad you see directly above, which probably serves 6-8 people as a salad/side dish, 4 as a main course with a hefty chunk of bread alongside. or, if you’re like me, maybe it’s just for one…

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
2 English cucumbers, cut into chunks
6 vine-ripe tomatoes, each sliced into 8 wedges
~1 c Kalamata olives
2-3 large slices of feta cheese (NOT crumbled)
~1-2 T red wine vinegar (depending on how much acid:oil you prefer, most Greek salads have much more oil than vinegar)
~6-7 T GOOD olive oil (duh, Greek if you have it)
1 t Greek oregano
salt and pepper

instructions
place onion through olives in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. top with feta cheese, then pour vinegar and olive oil atop the salad and finish with oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.

Otto-who? Otto-what?

Over a year ago, I had this crazy idea of going vegetarian. Okay, I’m not telling the truth here. I had the idea of going pescatarian, and only for a month – it was not to be a permanent change. It seemed doable, and this is coming from someone who tends to really like meat. I fought my way through it, even tossing away a lovely piece of pork that I mistakenly ordered, thinking it was a dish full of wheat berries and ramps (don’t ask how I screwed up there….). I didn’t order beef pho the first time I went to a place that served it, and at a tapas restaurant, I chewed on cheese and peppers, drank lots of wine, and tossed back mussels like it was my job.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Would I ever give up meat completely? I seriously doubt it. For one, I couldn’t imagine a visit to the South without barbeque (not the fake stuff). And two, I love the smell of cheeseburgers on the grill. Also, bacon is pretty awesome.

But sometimes, I do manage to go a few days without eating meat, and I can honestly say that I usually don’t even notice it. I’d even go further to say that, sometimes, eating vegetarian is a lot healthier, as long as you watch the cheese and carbs.

It seems that every time I talk about vegetarian food, I feel the need to insure you people that I do not intend to eat this way full-time. I’m not sure why? Maybe because I know many of you enjoy the meaty posts, and I assure you they are here to stay.

But the other day, I discovered lentils. Don’t ask me why I’ve never cooked them before; I have no intelligent answer. A friend of mine let me borrow a cookbook of hers that is all-vegetarian, and while I didn’t expect this to be the case, I have a lot of the pages marked and as a result, wonder if I should just buy the dang thing myself.

Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is that book. And of course, I’ve cooked a slew of things (no, I haven’t written about them all) from Heidi Swanson’s new book too, which also happens to be vegetarian. What I’ve realized is this: as long as flavor is brought to the dish, I don’t miss the meat. But the second you make something bland and boring, I may as well be eating tofu from the container. Or tempeh, which is still gross to me.

Ottolenghi seems to know what’s up on that front. His secret? He’s not vegetarian. Of course, some people seem to have a problem with that, but for me, it’s a match made in heaven. He knows that meat tastes good, and he knows that many vegetarian dishes lack flavor. The result? He makes his recipes scream with flavor, belting out ingredients like mustard seeds and curry powder, fenugreek and pomegranate molasses – and it works.

Also! he made me fall madly in love with lentils, an ingredient I’ve never really taken an interest in before. So yeah, maybe I just realized that I’m probably never giving this cookbook back to my friend (shhhhh!), and maybe as long as I locate vegetarian recipes that are actually locked and loaded with flavor I’ll be able to eat somewhat like a ‘flexitarian’, or whatever it’s called. But at the end of the day, I’m sticking to my beliefs – and that’s that meat is meant for me to eat, and I was meant to eat meat.

Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt
adapted from Plenty; serves 4 as a light dinner 

time commitment: 1 hour, about half of which is active

printable version

notice the piece of naan tucked alongside this dish. I didn’t make it this time, but you can. Or you can just buy some :). also, one of these spices is possibly tricky to find: fenugreek. It’s nice, if you have it, but don’t sweat it if you don’t.

ingredients
1 c split red lentils
1 1/2 c water
half a regular bunch of cilantro
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 1-2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chile
1 1/2 t black mustard seeds
4 T sunflower oil
1 1/2 t g coriander
1 t g cumin
1/2 t g turmeric
1/4 t sweet paprika
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 t sugar
1/4 t fenugreek (if you can find it)
1 small container of Greek yogurt
1/2 of a cucumber, finely diced
1 1/2 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 1/2 T fresh lime juice
salt and pepper

instructions
wash the lentils under cold water and pour into a bowl with the water. let soak for 30 minutes. get the rest of your ingredients ready and chopped.

meanwhile, cut the cilantro bunch halfway between the top and bottom. give the leaf top a rough chop and set aside. add the bottom stalky part to a food processor along with the onion, ginger, garlic and chili. pulse a few times until ingredients are broken up, but not pasty.

grab a heavy pot (Dutch oven time!) and turn on medium heat. add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped mixture and the sunflower oil. cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the coriander through the paprika, and continue cooking/stirring for five minutes. the mixture may appear very dark, which is just fine.

add the lentils and their soaking water, tomatoes, sugar, and fenugreek, as well as a little salt. cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked. you’ll probably want to check on them occasionally, as mine were about 5 minutes overdone since I abandoned the kitchen for too long…

meanwhile, make the  yogurt by whisking the yogurt, cucumber, and olive oil together. add salt and pepper to taste.

once the lentils are cooked, stir in the butter, lime juice, and most of the cilantro leaves. season with salt/pepper if needed. divide into 4 dishes, topping each with a large dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves to garnish.