Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another Less Fuss, More Flavor Recipe: The Easiest Greek Salad Ever

This beautiful summer salad is so full of flavor it doesn't even need dressing.

The way I cooked, ate, bought, and even thought about food all changed dramatically when I left urban Northern California for rural Missouri 13 years ago. Most of this was a direct result of space and availability. Moving from a 900 square-foot cottage with a postage-stamp sized yard to a couple of hundred acres meant there was space for a large kitchen garden, space for chest freezers, space for animals to graze.

Availability was a different story. Relocating from one of the undisputed gastronomic capitals of the world to the middle of nowhere in middle America meant that a lot of food purchasing options disappeared. Order Chinese take-out or have a pizza delivered? Neither. Dash to the store for proscuitto, kohlrabi, sherry wine vinegar? Forget it. Buying parsley or cilantro means 80 miles of driving. One learns to adapt.

My food philosophy these days can pretty much be summed up by the phrase Less Fuss, More Flavor. And what that simply means is this: the better your ingredients, the less you have to mess with them.

Of course some might argue that growing two dozen types of salad greens or putting up 100 pounds of tomatoes or raising your own lamb and beef constitutes a fair amount of fuss. But the nice thing is that if you start with the best, then at the end of the day when you're tired and sore and starving to death, a meal fit for even the most gourmet gourmand can be ready in a snap.

A typical late summer dinner for us might include grilled lamb chops or lamb leg steaks (I love these!), the last of the French filet beans in the garden, and some freshly dug Yukon Gold potatoes (because the best way to store your potatoes is to leave them in the ground). Now sure, you could marinate the lamb for hours with garlic and fresh herbs and all sorts of other delightful stuff, make the delicious sounding but 4-step Warm Green Bean, Pancetta & Tomato Salad with Parmesan in the issue of Fine Cooking I had sitting on the kitchen counter for months (but never actually made), and turn the potatoes into some gorgeous, creamy gratin. But the point is, you don't have to.

More often than not, the lamb gets tossed straight onto the grill, and the beans and potatoes are cooked up (steamed just until tender and boiled, respectively) and served with nothing more than a little organic butter and some nice salt and pepper. Less Fuss, More Flavor allows you to be lazy in the kitchen—without anyone ever realizing it.

A crusty loaf of homemade crusty bread (I always bake three or four loaves at a time and freeze them) and an heirloom tomato salad round things out. Except for a platter of plain sliced tomatoes, which often appears at our table, you can't get much simpler than this bare bones Greek style salad.

So what's your favorite Less Fuss, More Flavor recipe?

Farmgirl Susan's Simplest Greek Salad
Serves at least one

This pared-down version contains just five ingredients, so using the finest of each is of utmost importance. Juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes are the key, which means this is a Summer Only recipe. Stuff yourself silly on it now, and let the memories keep you satiated through the rest of the year.

Most Greek salads call for various other ingredients, some traditional and some not. Everybody seems to have their own favorite version. I used to add olive oil and vinegar but don't bother anymore. I've listed several optional additions below, though none are necessary. I didn't even put salt & pepper in the batch pictured here, though I did add a large handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley.

If you're a nibbler like me, bear in mind that the more complicated the recipe gets, the longer you'll have to fill yourself up while putting it together. Many Greek salad recipes call for cutting the vegetables into large pieces, but I like them on the small side because I'm one of those people who wants a taste of every thing in every bite.

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) aren't traditional, but I'm addicted to them and will toss them into practically anything when I'm not snacking on them straight from the can (I do rinse them first). Flavorwise, they fit right in here, and they give the salad a fiber and protein boost as well, which can be important if this ends up being your entire meal, like it was for me tonight.

Organic garbanzo beans are a bargain and should be a staple in everyone's pantry. You can find them in many places for under a dollar a can, including at Whole Foods Market, where they'll give you an extra discount if you stock up and buy a dozen cans at a time.

One large cucumber, cut into dice
Several vine-ripened tomatoes, preferably freshly picked, organically grown heirlooms (a variety of colors is nice), cut into small chunks
A handful of kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
A generous handful of fresh basil, chopped
A hunk of the nicest feta cheese you can find, preferably made from sheep's milk
Splash of brine from the olives or feta

Optional additions:
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil
Your favorite vinegar
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh garlic
Fresh oregano
Flat-leaf parsley
Anchovies, laid on top or a smidge of anchovy paste mixed in
Red onion
Sweet red peppers
Green bell peppers

Place cucumber, tomatoes, olives, basil, and half the feta cheese (crumbled) in a large bowl along with any desired additional ingredients. Gently toss with a large spoon until combined. Sprinkle with remaining feta cheese just before serving. Alternatively, you can whisk together an olive-oil based dressing and then toss it with the rest of the ingredients.

This salad tastes best if you mix it up and then let it sit for an hour or two at room temperature so the flavors can mingle, but it's delicious even in the making, which is of course how I always eat it.

Tomatoes lose their flavor when refrigerated, so don't make enough for leftovers—just mix up another batch.

Still have more tomatoes left? You'll find links to all my Less Fuss, More Flavor tomato recipes at the end of this post.

©, the freshly picked foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and we never get tired of tomatoes, though each summer we try our very best.


  1. Pretty much my favorite summer food!

  2. Thank you for telling me what to make for dinner tonight. I have all these things (minus the olives and cheese) ready to come out of the garden before I stow the beds for winter.

    Otherwise I was just going to make soup and tell Bubba to brave it with anything else he could find in the cupboard.

  3. Ummmm this hit the spot, what treat. My elderly mother loves Greek salad, I will have to make this for her. I have often thought the best gourmet food was the simple preparation of the very best. I know how you feel about deprivation of shopping and having to adapt. But I found ways and love my life here in Missouri too. Two transplanted Ca. girls making do, and doing it nicely I do believe :)

  4. I have got to learn how to make feta cheese. This salad looks awesome!

  5. I LOVE GREEK SALAD-- AND GREEK FOOD FOR THAT MATTER... I love your interesting twists on the theme. I am anxious to try this!

    Best Blessings, KJ

  6. The salad looks absolutely lovely! Have tried to have greek salad for breakfast? If not try it, it's really good. I have it with a double espresso :)

  7. Gosh, I remember our 100 lb tomato canning years. We haven't put that many up in some time, but I still can a few and also make my own salsa. Though it is work, there's nothing quite like being able to go the pantry/garage to grab a jar of your own. And the flavor is unsurpassed.

    The recipe for the salad sounds wonderful. I'm going to try it with a drizzling of pesto.

  8. I love making Greek salad too and you can use your purple basil in it too. I prefer dried oregano to the fresh in the salad, but nothing beats fresh basil. Since the purple is a bit different in flavor I put mine in my green salads, antipasto salads, and the Greek salads. My husband had a huge glut of them in his Aerogarden as he was concentrating on all the green basil it was producing and we concluded that it wasn't that great in spaghetti sauce, but it was good in spaghetti salad.

  9. This is the type of recipe I like -- when the optional ingredient list is longer than the main ingredient list! A salad that anyone can customize to their own liking and can be made differently each time!

  10. Wow, was that amazing! I used all homegrowns: tomatoes (one yellow, one Black Crim), Hungarian pepper, cucumber, parsley, and basil, then added feta, green onion, Kalamata olives, capers, ground Telicherry pepper, and fleur de sel salt. Wow! Thanks so much!


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