My Greek Salad

Anyone headed to any part of Greece quickly discovers that a Greek salad is a major offering…just about everywhere.

The context is usually perfectly suited for maximum enjoyment of a Greek salad. Think holidays, blue skies, the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, sun – lots of sun and a tiny restaurant half-filled with a relaxed t-shirt and sandal-wearing staff…and a large blue pitcher filled with lemon-scented water.

My ultimate experience of a Greek salad occurred on the island of Naxos. It was a blistering hot day in mid-September. People were on edge and unsure of their future – a reaction to the terrorist attacks in America only 10 days earlier. We decided to escape for the day and explore the lesser known parts of island in the east. We ventured first to the rocky shores of the north, went through ancient olive groves in the center of Naxos, then ended up on a dirt road along the dessert-like region of the eastern coast. It was hot, empty, dusty…but we always had a view of the beautiful Mediterranean sea.

Out of nowhere along the sandy banks that sandwiched our dirt and gravel road arose a sign advertising a restaurant located up the road. It seemed out of place…perhaps even from another era…but we were hungry and looking for an adventure. The sign eventually led us to a small complex with an open patio that was covered with palm fronds. No one was in sight but amazingly, it seemed open.

We were immediately greeted as we walked into the taverna by a young man who looked like he should be spending his time on a surf board rather than in the taverna. After a few moments sharing broken English, Greek and sign language, we discovered he just opened for the day and would be happy to make us some food. Excellent…although I would say my expectations were relatively low. Nevertheless, the shady patio was welcoming.

There was no menu – just a Greek salad and a kind of fish stew. I chose the Greek salad and then we waited…and waited…and waited a bit more. Finally, the salad arrived after nearly 40 minutes – and two pitchers of lemon-scented water later.

My first reaction was one of surprise and shock by the visual appearance. The vegetables were colorful and cut into large chunks. The feta cheese was cubed and incorporated into the salad. And there were large olives and a side of dried wild thyme that grew everywhere in the region. I could even smell the greenish colored olive oil. And then I had my first bite…

The vegetables were warm, like they had been sitting in the sun. The cheese was salty and creamy. It was the ultimate explosion of flavors in my mouth. How could something so simple taste so good?

I later found out that our server – remember that surfer dude – was the only one there. It was his place. The vegetables from the salad were harvested to order from his garden out back. And the feta was made from a neighboring farm about 10 miles away.

And now I knew the secret of a great Greek salad…use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find.

Yield: makes about 4-6 servings

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