Friday, 9 July 2010

GREEK SALAD FOR A CROWD


Hello, everybody! Today's topic is Greek salad, a salad that's pretty popular these days. Here's a recipe a little different from the every day Greek salad but just as good. It has enough portions to feed a crowd, so it's something great to make if you are having company or a large family gathering. Of course, the portions can be cut in half if you're not feeding lots of people. I think the star of this salad is the feta vinaigrette (scroll down), which is delicious, delicious, delicious!


The recipe is based on one from the book "How to Roast Lamb," written by chef Michael Psilakis. The book has been part of my collection since this past Christmas when I bought it with a gift card I received. Don't bookstore gift cards make the best gifts? I made the salad for Easter when we had a large gathering, and now I am making it again for a summertime barbecue I am hosting. This salad can be assembled up to an hour ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette can also be made ahead of time. Dress the salad just before ready to serve. 



Ingredients: 
(Serves 10 to 15 as part of a buffet)
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 or 3 heads of romaine lettuce hearts, outer leaves removed. Use the crunchy younger leaves. For the salad you see in the picture I used two heads of romaine
  • 1 fennel bulb sliced very thin
  • roasted bell peppers, or 3 small store-bought roasted red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
  • about 24 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved.  I used some heirloom cherry tomatoes so as to vary tastes and colours.
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced.  If it has too many seeds, remove them
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
  • About 15 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 15 whole caper berries *** see note  (if you don't like caper berries, use large capers)
  • 3/4 cup Feta Vinaigrette
  • 2/3 cup feta cheese, cubed
  • 4 pepperoncini, sliced and add a few whole ones as well (pepperoncini are small, yellow, and mildly-hot peppers which are picked and sold in jars)

Directions:


Getting the salad ready, with my heirloom cherry tomatoes, and with the caper berries right on top.
  • In a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the vinaigrette, feta and pepperoncini.  Toss really well to combine.  
  • When ready to serve: with really clean hands ... drizzle the vinaigrette on the salad and toss the mixture (with clean hands and food gloves and I love this part! That's called getting to know your food).
  • Scatter feta and pepperoncini on top.
  • Ready to serve!
Feta Vinaigrette 
(makes 1 1/4 cups, and it's kind of thick, but it dresses the salad well, and it tastes absolutely delicious).

Ingredients:
  • 2 small onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the onion
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (if you prefer red-wine vinegar, use it)
  • 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
That's the feta dressing poured on top. It has incredible flavour! It looks rather thick and greenish, but don't let the consistency or colour fool you. Once mixed in it turns the salad into something fabulous!


Directions:
  • Preheat a grill pan.
  • Brush onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place onions and garlic on grill pan and cook, turning, until tender. It should take 4 to 5 minutes for the onions and a much shorter time for the garlic. Make sure that the garlic isn't burned.
  • Transfer to a small bowl; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to combine.
  • Transfer the grilled onion and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and add the vinegar, basil, thyme, feta, mustard, shallots, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper; pulse to combine.
  • With the processor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup olive oil until dressing is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

I've made this vinaigrette again and again! The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but I substitute with white balsamic, which I sometimes combine with lemon juice.  I just don't like the taste of red vinegar. One final comment: the grilled onions and garlic? A brilliant idea, it makes for fantastic flavours!!!



***Note: What is a caper berry? 

There is a difference between the caper and the caper berry. Caper is a bush that grows wild in rocky coastal areas throughout the Mediterranean region. The capers that we eat are the pickled buds of this bush. If the buds are not harvested, they will flower and then turn into fruit. That fruit is the caper berry. Greeks pickle the caper berries and use them in cooking or serve them as a mezé. Both capers and caper berries have a piquant, mustard-like flavour. The caper berry has a stronger taste and is larger and fleshier than the caper. It's a lot easier to find capers at the store than caper berries, so go ahead and substitute if necessary.

Caperberries, this variety imported from Spain 

I had to include this photo (taken at a recent dinner) which shows caperberries accompanying a Mediterranean seafood feast. 

A jar of cappers.
flowering caper bush