Everyone I know seems to be traveling to Greece this summer – that’s everyone, except me.
And I have to admit I have a little fear. Gorgeous pictures and stories with sparkling blue waters and delicious fresh food make me want to try Greek food even if I’m only traveling in my mind.
Many of the great Greek restaurants I’ve visited in the US have made me a longtime fan of the horiatiki salad. in greek, Horatike It means village. I was told that the name of the salad translates to Greek farmer’s salad or peasant salad, and it is believed that the name derives from the simple salad that villagers make from their vegetable gardens – onions, cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, etc.
Today, it is served all over Greece, and in Greek restaurants and diners in the USA. I ordered the salad for the first time several years ago in Greektown, Chicago and fell in love with it instantly. It’s the best thing about a salad without the lettuce. That means crisp cucumbers and ripe, slightly acidic tomatoes – I like to use halved cherry tomatoes – red onions, bell peppers, creamy feta cheese, salty olives, and a drizzle of red wine vinegar, olive oil and oregano.
For me, the combination of tangy cold greens with salty cheese and olives, and the flavor of red wine vinegar with dried oregano is a perfect salad. I like to top the salad with a generous amount of garlicky tzatziki. It works as a creamy sauce and adds another layer of flavor.
These days tzatziki are so popular that you can buy them pre-made but you can serve yourself and make your own. The difference is like day and night. While slicing the cucumbers for the salad, reserve about 4 inches of the cucumbers and chop them into small cubes for the tzatziki. The hardest part in making the cucumber, garlic and yogurt dip is filtering the milk to remove excess moisture (whey). Alternatively, buy already filtered Greek yogurt or use a Middle Eastern “cheese” yogurt called Labne. Some people add fresh dill or other herbs to tzatziki, but I generally make it simply with diced cucumber, garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. They keep in the fridge for about a week and get better when set.
This is a salad that I can eat over and over again. If you want to make a meal out of it, add a boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast. If you want to get “fantasy”, turn it into a “cob”. But it eats just as well if you grill it without crushing it.
You can serve it all in one plate like I do and eat it just as you would eat any salad with the addition of chicken. It is colorful and full of flavour. This is a dish that ensures that you eat all your vegetables in a delicious summery way.
Chicken Billard with Greek Farms Salad and Tzazaki
If you’re not actually traveling in time to Greece this summer, you can bring a taste of Greece to your table with this dish. Greek Farmer’s Salad (Horateki) Taste the best of summer gardens and farmers’ markets. The salad is great on its own, but topped with grilled chicken with lemon and oregano, it becomes a special summer meal full of flavor.
Grilling method: direct heat / medium
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Wet Lemon Oregano Scrub:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon water
Half a teaspoon of ground pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lemon cut into slices
Lemon peel strips, for garnish, optional
Yogurt sauce with garlic and cucumber (tzatzki); (less)
Greek farmers salad (below)
special equipment: rolling pin or meat pestle
1. Preheat the grill.
2. Dry each chicken breast with a paper towel, removing the tenderloin if it is still sticky. Gently brush with oil on both sides (this will make splitting easier). Place each chicken breast between two pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper about 8 by 8 inches. Using a rolling pin or meat pounder, roll out each breast until it is about an inch thick. Sit aside. If you don’t want to crush the chicken, skip this step.
3. Mix garlic, lemon peel, salt, and water in a mortar or shallow bowl. Grind with the pestle or the back of a fork. Add pepper and oregano and grind again to mix. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions.
4. Brush each chicken “pillar” piece with olive oil on both sides. Spread each piece with a quarter of the wet rubbing mixture on both sides with clean fingers or a butter knife, making sure to coat each piece evenly. (Note: the rub is very tasty and will be too strong if left in clumps on chicken pieces.)
5. Using tongs, place the grits on the cooking grate directly over the heat for 6-8 minutes, turning them over once halfway through the cooking time. When the chicken is highlighted and fully cooked, remove it from the grill.
6. Immediately sprinkle 1-2 slices of lemon over each piece of chicken and leave for 2-3 minutes. Garnish with lemon peel, if desired. Served with tzatziki sauce and greek farmers salad.
Garlic and Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tzatziki)
I make tzatziki from whole milk yogurt – you can use Labne too.
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups plain yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt
½ medium cucumber, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, grated with a microplane layer
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Half a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. If using plain yogurt, place the yogurt in a strainer over a large bowl. Let it deflate overnight in the refrigerator. Discard the liquid. If you are using thicker Greek yogurt, you can skip this step.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, diced cucumber, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate before serving.
advice: Make Tzatziki up to three days in advance. The flavors intensify and actually taste better once they have had a chance to mingle. Just be sure to stir before using because the cucumbers give up their juice while they’re sitting.
Garlic tip: The older the garlic, the stronger its taste. If the garlic is a bit too late but hasn’t started to grow yet, you can still use it, just halve the amount if you don’t like the strong garlic flavor. Likewise, if you like the taste of garlic and the garlic is very fresh and strong, increase the amount of garlic for a more pronounced flavor.
Greek Farmers Salad (Horateki)
The vegetables in this salad will keep for several days in a well-covered container in the refrigerator, making it suitable for weekday meals. You can make it in advance, and it will be ready to assemble when you’re ready to eat the salad.
1 12-ounce cherry tomato, cut in half
1 European cucumber (long, seedless), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, sliced
1 small red onion, halved and cut into semi-rings
20 black olives, salted in oil, to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 ounces feta cheese, sliced.
1. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half.
2. Wash the cucumber, cut the ends of the cucumber and throw it away. Cut the cucumber in a salad bowl and add the tomatoes.
3. Add onion slices and olives. Mix well and season with salt, pepper and dried oregano.
4. If using feta cheese, serve it the Greek way with the cheese on top in thick slices or cut into large pieces.
5. Serve immediately with chicken baelard and zezatziki.