As much as I love to cook as a way to relax, we’ve all been there: coming home from a long day at work or school, just wanting something quick for dinner so the kitchen clean-up can be expedited and the unwinding after that can begin.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of time at all to make a big main course salad—one of my go-tos for an easy dinner on a weeknight, on a hot summer night when turning on the oven is out of the question or, frankly, on any night when the last place that anyone wants to be is in the kitchen for a long period of time.
Served on a big platter for 2-4 people, salads make a complete meal with the addition of some protein or a side of bread while still being light enough not to weigh you down for the rest of the night. Cobb salad is a favorite of mine, but takes a lot of ingredients to get it all together: blue cheese, bacon, avocado… All delicious, but if you’re really looking to cut down time and want to save a couple of pennies since avocados and a good blue cheese can get pricey, turn to Greek salad.
Dave and my mom laugh at me since I order a lot of salads when we go out to restaurants. You can count on the fact that when I go out to a good ol’ New Jersey diner, Greek Salad is something I’ll order, oh, maybe a third of the time, sometimes complemented with an order of spanakopita. When they’re good, they’re awesome, and when they’re not they’re still good.
Diner salads, unfortunately, almost-always have one critical problem: they are served with a simple oil-vinegar dressing that, most of the time, seems to be more oil than vinegar. Many times, vegetable oil is used, which is perfectly good but in a dressing where 50% of the dressing needs to be oil? Yuck.
I like to prepare a simple lemon dressing when I make Greek Salad at home that still has the same flavors but features lemon, one of oregano’s best friends. Some Dijon helps to emulsify the dressing and make it a vinaigrette so it’s not a pure oil slick on your salad. To make this more of a meal, I also like to double the dressing recipe and use half as quick marinade for shrimp, chicken, or tofu.
For this recipe, the Mediterranean bar at the grocery store is going to be your best friend, letting you prepare half of your ingredients for this salad in advance. Here, you can typically find a number of delights: many different kinds of olives, small mozzarella balls (bocconcini), roasted garlic and tomatoes, slabs and chunks of fresh feta, and stuffed grape leaves (dolmades). If you’re lucky enough to have a great Greek restaurant or a specialty market near you, that would, of course, be an excellent place to buy your ingredients and maybe find homemade dolmades.
Now, a critical question. Anchovies: are you “team yay” or “team nay”?
I’m on team nay for this one. I don’t like anchovies. A few people have tried to convert me over the years, but just can’t get the fishy taste from that one time I had them on pizza out of my mind anytime I’m confronted with them. If they’re used in a dressing, like Caesar, I’ll tolerate them since they tend to just add a background, salty flavor to whatever they are used in—I don’t like chowing down on them as they stand, though.
Maybe someday I’ll see the light. Until then, if you’re a fan and are curious about the best anchovies that you might want to use on your salad, this taste test video from America’s Test Kitchen is worth a watch.
Finally, if you really feel so inclined, you can buy pre-chopped Romaine lettuce at the store to save yourself an extra minute or two. This recipe is quick with enough shortcuts already that I just chop my own along with the onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes—plus, it’s much fresher that way.
- 1 head Romaine lettuce
- 2 medium Beefsteak tomatoes
- 1 medium cucumber
- 1 small Vidalia onion
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, drained from your grocery's Mediterranean bar, salad bar or from a jar.
- 1/4 cup pepperoncini peppers
- 4 pre-made dolmades from your grocery's Mediterranean bar, salad bar or from a jar.
- 4 ounces feta cheese from a block or from your grocery's Mediterranean bar or salad bar.
- 4 anchovy fillets (optional)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
- Salt and pepper
- To serve: Pita bread
Make dressing: in a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk Dijon mustard, lemon zest, white sugar, 1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and dried rosemary, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper until combined. While whisking, add oil until dressing comes together. Set aside or chill until ready to use.
Wash and prepare produce: chop head of Romaine lettuce across horizontally to create long, thin ribbons about 1/4" to 1/2" wide until you reach the end of the lettuce. Core tomatoes and cut into large chunks. If desired, peel and deseed cucumber. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise into large chunks. Thinly slice onion. Leave pepperoncini whole or deseed and cut in half. If you purchased a block of feta cheese, cut into cubes.
Prepare salad: Place lettuce on a large platter as the bed of the salad. Top with chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta. Add onions and arrange olives, pepperoncini, dolmades, and anchovies if using. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 teaspoon oregano over salad, along with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour dressing over entire salad and toss before serving, or add dressing to individual portions after serving.
Warm up pita bread in a toaster oven or over the grill, cut into wedges and serve with the salad.
You can substitute 1 pint cherry tomatoes, which I find to be a better alternative if tomatoes aren’t in season. I like Spanish or Vidalia onions, but you can use red onions if you’d like.
For the dressing: depending on how large and fresh the lemons are, I like to have at least 2 available in case I need one as back-up to get more juice. Or, you could use bottled lemon juice, as well, to add to the juice that you get from the lemon.