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slippery slope

Recipe: chopped greek salad

I’m feeling so much better now! Thank you for all of your kind wishes. I have to say, when I have a cold the foods that comfort and heal me most are: 1) Mom’s congee made with homemade broth, chicken, ginger, and green onions 2) Mom’s ginger-brown sugar tea and 3) Mom’s sweet fermented rice soup (jou nian – I call it boozy sweet rice). I always forget about these goto “feel better when sick” foods until I talk to my mom. So there I was, croaky voice sitting on the couch telling my mom that I’m slowly improving when she rattled off the foods I should be eating. I think just hearing her say it in Chinese made me feel that much more improved. When I was little, the only thing that made me feel better was having my mom or Grandma (boy, I was *spoiled*) pick me up and hold me. I was notorious for standing with my outstretched arms and saying, “bao bao?”

I haven’t taken a photo in a week, which feels like a lifetime to me! Trust me – that’s my one week this year without photos because from here on out it is going to be busy. *straps on helmet, tightens laces*

The recipe today is one I made before our trip to southwestern Colorado. I was in a salad state of mind because the heat makes me want to eat things like a cold giant hunk of watermelon or a bowl of grapes or ten popsicles for dinner. After I had made the chopped shrimp waldorf salad my eyes wandered to the previous page in my Fine Cooking issue… chopped Greek salad. Can do. Can do.

Salads in summer make me happy because they usually involve chopping (I love my knives and I love to use them) and minimal cooking if any. In this case, the croutons require a bit of stove and oven time. I highly recommend making your own croutons if you’ve never tried. I can think of very few foods in this world that are better store-bought than made (properly) at home.

[Crouton tangent] We made tons of homemade croutons when I was in Chile for field work as a graduate student. The bread we bought was barely passable right from the store – forget about 5 days out in the bleeping desert! All we needed was oil, garlic, salt, and stale bread cubes. Those were both good and bad times for me (particularly the time when I said, “I’m sure that ham is still good – give it here.”) The one person who really made my entire field season tolerable was my “field assistant”, friend, and fellow grad student, Greg. I put field assistant in quotes because HE taught ME about geomorphology and we worked really well together in the field. Greg saved me from going batshit as we dealt with all manner of interesting obstacles like land mines, equipment issues, logistics, rethinking the science, 8.0 earthquakes, navigating over roadless terrain in thick fog on top of a cliff that plunged 3000 feet to the ocean, and so much more.

at salar del huasco, chile

Now whenever I make croutons, I think of Chile and I think of Greg. But I have far better quality bread at my disposal!

olive oil, garlic, bread cubes

lemon peel, parsley, and black pepper to season the croutons

Of course, the moment I saw the ingredients listed for making the croutons I stopped reading the actual instructions and went about making them the way we did in Chile – ghetto style. That is, I fried the bread cubes in oil and garlic. But what I was supposed to do was heat the oil with the garlic to infuse flavor into the oil, then strain the oil onto the bread cubes and bake the cubes. Whatever. A few crunchy bits of burnt garlic never hurt anyone. I did wind up putting the bread cubes in the oven because they weren’t crispy enough. Once out of the oven, I tossed them up with the remaining ingredients.

baked croutons with seasonings

Anchovies. Some people hate them. Some people love them. I have liked just about every food I’ve tasted that had anchovies in it, but I had never handled plain old anchovies before. When I opened the tin, they looked as appealing as any seafood critter packed in oil and shipped in cans (to me, that looks good). I picked up a sliver with the chopsticks and took a nibble. Wow! SALTY. Mmmmm. I chucked a few into the bowl with the dressing ingredients and mashed them up.

adding a few anchovies for the dressing

whisking in the olive oil

My one true regret whenever I eat tomatoes in summer is that I don’t (can’t?) grow them where I live. I know of no one who has successfully grown them at our elevation, so I just have to settle for less than. I’m not that hard to please, really. No really!

olives, feta, tomatoes, cucumber

all of the fresh, chopped ingredients await their dressing

This recipe appealed to me in part because I usually have many of the ingredients on hand. It called for serving the chopped salad on a bed of arugula, but I had a giant wad of mixed greens ready to go south at any moment and used those instead. I’m sure it would have been dreamy on the arugula but it was pretty damn good this way. Chopped salads in summer are light enough that I don’t feel like a brick after eating, but far more substantial than their mostly leafy cousins (green salads) so that I’m not rifling through the pantry within an hour of finishing my meal. These are also gorgeous salads to serve at parties. But definitely, definitely make the croutons from scratch. Just be warned… there is no going back!

serve with greens

this lovely pile of goodness could make a grown man weep (if it doesn’t, a kick in the shins will)

Chopped Greek Salad
[print recipe]
from Fine Cooking #79 with random bouts of not following directions

garlic croutons
3 cups 1/2-inch bread cubes (cut from day-old sturdy bread – I didn’t remove the crusts)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thing (I minced mine)
2 tbsps fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsps shallots, finely chopped (I didn’t have these, I used onion)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp (2-4 fillets) oil-packed anchovies, mashed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

the chopped salad
4 cups baby arugula, gently packed, washed and dried (I used mixed baby greens)
2 cups or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (oops! I didn’t core or seed)
2 cups or 1 medium English cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice (didn’t seed this either)
1 cup meaty Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
8 oz. firm feta, cut into 1/2-inch dice (mine came crumbled)

Garlic croutons: Preheat oven to 375°F and place the rack in the center of the oven. Put the bread cubes in a large bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic just begins to turn golden (about 3-5 minutes). They say not to burn the garlic or it becomes bitter. Strain the oil onto the bread cubes and toss until they are coated. You can discard the garlic. [What I did was to heat the olive oil and add minced garlic and sauté the garlic for a minute or two and then toss in the bread cubes, stirring for a few minutes until they were well coated.] Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven, stirring every few minutes for a total of 12 minutes until they are golden on all (or most) sides. They should still be just a little soft in the middle. Pour the croutons into the large bowl and toss with parsley, lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and a little black pepper.

Dressing: In a medium bowl, mash the anchovies together with the vinegar, shallots, mustard, and oregano. Whisk the olive oil into the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Assembly: You can lay the greens on a platter and arrange the rest of the ingredients over the greens and offer the dressing on the side for people to serve themselves, or you can toss the chopped ingredients together with the croutons and dressing and serve over individual beds of greens.

30 nibbles at “slippery slope”

  1. Eesh says:

    Ginger-brown sugar tea? Yumm. I could do with buckets of it as my cold gives no signs of letting up. Where in Chile did you do your fieldwork? I think I’ve mentioned before that my significant other grew up in Chile– in Santiago. I’ve yet to visit, but plan to do so before his parents retire to Japan next winter (northern hemisphere).

  2. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Glad you are feeling better! I agree, there’s nothing better than a gorgeous, hearty salad in the summer.

  3. Irene says:

    LOL “if not, a kick in the shins will” – that is great advice, in many life situations! ;) I love chopped salads, especially with homemade croutons. You’re right, there’s no going back!

  4. Fiona says:

    Fabulous. Don’t you think anchovies are a super-secret agent food, anyway? People love anchovies, even when they say they hate them. They like caesar salad. They like Worcester sauce. What are those? Based on anchovies, people! That said, I never eat them straight.

    Homemade croutons are the best, no question. However, I rarely make them. This is because the first job I ever had to complete in a restaurant kitchen was making the croutons. I put them in the oven and forgot about them. Hello, fire! So that was humiliating and now I always fear that I’ll set the house on fire and get The Look and as a result I don’t eat croutons much. But I don’t buy them, because that would be weak.

    Your summer food is the best.

  5. win says:

    Glad to hear that you’re feeling a lot better! :) And thank goodness your mom had good sense to put some brown sugar in that ginger tea! Mine just boiled and served it up straight. Ugh, she’d just threaten me with it and I’d get better >”<

  6. Bridget says:

    Oh, that looks tasty! Sadly, my husband is anti-olive and anti-anchovy. And…that pretty much sums up all of the food that he doesn’t like.

    I think anchovies are seriously misunderstood. They should be used like garlic – just like most people don’t like whole cloves of garlic on their pizza, most people don’t like whole anchovies on their pizza. But used in moderation, as an accent…delicious.

  7. Lisa says:

    I made this with anchovy paste instead, all the yummy flvour and none of the wasted, dried up anchovies that I usually find lost in the back of the fridge.

  8. Jenny says:

    Slippery slope. That was my google talk status message last week. The salad looks amazing.

  9. Anh says:

    Glad you feel better. I will be using this recipe for my salad tonight!

  10. jo says:

    I hate having a cold and the sniffles. I guess for me it would be a hot cup of ginger tea and a piping bowl of fish congee, with lots of sliced ginger and a sprinkling of fried shallots and chopped spring onions. Love this salad recipe and will have to give it a try soon. Take care!

  11. Christina says:

    Heh, when I’m feeling down I like eating rice+chicken broth, ginger tea, and stuff like that, too. Hope you’re feeling better.

    What an amazing salad. I know that there are people who are devoted in their hatred of salads and all things green, but I think it’s because they haven’t been exposed to salads such as yours.

  12. Margie says:

    This looks amazing and sounds fantastic. I bake bread all the time, but it never occurs to me that I might make some croutons from a south-bound loaf, slice, or smidgen. Thats about to change.


  13. Rosa says:

    Good to know that you are feeling better now! That salad looks really tasty and enjoyable!



  14. Maja says:

    You could try growing the tomatoes! :) Like Sepp Holz did … here’s one general youtube video, but i’m sure there’s more, i know he wrote a book, Der Agrar Rebell, maybe you can find it translated in english :) — he uses stones to catch the warmth of the sun and grows peaches and alike at 1500 m alevation and so on. :)
    The salad looks great … i for one hate anchovies on their own, but one or two crushed are a great seasoning for salad dressings etc. :)
    What does bao bao mean? Lift me, cuddle me? :)
    Glad to hear you’re feeling better! :)

  15. Lindsey says:

    I love love love a good salad. I think I might have giant salad for dinner tonight, now that I think about it.

  16. BAKING is my ZeN says:

    I was thinking of making a greek salad. I have not made it in quite some time. I like your approach…cutting everything in small bites. Excellent photos and blog!

  17. Valérie says:

    What a gorgeous salad! I like the anchovies in the dressing (I will eat anchovies in any form, with anything)!

    My go-to get-well food is Vietnamese pho – or, if it’s snowing too hard to go outside and get some, then it’s my mother’s crab-corn soup.

  18. Amy says:

    Love that last line. ;) And glad you’re feeling better!

    Yeah, homemade croutons are the best! And I love chopped salads in the summer, too, but for some reason often forget about making them. I have everything for this; maybe I’ll make it this week. Thankfully, the heat here has finally broken from 95 to a much, MUCH better low 70’s and dry. I’ll take it.

    PS – it saddens me to hear you can’t grow tomatoes there…wah!

  19. wing@foodarts says:

    Ah, the healing powers of soup (especially Mom’s). Glad you are restored. My mom made simple salads but it was her soups that were crowned with homemade croutons (usually made from bolillos). Her split pea (heavy on the celery), sopa de ajo (garlic, potato and egg), and lentil were never brought to the table without a bowl of warm croutons. I can’t make these soups with them.

  20. Tartelette says:

    Made a variation of your salad tonight with some leftover roasted salmon flaked in there. Delicious! Tomatoes and herbs from the garden. I’ve only been in the mood for salads lately…

  21. Mrs Ergül says:

    I’m always on the lookout for good salads to serve when there is company! These looks fantastic. I promise I will make my own croutons when I get to this salad!

    We always have congee when we are feeling under the weather too! Good to hear that you are already feeling better! xxoo

  22. Lori says:

    I just love salads. Its good to know I am not the only chopping fanatic.

    I think, Jen, that you were spoiled in the correct way.

  23. S says:

    I love your line “this lovely pile of goodness could make a grown man weep (if it doesn’t, a kick in the shins will)”… hehe

  24. Caitlin says:

    Oh croutons – I *heart* croutons. But only homemade ones! I remember the first time my mom made them; I’m pretty sure that I ate the entire batch by myself, right out of the tupperware. And I’m definitely warming up to sardines, just need to get the boyfriend in on the fun so I can use them all the time. Or maybe I just sneak them in without him noticing…??

  25. jenyu says:

    Eesh – I was in northern Chile (Atacama Desert).

    Fiona – I think anchovies are magical like that. They are also the basis for fish sauce, right? mmmmm! Your crouton history is cute ;)

    Bridget – absolutely, I think people miss the point about anchovies.

    Lisa – oooh, great idea. Thanks!

    Maja – It just gets way too cold here overnight, even in summer, for tomatoes :( Yes, bao bao means pick me up and hold me :)

    Valerie – mmm, yes pho! I love that stuff too. I have yet to make it myself.

    Amy – oh you poor things! Not many homes in Ithaca have AC. Hope you guys are keeping cool. It also saddens me that I can’t grow tomatoes :(

    Tartelette – oooh, you’re such a tease! :) I’m coming to raid your garden, then the two of us are going to go and raid Todd and Diane’s garden (it’s AMAZING).

    Caitlin – um… I’ve been guilty of that in the past too :)

  26. T. says:

    This is the most beautiful, delectable-looking salad I’ve ever seen. I cannot WAIT to try making it! Thank you! (And I think you’re absolutely right about anchovies – in the right amount, they’re fabulous!)

  27. Lizzie says:

    Hi Jen — I needed a nudge in the what-to-make-for-guys-type-dinner for tomorrow night in Los Angeles where it’s hotter than &%@$. Saw this and bingo! Going to add some rotisserie chicken to round things out, sip some Shiraz then homemade lime sorbet with raspberries.

  28. Sil says:

    Jen, delicious as always. I made this recipe yesterday and my husband loved it. No olives though. He doesn’t like them. Thank you for being such a great inspiration! And for expanding my culinary talents. :-)

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