Yasmin Khan's Dos & Don'ts for an Exceptional Greek Salad

Recipe included, but of course.

August 13, 2021
Photo by MJ Kroeger Prop Stylist: Suzie Myers Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog

During my travels around Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus for my new cookbook Ripe Figs, I became convinced that there is no dish that better epitomizes the food of the Eastern Mediterranean than a Greek salad.

This magical marriage of ripe, sweet, fragrant tomatoes with sharp, salty, creamy feta is a flavor combination so perfect, it is all I want to eat in the summer. It’s an incredibly quick meal, too, perfect for those hot days when you can’t face turning on the cooker.

Often described on local menus in Greece as horiatiki salad (which means village or peasant salad in Greek), it’s probably fair to say that the best versions are eaten under a beach umbrella, with wet hair and the taste of saltwater still lingering on your lips. But by following a few key steps, you can recreate the wonders and transport yourself to sunny climes with just one bite.

At first glance, it seems so easy to assemble, you might think it barely warrants a recipe. On closer examination though, you’ll find that you have to get the components just right for a Greek salad to really work.

The tomatoes should be room temperature.

Tomatoes are a relatively new ingredient in Greece—only arriving in the mid-19th century during Ottoman rule of the region—but today they form the bedrock of much Greek cooking and are the cornerstone of this dish.

To get the best flavor from your tomatoes, don’t store them in the fridge unless you really have to (i.e., they are close to spoiling). The cold temperature can degrade their flavor and aroma. I prefer to leave the tomatoes out in a bowl on my counter until I’m ready to use them. And if I feel any of them need a bit more sweetness, I place them in the sun for a few hours before mealtime—I swear it makes a difference!

The cucumbers, however, should be cold.

Whilst you want your tomatoes at room temperature, keep your cucumbers chilled until just before serving. This emphasizes their cooling, refreshing taste and texture. You can also peel the cucumbers and use a teaspoon to scoop out their watery seeds to intensify their flavor.

When it comes to chopping, the bigger the better.

With both the tomatoes and cucumbers, it’s important to keep the pieces quite chunky. A proper Greek salad never uses finely diced vegetables. I like to slice them into large triangular pieces—not only as I prefer the aesthetic, but because it also makes the salad feel more substantial.

Seek out oily, not briny, olives.

Black olives are traditionally used for a Greek salad—Kalamata if possible. But if you can’t source those, just be sure to buy olives stored in oil, not brine, as they keep their richness and softness by that method of preservation.

Marinate the onion for bonus points.

Sweet onions are best, but you can also use red onions, which add a bright splash of color. With either variety, you can marinate the onions in some red wine vinegar to remove some of their astringency if you prefer.

Now is the time to use good olive oil.

To dress the vegetables, use the best extra-virgin olive oil you can afford. Plus: red vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and some salt and black pepper. It’s important to store bottles of olive oil away from bright sunlight or heat, as both of these can make the oil go rancid sooner. Keep yours in a cupboard away from your cooker, so it lasts longer and tastes better. Greek olive oil is quite peppery and grassy, and is often so flavorful that it can be used as a seasoning—perfect for a final flourish on top of any dish.

Never crumble the feta.

Finally, of course, is the pièce de résistance: a slab of feta cheese. This should never be crumbled but, rather, served in a thick slice on top and sprinkled with some dried oregano. When this kind of cheese is exposed to air, it can dry out and spoil quickly. To make your block of feta last longer, you can store it in a saltwater brine: Simply take 2 cups of water and stir through 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt until it dissolves. Then place your block of cheese in the brine and store it in a sealed container in the fridge.

Follow these instructions and you’ll have yourself a just-perfect Greek salad. All that’s left is to serve it alongside a thick wedge of crusty bread, not pita, to soak up all the delicious juices.

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Do you have a trick for making the best Greek Salad? Share it with us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ed Hauptmann
    Ed Hauptmann
  • Mr. VM
    Mr. VM
  • brandyk
  • Susan Esser Boahene
    Susan Esser Boahene
Yasmin Khan is a food and travel writer and the author of the best-selling Persian cookbook The Saffron Tales.


Ed H. August 22, 2021
My wife is Greek, and I make a LOT of choriatiki salata (Χωριάτικη σαλάτα). I agree with the splash of raspberry vinegar or vinaigrette. It adds a depth, and some sweetness, and people won't be able to identify it, but they'll love it! You can use other vinegar varieties, such as red wine vinegar, pomegranate, pear-infused, etc. I use a drop or two of lemon extract instead of lemon juice to cut the sourness.
Salata is really easy, a perfect cool item on a hot day, and you can get really creative with it: You can also try some dried or fresh dill in the salad, a sprinkle or pepper, a touch of minced garlic, red or yellow sweet peppers, pepperoncinis, avocados, or my personal favorite: dried MINT!
If made beforehand, the salt in the feta, capers and olives will draw some of the juices out of the veggies, and these juices will mingle with the olive oil, and this mixture is so tasty as a dip for fresh, crusty bread! If you're not using salty olives, capers or feta, a touch of kosher salt will do. The juice is literally the first thing most Greeks go for! The juice is also the perfect complement to chicken, pork and lamb.
In Greece, salata is usually served with red onions, but their red onions are much sweeter and less biting than our red onions in the US.
Mr. V. August 22, 2021
Having never been to Greece, nice to see how it's done there. I'm only familiar with the various North American versions that use lettuce and on a trip to Michigan was surprised by the addition of beets!
brandyk August 15, 2021
My favorite Greek restaurant served a raspberry vinaigrette with their salad. I was so shocked to discover it was absolutely sublime. I make it this way now too.
Susan E. August 15, 2021
Sprinkle some Penzey’s Greek seasoning over the top for perfection!