Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Greek Garden Salad







Easters are upon us. Being from the cohort of folks with delayed sense of Christianity, I happily celebrate two holidays. We call them "the regular Easter" and "the Orthodox Easter". I buy colorful chocolate eggs for the first one, make ham and pea stew, and carrot cake, because it is when (and how) a good part of the rest of the world celebrates, and one can never have enough of celebrating. And then for the second holiday, we (that is moi and my very large group of Greek friends), we stage a magnificent Orthodox Easter celebration. The location of the party changes every year: sometimes it's in Adirondacks, sometimes in Catskills, sometimes in my apartment, but no matter what, the menu is carved in stone.

And it comes with a story...

It was over a decade ago. We were seated on the edge of Mirror Lake, sipping beer, and enjoying the most perfect spring evening Lake Placid could offer. The echoes of the daylight lingered around the tops of the mountains, making the lake glitter in purple hues, the air was warm and peaceful, trees and flowers in full blooms, and the spirit of Easter was all around.

One could not ask for better conditions to plan the Easter menu.

"We will start with the roast, of course," said my friend Themis. (Themis is a close friend, an exceptional cook, and a party planner extraordinaire. We have staged and shared many wonderful meals together.) Needless to say, everyone agreed -- the roasted lamb would be the centerpiece of the event!

“The roast calls for a refreshing spread,” Themiss suggested. One friend volunteered feta with dill and chives. Another offered tzatziki. Someone threw in orzo with grilled spring vegetables. I reminded the Greeks that no Greek Easter goes without Magiritsa. Grandma volunteered a cheese pie. And a herb pie. And a spinach pie. Someone mentioned homemade sausages. Sausages led us to lemon yogurt. And handmade bread. Sourdough perhaps. And tsureki, the traditional Greek Easter bread. The menu grew by the minute -- lemon cake (and lemon roasted potatoes), even grilled radishes made their way onto the list -- but hey, it was a gathering of passionate home cooks, each one of us eager to showcase their skill. At the end, we all got our way, and everyone was in charge of something. Everyone, except Ariadne. (Ariadne is Themis’s wife and a close friend. We've known each other for like forever, and have shared so many wonderful meals together. Fortunately for everyone, Ariadne did not cook them.) Everyone knew Ariadne's abilities, and therefore, we did our best to keep her out of the menu planning and out of the kitchen.

“Perhaps I could make a salad?” Ariadne offered. “Green salad with dill and scallions.”

There was already way too much dill and scallion on the menu, and no one really cared for the salad, but when Ariadne’s cooking skills were concerned, we all agreed that salad was the safest choice and with that, we completed the list. We toasted to the upcoming holiday, and to the feast, to the moonlight, and the lamb, and went to bed.

We woke up to a Sunday full of activities. Themis had an early-morning rendezvous with a local butcher to pick up the lamb; by the time everyone else was up, the lamb was already turning on the spit. Several friends embarked on an expedition to the supermarket, because one person was not enough to bring all the goodies. I was busy making Magiritsa. Kids were busy in the backyard decorating trees with sparkly Easter eggs. Dr. V was busy on the computer.

And then the feast began. The entire neighborhood came over to celebrate with us. There were mountains of food and dishes kept on coming from the kitchen: cheese pie, fresh and grilled radishes, grilled sausages and tsoureki. While I worked on the spreads, next to me Ariadne kept on chopping vegetables industriously, producing bowl after bowl of her salad. In the garden, Themis walked around with a gigantic platter, serving his lamb with great pride. The guests fought egg battles and feasted until late in the night.

When the celebration was over, very full and slightly tipsy, we proceeded to clean up. There was so much food left, enough to celebrate another Easter. Almost half of the lamb was still on the table, a whole pot of orzo intact, the bowls of spreads and plates full of pies and sausages were scattered around the house. Except for Ariadne’s salad. It was all gone. Not a single leaf left, no evidence that it ever existed. Themis and I took a look at each other and smiled. At the end, it was not my Magiritsa, nor it was his lamb; it was Ariadne’s salad that stole the Easter, and the two of us had not even tried it.

p.s. We most definitely had our share of Ariadne's salad the year later. To this day it remains the most important item on our Easter menu. Lamb included. I did some research and concluded that Ariadne made a variation on Maroulosalata, the traditional Greek green salad. The recipe below is how Ariadne makes it. If you replace radishes with cucumbers, you get Maroulosalata. So here we go -- two recipes in one. Happy Easter everyone. No matter which one you are celebrating!






Greek Garden Salad


* one head of lettuce (or 5 oz of delicate spring greens)
* 4 - 5 scallions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
* 1/3 cup finely chopped dill
* 1/3 cup crumbled fetta
* a handful of radishes, sliced thinly cross-wise
* red wine vinegar
* extra virgin olive oil
* salt and freshly ground black pepper


Wash and dry the lettuce. Cut the leaves into 1-inch chunks. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce with other ingredients. Season with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Up to your taste. It's all forgiving, really, to the point that quantities do not matter. Serve. Enjoy. Be happy.



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