Horiatiki Salad with Beet Hummus
For me, a bowl of Greek salad sparks sweet remembrance of young love and romance. Each bite of juicy tomato, sandwiched with crispy cucumber and briny olives, kindles the memory of a Friday night ritual from my early years of marriage, when my husband and I would stroll hand in hand to our local pizzeria and share a mushroom pizza alongside a Greek salad. Afterwards, we would take in a movie at our local art deco cinema before meandering home, enveloped in the warm night air.Known as “horiatiki” in Greece, but as “Greek salad” almost everywhere else, this is an achingly simple dish with peasant origins, bringing together tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and feta cheese, dressed in an abundance of olive oil, and finished with a sprinkle of oregano. However, for such an uncomplicated dish, it’s still very often misinterpreted. The primary source of this confusion is lettuce. True Greek salad does not include leafy greens. The star of the dish is, of course, tomatoes. It’s believed that this salad originated as a snack in rural Greece, where farmers would venture into the field with ingredients uncut and bite straight into the chunk of feta, followed by tomato, cucumber and raw onion.Nowadays, horiatiki has gone from village salad to worldwide staple. As with all salads that rely on basic fixings, the quality of the individual ingredients is paramount. Horiatiki should embody the brightness of summer—the tomato should be ripe and syrupy, the cucumber crisp, the olives salty, and the feta tangy, and these should all be generously lubricated with the best olive oil you can find. There are also certain rules of engagement—every forkful should offer all the wondrous elements of this salad. Hence, rather than placing an unwieldy chunk of feta on top (as is often done in restaurants) I prefer to break up the feta into smaller, bite-size pieces, where the crumbly cheese also acts as a coating for the other ingredients.My horiatiki recipe is fairly traditional, with a few small quirks. Unlike the aforementioned Greek farmers, I find raw onion rather acerbic, hence I opt for slightly sweeter shallots in my recipe, which are quickly pickled in red wine vinegar and water. Soaking onions is a trick I learned from a clever Italian cooking teacher many years ago to remove the unpleasant bite from raw alliums, while also adding a gentle acidity to the onions. I give my horiatiki a special treatment by serving it with a vibrant beet hummus. The magenta beets combine with lemon and tahini to make a beautiful, show-stopping accompaniment, providing an earthy base for this fresh salad. The natural juices of the tomatoes and vinegar meld with the creamy beet dip, forming a lovely sauce, perfect for mopping up with flatbread or crusty bread.