Iceberg lettuce, Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives, Cucumbers, Pepperoncini Peppers, Tomatoes, Shredded Carrots, Onions
Amazingly, it’s the same dish that is also one of the most popular lunch options in the United States – the Greek Salad.
In Greece we call it ‘Horiatiki’, which means village or peasant salad – basically a combination of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, olives and feta cheese, dressed in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano. Please also note that an authentic Greek salad does not include lettuce. It is quite common for Greeks to eat seasonally. A Greek salad is primarily a summer dish, and since lettuce only grows in Greece during the winter months a traditional ‘Horiatiki’ salad does not include lettuce.
Before we take a closer look at our key ingredient – the tomato – let’s consider the history of this lovely salad. From its Greek name we assume that it was a rural dish. It is true that the salad’s essential ingredients were often what a farmer would take to the field for his mid-morning snack, only he would keep the ingredients uncut and wrapped in a cloth with a piece of bread. When the time came, he would bite straight into his chunk of feta, his tomato and even (quite heroically) his onion!
The salad’s exact origin is debatable, but one thing we can be sure of is that the Greek Salad is not part of the country’s long established traditional cuisine. We know this because, incredibly, the tomato did not become popular in Greece until the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. This is hard to believe, considering how fast it’s made itself a home here in Greece.
The Tomato Invades Europe
Tomato seeds were first brought to Europe from South America by the Conquistadors, but due to the plant’s resemblance to atropa belladonna (Deadly nightshade) it was viewed with suspicion and grown purely ornamentally. The Italians were among the first to brave the tomato. Tomato recipes began making an appearance in Italy towards the end of the 16th century, but tomato seeds were not introduced to Greece until 1818 when the country was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Shortly thereafter, in 1821, the country embarked on a war of independence and everyone was simply too preoccupied with the war to be overly concerned with this strange new fruit.
The first tomatoes to grow in Greece were on the island of Syros. Not long after, the petite waterless tomato, similar to the cherry tomato was first grown in Santorini. To this day these tomatoes still thrive on Santorini’s rich volcanic soil, sunshine and heavy morning dew. In 1915 the first canning plant opened in Nauplion, supplied by increasing tomato production in the nearby plains of the Argolis. It wasn’t long before the tomato quickly became one of the main ingredients of Greek cuisine.