I am surprised beyond: they bring in front of me a white plain plate and in it is a -must admit- perfect big tomato, some capers on tiny pieces of feta and three olives -three not four, nor a handful in a bowl!
I ordered a greek salad and what I have in front of me looks like they forgot something, well, actually, most of it!
It definitely looks sufficient for me to have as a starter , before ordering my grilled fish but it isn’t at all what I had in mind when I ordered a greek salad, one of the pillars of the greek cuisine.
I know greek salad until now to come in a deep -soup- plate, with thickly sliced tomatoes , thickly cut cucumber and strips of green bell peppers, lots and lots of onions (to the point that I have to dig in to find the tomatoes sometimes) , feta and olive oil. Occasionally some capers.
So, I am naturally surprised , even stunned and I even take a quick look around to check if someone else in this otherwise lovely taverna has ordered the same plate like me -and thus feels uncomfortable with it- or I am the only one around.
There are few customers but they are all smiling and happily enjoying their food, some even take photos of them to be hurriedly emailed or posted back home where it is still cold and damp… I was about to do the same until the moment when my greek salad arrived.
I look at the plate suspiciously. The handsome greek waiter that stayed near my table after he served me is enjoying , the turquoise sea ahead of him and only smiles politely to me when I turn around.
The truth is the plate looks gorgeous, elegant but somehow minimal but I am not in to Greece to eat minimal. I am in Greece and I expect a huge greek salad served in a soup plate!
Should I return the dish and ask for the bill, I am thinking. I am a greek and definitely not paying 8 euros for a tomato and bits of vegetables around it. That is that.
But, before I raise my hand for the waiter, I think, I may want to have a bite, just a bite and then, justifiably argue for the quantity of my greek salad and the price asked for it.
I start with the tomato, cut a small piece, add to it a feta dice with the help of my knife , then the tiny caper and slide my fork into the green olive oil that has been topped with few fresh leaves of fresh oregano.
I remain in this bite more than I usually do and , and , as the buds in my mouth start enjoying themselves, I smile and slowly have another little bite, cutting some of the tomato, adding the feta and sliding my fork into the “greek gold”, the extra virgin olive oil.
By the third bite, I have become one of the smiling customers to the point that I forget to add those magnificent sea salt crystals to each mouthful and I find myself indeed, like the minding waiter next to me , eating, smiling and looking at the sea and the brightly orange-painted fishing boat approaching having finished throwing their nets into this magic Aegean water that makes you trust any fish caught in it…
I have to ask someone for this marvel, how come this One New Greek Salad -as I will call it- taste so good? How come the tomato is perfectly ripe and the feta so perfectly salted and the capers full of so much aroma? Why the fresh oregano and not the dried herb we were so used to until recently?
There is a plump little greek cook seating by the door and cleaning some small red mullets-to be fried tonight? I’ ll ask her!
“The tomatoes are from a guy that started a business with traditional tomato seeds some months ago and the feta comes from Parnassus, the mountain where Delphi is (“you know Delphi?”) and the capers , ah, well, the capers are mine”she boasts proudly, “you see that bush over there at the rocks now “naked”? I cut all the capers a month ago! With my hands! And I alone pickled them! And my husband collected the sea salt, na!-she points with her finger- , “from here, this little rock, you see? It is already starting to collect more salt again, my mother showed me how to collect it , clean it and dry it, when I was small…”
And the plate? The decoration of the plate? Did she do it, I ask her…
“No, no, no! My son did it! He is a chef! He changed everything, took all soup plates away, away with the tomatoes that came with the ferry once a week, the imported cucumber… He changed it all! And when I tried to put back the greek salad into the soup plates, he removed them and made it like you have it now”, she says to me in English with her greek thick accent , half smiling, half apologetic and pointing to the waiter that he is to be “blamed” or honored- her son!
I am witnessing the change of greek cuisine : perfect fresh products , emphasis on the little , no fussy attempts to impress, respect to the roots, the traditional plates.
I am ready to order my fish.
If a greek salad, sorry, if the One New Greek salad tastes so good, then what is my fish going to taste like, I wonder and follow the trend of this new twist of the greek cuisine which whispers to me , to us : relax! You are in good hands! Enjoy the view!
I cut a little oregano leaf from the pot nearby and I do exactly that : I relax and watch the view!
(Camera in hand!)
TWO MINUTES ANGIE
ONE NEW GREEK SALAD
Choose your best tomato, pretty, fresh and with trusted origins.
With the vegetable peeler (or the special tool that removes the inside flesh of the cucumber or the zucchini) cut through the stem of the tomato.
Cut tomato in fourths or eighths but not completely to achieve a flower effect.
Peel the top of each fourth until its middle, revealing partially the flesh of the tomato.
Dice some feta cheese, preferably from Cephallonia , Sparta or Parnassus.
Place a caper on each feta dice. Decorate the plate by placing each dice in each direction of the ferocious Aegean winds, North, South, East and West .
Sprinkle feta dice with oregano.
Run the olive oil bottle around the rim of the plate , connecting the feta dice.
Remove pits from three olives and place them in the hole of the tomato center.
Serve some crystals of fresh sea salt in a small bowl .