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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Anne's salad (Σαλάτα της Άννας)

I love summer salads. I could live off a simple salad, some good cheese and a slice or two of village bread, not forgetting a glass of good home-brewed wine. Although we grow many vegetables in the garden, lettuce is one crop we don't grow in the summer. I don't know why, as I know of some people who do, with very much success. Leafy greens like lettuce and spinach need a lot of water, but so does vlita (amaranth). Tomato is the salad vegetable of choice for summer, but don't be fooled: our local groceries and supermarkets have only just started selling field tomatoes, even though May and June were sunny and warm here in Crete; before July, we'd been eating greenhouse tomatoes. Our own garden tomatos have only reddened just now - they are late bloomers compared to the zucchini and aubergine, which were planted at the same time.

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Are you one of those people who classifies certain ingredients as a class of their own which should not be mixed because you've heard some old wives' tale that they shouldn't be mixed together because that's the way it is and you just don't do it otherwise? Here are some cooking rules I've learnt in the Greek traditional framework that I have had to adjust to over time:
  • Drink either red OR white wine (not both)
  • Use either tomato OR lemon in a sauce (not both)
  • Use either lemon OR vinegar in a salad
  • Never dress a tomato with lemon
  • Never mix sweet with sour or savoury (like the Chinese)
There are no whys or ifs or buts - you just don't, or so I've been told.

The last time I visited my friends in Grimbigliana, they made a lettuce salad using Cos lettuce from their own garden. Garden lettuce tastes so good with a simple dressing and a chopped fresh meaty tomato. I've used some of the first tomatos grown in the garden to re-create this wonderful salad. And what did Anne do with the lettuce - tear it, of course, served in the same way that seen in American movies, something that hasn't quite caught on as quickly as it should in Crete. Cutting lettuce with a knife is something most people wouldn't think twice about because of the oxidising effect that metal causes to the leafy green. Only now has my husband finally understood why he sees torn lettuce instead of knife-shredded in posh restaurants. And to add to its poshness, the bowl of salad was cleared of excess dressing by placing kitchen paper in it to soak up the unwanted liquid - less messy than tipping it out and having to wash the exterior of the bowl to avoid oil leaks.

Anne gave me her recipe for leafy green salad dressing, which I'm using here now: a mixture of red wine vinegar and lemon juice, defying our household's tradition. It was too tangy for my husband, but at least I finally had a bowl of salad that I could enjoy all by myself. Of course, everyone was catered for, as usual. There was plenty of other food on the table for everyone else to find something to eat to their liking: octopus in tomato sauce and fried potatoes, and stewed snails, apart from the usual feta cheese and sourdough bread; other than that, they could just enjoy the scenery - lunch outdoors on our balcony-with-a-view suits me to a tee.

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You need:
a small head of Cos lettuce, washed and ready for use
a small cucumber (I used the local variety, which we call atzouri)
a green or red (or both) bell pepper
a meaty tomato (it shouldn't be soft and squishy), cut up into small cubes
some purslane leaves (we call it 'glistrida' in Greek)
a few black olives
the juice of a lemon
red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt

Tear the lettuce into a bowl that contains the lemon juice. Toss it into the lemon well, then mix in all the other ingredients. Dress with the vinegar, oil and salt to your liking. Serve with some soft curd cheese like blue-vein or mizithra, and sourdough bread. Accompanied by a glass of wine, this is ambrosia.

This post is dedicated to Anne, who knows how to eat sensibly without cooking anything.

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