How To Make the Best Diner-Style Greek Salad

How To Make the Best Diner-Style Greek Salad

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Meghan Splawn
Apr 12, 2017
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Greek salad is a well-loved classic for many reasons. Its bright hue, the refreshing crisp of cucumber and chopped romaine, meaty tomatoes, briny olive, and creamy feta wrapped in an herby vinaigrette is darn hard to beat, even with the best chopped salads.

While I love the salad at our local Greek restaurant, I'd argue that a diner-style Greek salad is the kind of recipe we should all master at home. The ingredients are a balance of fresh vegetables, but studded with enough feta and olive to make every single bite interesting. It makes even off-season tomatoes taste better and can serve as the main course for an easy weeknight dinner or as a side kick to grilled chicken or a dinner of hummus and pita bread.

Here is everything you need to know — from which feta to buy, to how to chop your tomatoes, to the best dressing — for a killer Greek salad at home.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

What Is a Diner-Style Greek Salad?

As cool, crisp salads go, diner-style Greek salads are the best. Diner-style, if unclear, implies that the ingredients are fresh and prepared in a comforting, homey way. The romaine lettuce base for this salad is chopped (no baby kale in sight) and large, vine-ripened tomatoes are diced into large, juicy chunks. Briny olives, hunks of feta, and cucumbers all mingle to make a salad that is an adventure of flavor in every bite.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Ingredients for a Better Greek Salad at Home

Greek food has a particularly strong reputation for using fresh ingredients, and Greek salad is no exception. Since there's no cooking required — just a bit of juicing and chopping — you'll do most of your heavy lifting at the grocery store. Here's what to grab.

Cucumber

English cucumbers, with their thin skin and almost seedless center, require less prep work — just rinse, chop, and add to the salad. You can certainly use a regular or garden cucumber, but you'll have to peel and seed it before chopping.

Tomatoes

Greek salad is home for large, juicy tomatoes. While summer tomatoes will always be welcome in this salad, I find that the vinaigrette helps enhance the flavor of even supermarket hothouse tomatoes.

Feta

Feta is an aged Greek cheese made from sheep or goat's milk (or a combo of the two). While feta literally means "slice," we often consider this a crumbling cheese. Many varieties of feta are available in the grocery store, but for the best Greek salad at home, grab a Greek feta for your salad. Goat milk feta is harder and piquant, while sheep feta is creamier and less tangy. American feta tends to be made with cow's milk and can taste saltier and be much more dry and crumbly as a result.

When in doubt, ask your cheesemonger about the feta – they can vary in creaminess and saltiness — and avoid pre-crumbled or herb-seasoned varieties. We recommend buying blocks of feta stored in brine or olive oil.

Learn about better feta: 5 Tips for Buying the Greek Feta of Your Dreams

Olives

Kalamata olives are the gold standard for Greek salad. One of Greek's most beloved black olives, kalamatas are almost purple with a taut almond shape, and they have the pungent distinction of being preserved in red wine vinegar and olive oil. When in doubt or without kalamatas, choose a Greek olive over an Italian or Spanish olive.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

You Need a Greek Vinaigrette

Yes, you can can dress this salad with any prepared Greek vinaigrette of your choice, but this salad is even better if you make your own specifically for this salad. Our recipe for Greek vinaigrette gives you two options: one classic and one made creamy by either yogurt or feta. For this Greek salad, go for the creamy version enhanced with Greek yogurt.

Read more: How To Make Classic Greek Vinaigrette

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The One Trick for Better-Tasting Onions

You'll also need one small red onion for your diner-style Greek salad. Red onions can be quite sharp in flavor against the tomatoes, cucumbers, and romaine, so giving them a swift soak in lemon juice tames their pungency and makes for a better-tasting salad.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Assembling a Diner-Style Greek Salad

So you've got your tasty tomatoes and a cool cucumber, you've bought the best cheese and olives you can find, and assembled your very own Greek vinaigrette. This is the hardest part of the salad assembly: chopping. I mention this to note that when it comes to an easy-to-eat salad, size matters. Doing your best to get your tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta, and even romaine into bite-sized pieces will really help make this the best salad ever.

Pro tip: You can toss the heartier produce together first and then add the romaine just before serving to make this salad last a bit longer.

Turning a Diner-Style Greek Salad into Dinner

Top the finished salad with chicken, grilled lamb, or roasted chickpeas for extra protein. Or replace the romaine lettuce with cooked tortellini for a hearty pasta salad, or add bread cubes for a panzanella-esque salad. You've got a great base — it can go pretty much any direction you like from here.

How To Make the Best Diner-Style Greek Salad

Makes 4 servings

What You Need

Ingredients
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Juice from 1 large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 (10-ounce) tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium English or hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 head medium romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons Greek Vinaigrette
8 to 10 ounces sheep's milk feta cheese, cut into 16 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
Dried oregano, for serving

Equipment
Chef's knife
Large bowl
Citrus reamer

Instructions

  1. Soak the onion slices in lemon juice: Combine the onion and lemon juice in a large bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain and discard the liquid.
  2. Toss the vegetables together: Add the tomato, cucumber, romaine and olives to the onion and toss gently to combine.
  3. Toss with vinaigrette: Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss gently to coat.
  4. Serve and finish the salad: Divide the salad among 4 salad plates. Top each plate with 4 slabs of feta and a generous sprinkling of dried oregano.

Recipe Notes

  • Make ahead: The vinaigrette can be made a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Let come to room temperature before serving. The onion can be soaked and drained up to 1 day ahead. Cut the tomatoes just before serving because once they are refrigerated, they lose some of their flavor.
  • Storage: Dressed lettuce leaves will wilt and become unappealing, but since they are chopped relatively large you can pick them out and refrigerate the remaining salad for up to 2 days.
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