Here I sit, recovering from another “the-twins-just-turned-a-year-older” cry-fest. Yes, I cry every year on the Twin’s birthday. No, I don’t feel any embarrassment. I’ve never been one of those parents who looks forward to my children leaving me. My husband, on the other hand? He’s the ying to my yang. But, I’ll be okay. Whenever I think of the Twins, I think of one of their first trips- it was an introduction to Greek yia-yias (or grandmothers).
Now, we had no idea that our Easter holiday to the Greek isles would result in elderly women- clad in black- falling all over our double-stroller. Nevertheless, that’s what most of the trip consisted of. We patiently waited while a couple of precious, older women cooed and kissed at the them, all the while shoving candies in their already-full hands. Greece, babies, and Greek Farmer’s Salad were the highlight of Easter 2007, for me.
But, with the Independence Day celebration right around the corner, I want you to have a quick salad that’s perfect for potluck BBQs. Which you may, or may not, be invited to. I, honestly, don’t know what we’re doing for the holiday. We’re definitely not hosting anything in this two bedroom apartment, but this will be on the menu, no matter what.
Greek Farmer’s Salad is Perfect for Summer
Instead of vine-ripened tomatoes- like the Greeks make it- I’m adding a ripe, seedless watermelon. The sweetness of the melon replaces that which you would’ve gotten from the tomatoes, while adding more texture to the dish. Be sure to use a personal-sized, seedless watermelon for this salad. Picking seeds out while eating is the pits- all sorts of pun intended.
Speaking of the pits, be sure to use pitted (which means without pits) Kalamata olives in this salad. Yes, you need to add the olives. Their briny flavor not only adds to the balance of the otherwise mild salad, it’s traditional for Greek farmer’s salad to feature them. Don’t mess up centuries of deliciousness.
Along with the purple olives, you need a seedless (noticing a theme?) English, or hothouse, cucumber. This plastic-wrapped English cuke has a thinner, less-bitter skin than the traditional Kirby cucumber. If you can’t find the English variety, just use the fatter, darker, green-skinned Kirby, but be sure to peel it and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon prior to adding it to the salad.
A red (or purple) onion, creamy feta cheese, fresh lemon juice, a high-quality extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herbs round out this easy-to-assemble, summertime dish.
Prep the Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette
(up to a week ahead)
The ability to make this Greek Farmer’s Salad on the fly means its an ace-in-the-hole as far as recipes go. If you have friends like I do who do these spur-of-the-moment get togethers, this recipe will be your BFF. Not only useful for this salad, my lemon-herb vinaigrette can be made up to a week in advance and used to dress any salad you want to toss together.
First: Master the Ratio
Mastering the ratio for a vinaigrette means you can tailor it to the base ingredients you have on hand. Keep this ratio in your head: 1:2. One tablespoon of vinegar (or acid) to two tablespoons of oil. That’s the key to a solid vinaigrette, as far as I’m concerned. There are variables when it comes to making it a “freaking-amazing vinaigrette”, such as a mustard to emulsify the dressing, or a sweetener (like honey) to cut through the acidity. But, the oil and acid are your vinaigrette’s backbone.
Using a high-quality olive oil (or another high-quality salad oil) is a must. It is, after all, your base. Choose an olive you can drink on its own. Cobram Estate California Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of those oils. I know, because during a tasting in Palm Springs, I literally sipped this from a cup.
Back to the Vinaigrette
I always use a wide-mouth mason jar to mix up my dressings. It’s just so much easier to measure the ingredients into the jar, screw the lid on, and shake what my mama gave me, ya know? If you’re going to use this method, be sure to stick with a wide mouth jar. Those narrow deals just make things messier. You can also accomplish this step in a blender or in a bowl, using a whisk.
Combine the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the extra virgin olive oil in the jar.
Give the herbs a rough chop with your chef’s knife. In this recipe, I wanted to stay true to the Greek-ness (if that’s even a word) of the salad by using herbs found in the Greek diet. Mint, oregano, and parsley are classics found in many Mediterranean recipes, so I’m removing their leaves from the stems and just running my knife through them.
Don’t worry about getting too fine a chop on these herbs. Part of the rustic-quality of this humble salad comes from seeing those mismatched pieces of greenery.
Season your oil-lemon juice mixture with a few pinches of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, a clove of crushed garlic, the herbs, a generous squirt of dijon mustard, and a teaspoon of honey (or agave).
Cap the jar and shake vigorously to emulsify the dressing. Store this in the fridge for up to a week, or use it as soon as you assemble the salad.
Salt the Watermelon
As the name suggests, watermelon is mostly water. As a result of being watery, when the melon is cut, that water will leak out into the rest of our salad. To prevent a watered-down vinaigrette after assembling our salad, we need to salt the watermelon prior to adding it to the rest of the ingredients.
Salting foods that have a high water-content encourages the excess water to seep out. Granted, we are talking about a watermelon, so we’ll still have some water that remains, however, it’ll be much less than before, and, as a result, will leave us with a drier salad. Not only does it dry it out a little, it makes it taste even sweeter!
But, first! We must cut the watermelon, no?
Slice the ends of the watermelon off to give you a safe, solid base with which to skin the melon. Work smart, not hard. You don’t want to fiddle with a roly-poly watermelon and risk lopping off a digit.
After you’ve skinned the melon, slice it into 1″ thick “steaks”.
Lay your slice flat and cut them into 1″ thick batons, and then again into 1″ cubes.
Now, place your watermelon cubes into a colander set in the sink and salt them with a tablespoon of kosher salt. Let the salt leach the water out of the melon for 30 minutes to an hour. Obviously, the longer you let it sit, the less water will remain. Don’t rinse it! Remember, that salt will enhance our melon’s flavor, too.
Assemble the Greek Farmer’s Salad
Now that the watermelon has been salted, the rest of the salad comes together pretty quickly. In a large mixing bowl, combine your thinly sliced English cucumber, drained Kalamata olives, and thinly sliced red onion.
Crumble or dice your feta cheese. I like my cheese to be pretty and uniform, so I cut them into 1/2″ cubes. Breaking them into bite-size chunks is also acceptable.
Add the salted watermelon to the mixing bowl. Give the Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette another vigorous shake to blend it and pour half of it over the salad. Toss the salad together and give it a taste. Add more vinaigrette dressing if you’d like, or leave it on the side so your diners can add it as they see fit.
Optional way to serve the Greek Farmer’s Salad
While this Greek wonder can stand on its own, I like to dress it up by serving it on a bed of arugula. The arugula has a peppery flavor and because the leaves are a tad tough, the acidic lemon juice wilts them gently making it a great base as well as a contrast for the sweet melon. This is totally optional, though a great way to serve this as a main dish.
As a meal, a side of toasted pita bread is the perfect accompaniment. As a side dish, it’s good to go as is.
Keep the salad refrigerated until you’re ready to enjoy it. It tastes best when it’s chilled.
The inherent, watery nature of watermelon and cucumber means that there will be some pooling of liquid at the bottom of the salad bowl. It’s perfectly fine and won’t affect the flavor. But, if you’re jonesing for more dressing, just spoon that leftover vinaigrette onto your serving of salad.
One taste and you’ll see why this is my go-to salad for cookouts and BBQs. It’s easy and full of summertime flavors. Be sure to pin this for easy access this week!
Enjoy the holiday!
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Greek Farmer's Salad with Watermelon
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 sprigs fresh oregano leaves (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey or agave
Greek Farmer's Salad
- 1 small seedless watermelon (about 4#), skinned and cut into 1" chunks
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 English cucumber, sliced 1/2" thick
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 8 ounce jar of Kalamata pitted olives, drained
- 8 ounces feta cheese, diced into 1/2" cubes
- 5 ounces arugula, optional
Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette (Prepare up to a week in advance)
- Add the olive oil and lemon juice to a wide-mouth, pint-size mason jar. Roughly chop the herbs, then add them to the jar, along with the crushed garlic, kosher salt, ground pepper, dijon mustard, and honey (or agave).
- Cap the jar and shake vigorously to emulsify the dressing. Store this in the fridge for up to a week, or use it as soon as you finish assembling the salad.
Salt the Watermelon
- Place the cubed watermelon into a colander set inside the sink (or in a larger bowl). Salt them with a tablespoon of kosher salt. Let the salt leach the water out of the melon for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Assemble the Greek Farmer's Salad
- In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cucumber, onion, olives, feta cheese, and the salted watermelon.
- Give the Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette another vigorous shake to re-emulsify it and pour half of the dressing over the salad. Toss the salad together and give it a taste. Add more vinaigrette dressing if you'd like, or leave it on the side for drizzling on later.
- Serve the salad on a bed of arugula, for a heartier dish.
- Keep the salad refrigerated until ready to serve. This Greek Farmer's Salad tastes best when eaten the day it's assembled.Refrigerate any leftovers, but enjoy them within 2 days.