Friday, April 26, 2013

Greek Panzanella Salad and San Diego Al Fresco Dining

I don't know what it is about Greek salad that I like so much. Well that's not really true I like the combination of all the flavors and the feta cheese! It's a very simple salad and I have developed a recipe to make it very fun and a little special for entertaining this summer.

Now Greek Panzanella salad is hardly anything new. Ina Garten has a great one in her cookbooks and it's also a favorite at my catering company. But I think that over time I have developed a really great recipe on my own with the help of my memories of a particular restaurant is Charleston SC. You see growing up in my home my Mother and Grandmother made Greek salad in the fashion of Louis Papas from Tarpon Springs, Florida. You can see the reference for this type of Greek salad in an earlier post from my blog. In fact, it's a great and different way to serve Greek Salad as an entree. However, my experience with the classic Greek salad that most people know and love came from my patronage of the Athen's Restaurant on James Island, in Charleston SC.

Athen's was a real family business and was a great success. It was truly as Greek American as you could get. Charleston actually has a fairly sizable Greek community and this restaurant was a favorite. However, the Greek salad they offered was mostly a platter of shredded iceberg lettuce covered with a blanket of crumbled feta cheese and doused in a yummy oregano dressing. A few slices of tomato and a scatter of kalamata olives some salami slices and peppers and you had it. Nothing fancy but really salty and tasty. I would go to this restaurant with my friends often and this was my favorite thing to eat.

The original Athen's was sold and relocated and I hear is not as good but I hear the salad is pretty much unchanged. Good, because it was good!

                                           Athen's Restaurant Greek Salad

Now when I was San Diego one evening we had another dinner outdoors in the great backyard that my friend's house had. It was a simple meal of baked sausages with red grapes and my version of a Greek Shepard's Salad. Now what is a Shepard's Salad, well it's normally a greek salad but without the lettuce, which is just fine with me. But to bulk it up especially for a crowd I like to make it as a panzanella. Panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad. Basically toasted day old bread bread tossed in a dressing with tomatoes and basil and cheese. Very simple.

So for my version I like to use a simple greek salad with homemade hamd-pulled foccacia crouton's and all the usual veggie and feta suspects. I like to use multicolored grape tomatoes which are sliced and real Greek feta ( which I crumble), chopped greek black olives, chopped red onion, the crouton's and a yummy oregano dressing. Sometimes some chopped pepperchini sometimes not. But this is a great summer salad, heck it's a great salad anytime! So give this a try and see if people don't clean their plates. I made it two years ago at my Mom's Christmas party and of all the things on the groaning board,  this was the one thing that went completely! Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's Greek Shepherd's Salad with Hand Torn Crouton's and Oregano Lemon Dressing


2 pints red or mixed grape tomatoes cut in halves
1 small red onion finely chopped
1 cup kalamata olives halved
4 persian cucumbers cut into small wedges ( slice in half longwise, half again longwise, then cut in slices)
One half a small loaf of foccacia bread pulled into pieces tossed with olive oil sprinkled with garlic powder  and baked at 350 degrees until browned and crisped and cooled
1 cup crumbled Greek goats milk feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped Italian Parsley.

Add some Dressing toss salad with all ingredients in a large bowl until dressed to your taste

Oregano Lemon Dressing:

1 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
5 tablespoons Dried Oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon Mayonaise
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth and combined
It's best to make the dressing a couple of hours before serving to allow flavors to marry

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