Summer Treasure: Enjoy a Classic Greek Salad

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: July 30, 2014 12:55 IST

Summer Treasure: Enjoy a Classic Greek Salad
In Greece, the summer produce of choice is the sweet, meaty, sun-ripened red tomato. Tomatoes are eaten daily, usually with not much more adornment than a sprinkling of sea salt and a drizzle of fruity olive oil. They can be raw or cooked; either way, they are wonderful.

We all have some vague notion of what goes into a classic Greek salad. Yes, there are some that have cucumbers and peppers mixed with the tomatoes, even a few lettuce leaves. But most Greek salads (in Greece, at least) have fewer ingredients. You need tomatoes, salt and olive oil, and you can stop right there. Some good feta cheese is always welcome. For a bit more interest, add a few slices of onion, a pinch of dried oregano and some chopped parsley or mint.

In my version, I have used colorful heirloom tomatoes but not the hard, tasteless ones you see year round at the supermarket. These are just harvested, juicy and flavorful. It's fine, however, to go all red. Notice that the recipe doesn't call for a vinaigrette. You don't need it - just a fruity, full-bodied extra-virgin oil.

For a simple summer dish with cooked tomatoes, consider shrimp with tomatoes and feta. This traditional Greek recipe disregards the commonly held notion that seafood and cheese don't mix. Not to worry; it works beautifully. A little oregano and mint are found here as well.
There are many ways to prepare it. Some cooks make a thick tomato sauce and simmer the shrimp right in it, crumbling in feta at the end; others bake the shrimp in the sauce, so the feta browns a bit.I prefer larger pieces of tomato, so I cut mine into thick wedges and cook them less. No matter; it's a satisfying meal whichever route you take. Serve it as a main course with rice or potatoes, or in small portions as an appetizer, taverna style.

Some recipes call for a splash of white wine or ouzo in the sauce, but with good summer tomatoes, its unnecessary. I'd rather just pour those into glasses to drink alongside.

Greek Tomato Salad
Time: 20 minutes

3 to 4 pounds ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom
1 small red onion, sliced thinly crosswise
1 or 2 small sweet peppers, such as bell or corno di toro, sliced into thin rings
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
4 ounces Greek feta cheese
2 tablespoons roughly chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Fruity extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. Wash, core and slice tomatoes 1/2-inch thick. Arrange slices on a platter or in a shallow wide bowl.
2. Scatter onion and pepper slices over tomatoes and season everything with sea salt. Let sit 10 minutes to draw out juices.
3. Break feta into rough chunks and scatter over salad. Sprinkle mint and oregano over top, drizzle generously with olive oil and serve.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Baked Greek Shrimp With Tomatoes and Feta
Time: 45 minutes

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Extra-virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, diced, about 1 cup
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
2 pounds large ripe tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces Greek feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons roughly chopped mint

1. Put 4 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Lower heat as necessary to keep mixture from browning. Remove from heat while preparing tomatoes.
2. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add whole tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes, until skins loosen. Immediately plunge tomatoes in a bowl of cold water to cool, then drain. With a paring knife, core tomatoes and slip off skins. Cut tomatoes into thick wedges.
3. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Return skillet to stove over medium-high heat. Add tomato wedges and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until mixture is juicy and tomatoes have softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a shallow earthenware baking dish.
4. Put shrimp in a mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, season shrimp with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Arrange shrimp over tomato mixture in one layer. Crumble cheese over surface and sprinkle with oregano.
5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until tomatoes are bubbling and cheese has browned slightly. Remove from oven and let dish rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with mint and serve.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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