Greek Salad — No, Not That One

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What comes to mind when you think Greek salad? I’m sure some variation of the classic “Village Salad” — that super-satisfying mix of tomato, cucumber, onion, olives and feta, dressed with olive oil and a touch of oregano. It’s traditional. And it’s almost everywhere.

In Greek, it’s called “Horiatiki Salata.” But you proably knew that. The ubiquitous salad’s listed that way on more than a few menus.

What you might not know is that there’s another Greek salad. One that’s not as familiar to most non-Greeks, even though it’s really delicious and more refined than the Horiatiki. I happen to love it and serve this elegant little salad with most of my Greek dinners.

And even though I make it year round, spring is the customary time for what is called “Manoulo” salata. The name means romaine — and that’s what this salad is all about. Well, almost.

To very thinly-sliced romaine, you add lots of chopped dill, some chopped scallions, then lightly dress the greens with lemon juice or red wine vinegar and your best olive oil. When I make the salad, I leave out the scallions and add a good handfull of crumbled feta.

It’s light, tangy and just the thing to serve with anything Greek! Especially, grilled octopus, like I did the other night. It’s also a natural with grilled swordfish, chicken, or butterflied leg of lamb. And with another favorite — my grandmother’s Greek meatballs.

Manoulo Salata

Here’s what you’ll need to make enough for four:

2 heads romaine, thinly-sliced
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/3 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup olive oil
5 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Ground fresh black pepper to taste

To me this salad is all about personal taste, so adjust the amounts as desired. I happen to like lots of dill, you might want less. Start by adding 1/4 cup and see what you think. Then taste. Taste. Taste.

Some final thoughts — on the feta. Make sure it’s from Greece. You want to find tart-tasting cheese made, in the traditional manner, from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk.

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Bottarga — Demands Attention!

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OK, so it’s just salted, pressed and dried fish roe. But have you tried it?

If you haven’t, maybe you should. Bottarga seems to be having its moment. It’s showing up in more and more restaurants. And in creative home kitchens too. In fact, I was just served some at a friend’s house.

It was shaved over pasta, along with some lemon zest and a splash of fruity olive oil, as it usually is in Italy. Simple, tasty and impressive.

How can I explain its distinctive taste? First, bottarga’s not timid.

It grabs your attention — an intense taste of the sea, salty and satisfying with all the pleasures of umami. But, to some, it may be a bit too bold, like the funk of anchovies or fermented fish sauce. Of course, it all depends on how much you use. And how you use it. Descretion is best.

This delicacy has become the darling of a number of serious chefs, including Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, winner of 3 Michelin Stars. Mario Batali is also a fan. So is award-winning Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain. His hot restaurant was voted “Best in the World” by Restaurant Magazine last year.

I first experienced the bewitching bite of bottarga some years ago at a small restaurant called Derek’s here in Sarasota. And what a surprise it was. Chef Derek Barnes suggested I try it, served like truffles, gently shaved over his homemade linguini and I seriously fell under its spell.

Then another surprise: The bottarga that night came not from Italy but from Florida! From Cortez. A small fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico, not too far away. Seems a friend of Derek’s, Seth Cripe, was producing the delicacy from local, grey striped mullet roe. He still is. It’s being sold under the name Cortez Bottarga. And the stuff is causing quite a stir.

For good reason. Cortez is known for having the finest grey striped mullet in the world. The fish are caught in hand-thrown nets, then brought to the docks for processing within hours. The roe is sun-dried and cured with kosher salt, instead of sea salt. And then — there’s the taste.

Chefs love this bottarga because it’s a bit milder and cleaner tasting than Italian or European bottarga. Oh, there’s still lots of that characteristic salty taste of the sea. An added bonus: The color is beautifully golden.

Want to try it? You could run across some at top restaurants in NYC, L.A., Chicago and Portland. As well as other major cities in 18 states. And if you happen to be in Sarasota, ask about it at State Street Eating House.

But, if want to try Cortez Bottarga in your very own kitchen, maybe on pasta, maybe to simply shave over grilled vegetables, you can score some though the Healthy Earth offices. That’s definitely what I’m going to do.

Healthy Earth / 1800 2nd street, West Tower, suite 892
Sarasota, FL 34236 / 941-366-7778

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