Walk into any Tri-State diner--Jersey or otherwise--and no matter how late the hour, how tipsy the crowd and concomitantly cranky the waitstaff, they'll oblige you with a (Greek, obviously) house salad. Even if the grill is closed, honey.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
If bodegas are Latin and delis are Korean, then diners are indubitably Greek. You know that iconic all-night diner with the art deco neon, the broken jukebox, and the luncheon counter? Greek. All part of the particular and wonderful immigrant brew of the Northeast. Yeah, the diner serves pancakes and pie at all hours of the day and night, but if you look closely, you'll notice a delightfully disproportionate representation of classic Greek fare, from moussaka to spanikopita. Its most ubiquitous Greek culinary offering? The deceptively charming Greek diner salad, crowned with a slab of feta, decorated generously with dolma, and smothered in herby oil-and-vinegar dressing.
A few tips for diner-style Greek salad
To get your salad to be diner style as opposed to just a home salad, here's what punctilious observation recommends:
- Chop the vegetables--tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and lettuce--into large chunks. This is one of the hallmarks of a diner salad.
- Red onion and kalamata olives are required. No substitutions.
- I'll go to bat for large slices of feta on top of the salad as the diner standard. No crumbling.
Greek diner salad dressing
The key word here is diner. I make no claims whatsoever that my version, with its red wine vinegar and Italian seasoning, is an authentically Greek salad dressing. I will, however, swear that the dressing tastes exactly the way a late-nite, Tri-State diner, Greek house salad is supposed to taste.
Where to buy pre-made dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
Dolma seem like the type of thing that would be hard to find with a hechsher, but they're surprisingly not in my experience. Look for them in cans somewhere in the zone between Latin and Asian ingredients at your supermarket.
Greek Diner Salad (dairy)
For the salad:
- 1 romaine heart
- ¼ red onion
- 2 tomatoes, such as roma or campari
- 1 English cucumber
- ⅓ cup kalamata olives
- 2 large slabs of feta cheese
- 6 stuffed grape leaves - from the deli counter
For the dressing :
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp brine from olives
- ½ tsp Italian seasoning
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- salt and pepper - to taste
Chop the vegetables:
- Start by finely mincing the quarter onion. Place it in a small bowl of water to reduce its bite, while you chop the other vegetables.
- Chop the romaine heart into square pieces. Quarter the cucumber and cut it into large chunks. Quarter the tomatoes, also leaving them in large chunks.
Make the dressing:
- Place all the dressing ingredients in a small container with a lid, such as a jam jar. Shake well to emulsify.
Assemble the salad:
- Place the lettuce on a large platter or salad bowl. Top with the onion plus half the cucumber, half the tomatoes, and half the olives. Toss gently.
- Top the salad with the remaining vegetables, mounding them in the center. (Do not toss.)
- Place the slabs of feta atop the salad. Arrange the dolma around the perimeter of the salad.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and serve.