Greek salad for everyone

May 2nd, 2017  |  Published in What we savor

Me and my dad. Photo: M. Merritt

Me and my dad. Photo: M. Merritt.

When I was growing up, my father always told me about his adventures around the world. He had lived on every continent except for Antarctica and brought a piece of his worldwide adventures into everything we did. In a family of self-proclaimed foodies, my father, a physician, who became a health and wellness advocate brought a new dimension to the table. We could never just have a bowl of oatmeal. He would have to add a scoop of wheat germ, some flaxseed, and prunes on top.

As I got older there was only one dish we consistently agreed to cook together, his take on a Greek salad. It quickly became a staple at every family function and throughout the community, his Clinton, North Carolina neighborhood. He kept containers of it in the refrigerator, and dropped one off to any and who mentioned it.

The salad actually has no lettuce, and takes hours to prepare. I could never understand why it was such a task because it’s just sweet bell peppers, onions, tofu, cucumbers, Feta cheese, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and a small amount of pasta.

The summer break before I got my first apartment my dad called me into the kitchen and told me the day had finally arrived. I could no longer just stand by and eat the Greek salad. I had to learn how to fix it myself. “You’re going to be going to potlucks and having parties, there has to be one consistent dish you can always show up with,” he explained. So at 10 a.m. we began to work.

Prepping for dinner. Photo: M.Merritt

Prepping for dinner. Photo: M.Merritt.

Three hours later I understood why it took so much time for him to make these salads. Every aspect of the preparation was so specific. The cucumber must be cut in quarters, the tofu had to be diced into small chunks and then cooked at a certain temperature so that the outside was crisp but the inside was still fluffy before it cooled, and each ingredient had to be layered into the container a certain way after being tossed with oregano, pepper, basil, and balsamic vinegar. It was amazing to watch him whip up five containers at a time, one for us, one for the cousins down the street, one for the pastor, and two to have in the fridge just in case someone stopped by and needed a meal.

It became the go-to dish, because everyone enjoyed it. Whenever he picked me up for breaks during college my friends and I would be waiting, forks in hand, for him to come inside with the his cooler. At some point he would laugh and tell me that we only wanted him for the salad.

I tried many times to make it on my own and would have to call dad five to six times.

“Does the cheese go in with the tofu or after?”

“Oregano with the cucumbers or with the tomatoes?”

He would always chuckle and repeat all the steps to me again. Mine never ended up as nearly as good as his.

Dad preparing to enjoy dinner. Photo: M. Merritt

Dad preparing to enjoy dinner. Photo: M. Merritt

This past month, on the one-year anniversary of his passing, I tried to make the salad for the first time without him being on the other end of the phone to coach me. I struggled throughout the entire process, because of course I still can’t remember the right kind of tomatoes to purchase or if the oregano goes on top of the cucumbers or the tomatoes.

In the end it ended up being not too bad. I shared it with whoever asked or came by, John Merritt style.

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