About a dozen years ago, my sister and I took a trip that involved grinding our way up and down the hills of mainland Greece in a tiny, tempermental, stick-shift car. Though our knowledge of Greek was limited to "please", "thank you", and the alphabet as gleaned from physics class and a childhood musical (don't ask), we got around well enough for me to have a real Greek salad at a taverna somewhere south of Thessonaliki. It was cool and crunchy and delicious - and very hard to replicate.
More recently, I discovered that I love bulgur wheat. This can be entirely attributed to Ina Garten's Chicken with Tabbouleh recipe, and her preparation of the bulgur is, I think, a wonderful basic recipe. It's nutty and fresh and the perfect accompaniment for the cucumber and feta of the Greek salad, turning it into a great summer lunch.
Note: this recipe has a day-ahead timeline, so that the shallots have a chance to both mellow out and flavor the olive oil. Generally, this salad keeps very well in the fridge, and the flavor tends to improve over time.
1 cup shallots, sliced
3/4 cup delicious olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 - 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 medium cucumbers, mostly peeled
4-5 plum or other firm tomatoes
8 oz. block feta cheese
1 cup bulgur wheat
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup also tasty olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 day ahead:
Put the olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and shallots into your favorite plastic storage container, give it a stir or a shake and leave it in the fridge.
A few hours ahead:
Prepare the bulgur: in a large bowl, add the salt, lemon juice, olive oil, and water to the dry bulgur and give it a good stir. Immediately cover with plastic wrap or a plate and let it alone for about an hour. Definitely don't skimp on the lemon juice and ALWAYS use fresh! Lemons keep quite a long time in the fridge, so it's easiest to just keep 2 or 3 on hand.
Chop the cheese and veggies: roughly dice everything into about 1/2 inch chunks; you should have about equal parts tomato, cucumber and feta when you're finished. Toss it all into a big bowl with the shallot/olive oil dressing, season to taste, and then pop the whole thing back in the fridge while you wait for the bulgur. When most or all of the liquid is absorbed and the little grains are al dente, it's ready.
Combine the salad with the bulgur wheat, mixing thoroughly. Season to taste and return to the fridge until ready to serve.