Every year, I look forward with great anticipation to the Memphis Greek Festival. I go as soon as it opens and stock up on frozen spanikopita, delight at the flaming cheese saganaki and pig out on the cookies and pastries made by the ladies of the church. And it always gets me thinking about Greek recipes. I’ve only been to Greece once, many years ago, with friends on a budget and without a lot of knowledge about Greek cuisine. But we ate well, and those flavors have always stuck with me. One dish we found on many menus was green beans stewed with tomatoes, garlic and herbs, and it sometimes just came with whatever cheap plate meal we ordered. I’ve used that idea as a template for cooking fresh green beans at home, or for maximizing the flavor of frozen beans. But I flipped the script here to create a refreshing summer salad that makes great use of the farmers market abundance here in the South.
Beans cooked just until crisp, tomatoes roasted to bring out their sweet richness, fragrant oregano and salty feta cheese marry together perfectly. I prefer to use a solid block of feta cheese which I cut into small pieces. Pre-crumbled cheese tends to dissolve and muddy up the finished product.
- 2 pounds fresh green beans
- 12 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 2 medium)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 6 -7 sprigs of fresh oregano
- 7 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large shallot
- 8 ounce block feta cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, and fill a large bowl or sink with ice water. When the water is boiling, drop in the beans and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the beans and plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking. When the beans are cold in the water remove them to a tea towel to air dry. The beans can be cooked up to a day ahead and refrigerated in a ziptop bag.
- Preheat the oven to 300. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place in a small baking dish close together. Tuck the garlic cloves into the tomatoes, so they do not touch the bottom of the dish. Tuck three – four sprigs of oregano into the tomatoes, then drizzle over 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Turn the tomatoes around in the oil so they are coated, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 ½ hours, until the tomatoes are completely soft. Scrape the tomatoes and all the collected juices into the carafe of a blender and leave to cool. When the tomatoes are cool, add the vinegar and blend until smooth. Drizzle in the remaining 6 Tablespoons of olive oil until the dressing is smooth and completely blended. The dressing can be made ahead and kept covered in the fridge. Blend again before adding to the salad.
- When ready to serve, cut the beans into ½ inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Thinly slice the shallot and add to the beans. Cut the feta cheese into small cubes and add to the bowl. Finely chop the remaining oregano and add to the bowl. Toss everything to combine, then pour over some of the dressing, then gently stir to coat the beans. Start with about three-quarters of the dressing, then add more as you like. You may have a little more dressing than you want to use. Taste and season well with salt and pepper.
- The salad can be kept in the fridge for a few hours. Serve chilled.