Folks, let me tell you this – Feta is a fine cheese

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 16, 2010

I just finished reading a recent issue of Saveur magazine, and almost the entire issue was discussing various areas of Greece and the food that comes from each. I was mostly interested in the article on feta cheese. I use this cheese a lot and know it is one of the best of Greek cheeses.

Greeks are particular about their feta. Some like it soft and mild, while others prefer it hard and crumbly. Traditionally, feta has been made by shepherds from the milk of sheep and goats that graze on grasses native to a particular valley, plain, or mountain range –which gives the animal’s milk, and the cheese made from it, a distinctive regional flavor. Most feta is still made in small dairies that buy milk from nearby farmers. The cheese makers scoop the curds into metal molds to drain overnight; in the morning they sprinkle the blocks of young cheese with salt and stack them in a wooden barrel or tin container. The container is then topped off with whey and stored for 60 days so that the cheese can mature.

Feta should be kept in the fridge submerged in the brine, but the brine can be altered according to the saltiness of the cheese. Water or milk can be added to temper the salinity. Just like the Greeks, I use feta in salads and stews, and it is lovely with shrimp. It melts incredibly well and can be used on flatbreads, pizzas and pasta.

This feta tart is so easy to do. I threw it together in a few minutes, and it was a great appetizer with drinks. This hails from the region of Epirus in Greece. All the recipes are from Saveur magazine, August/September 2010 issue.


(Feta Tart)

Serves 8-10

8 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp, vodka (did not really understand what that did for the recipe) I had some old Mongolian vodka that I used. It was a gift when my daughter was a Peace Corp volunteer in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

1 egg

1 ¼ cups flour, sifted

¼ tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. baking powder

10 oz. feta, crumbled

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Put a 18”x13”x1” rimmed baking sheet into the oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together 2 tbsp. oil, vodka, egg and 1 cup water in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt and baking powder. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture, and whisk until smooth. Brush remaining oil over bottom of hot pan and add batter, smoothing batter with a rubber spatula to coat the bottom evenly, if necessary. Distribute cheese evenly over batter, and dot with butter. Bake, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until golden brown and crunchy, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

I have given in the past a really good recipe for shrimp and feta that I remembered and recreated from a Greek restaurant in Greensboro, N.C. It has been one of our favorites for many years. This one is a little different from the one I always do, but it is very good also.

Garides Saganiki

Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

Saganiki refers to the skillet in which Greeks cook ingredients with cheese.

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 scallions, minced

1 tbsp. tomato paste

½ cup white wine

1 tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. sugar

¼ tsp. crushed red-chili flakes

4 medium tomatoes, grated

3 tbsp. chopped fresh mint

16 large shrimp (about ¾ lb.), peeled and deveined

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 oz. feta

1 lemon, halved

1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Arrange a rack 4 inches from heating element; heat oven to broil. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and scallions; cook until soft, three to four minutes. Stir in tomato paste, cook for two minutes. Add wine, and cook until reduced by half, three to four minutes. Add oregano, sugar, chili flakes and tomatoes; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, 12 minutes. Stir in mint and shrimp, season with salt and pepper; crumble feta over top. Broil until bubbly, three to five minutes. Squeeze lemon over top. Garnish with parsley.

A Greek salad is one of my favorite things. It takes on various guises in Greece depending what vegetables are in season, but it almost always features feta and a dusting of dried oregano.


Greek Salad

2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces

1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces

½ medium white onion, thinly sliced

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/8 tsp. dried oregano, plus more

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 oz. feta, cut into thick slices

8 kalamata olives

Combine parsley tomatoes, cucumbers and onions in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and oregano; season with salt and pepper and pour over cucumber mixture. Toss. Transfer salad to a serving bowl and top with feta and olives. Garnish with more oregano, season with pepper.

The next recipe uses peppers from the Macedonia region of Greece called sweet Florina peppers. You can substitute Fresno or Anaheim peppers instead of the Florina.

Oioeries Gemistes Me Feta

Peppers Stuffed with Feta

Serves 4-6

10 3-4-inch Fresno chilies or six 4-5-inch Anaheim chilies

9 oz. feta, crumbled

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. Greek yogurt

1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

½ tsp. lemon zest

¼ tsp. dried oregano

2 egg yolks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Arrange a rack 6 inches from the broiler element and set oven to broil. Put peppers on a baking sheet and broil, turning once, until just soft, about five minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the feta, oil, yogurt, parsley, zest, oregano and egg yolks; season with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise cut from the stem to the tip of each pepper; scoop out the seeds and ribs. Stuff each pepper with some of the feta filling, transfer to an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet; chill for 30 minutes. Sprinkle peppers with grated cheese; broil peppers until cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about six minutes, Transfer peppers to a platter and serve hot.