Feta with everything: more food from Greece

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two more Greek classics today, inspired by our recent trip to Paleros on the Ionian coast.

This was the route of our daily stroll from our hotel into Paleros town:

On the way we’d often encounter this herd of itinerant sheep. Even if you couldn’t see them, you could often hear at dawn and dusk the evocative clink-clank of their bells echoing round the surrounding mountains:

Sheep and goats seem to graze on every patch of scrub in this part of Greece. It’s ewes’ milk and occasionally goats’ milk which is used to make the crumbly, salty pure white feta cheese which appears on every Greek menu whether in a simple Greek salad or as a filling for pies and pastries.

Every taverna seems to have its own take on what a Greek salad should look like. Here’s the rather magnificent volcano-like version on offer at the Paleros Yacht Club:

But the Greek salad I like to make is based on a recipe given by Aussie chef Bill Granger in “Bill’s Food” one of his many simply written and gorgeously photographed cookery books.

You can it eat this salad on its own for lunch with a wedge of crusty bread, or serve it as an accompaniment to a simple main course. I like it with moussaka, a recipe for which will follow in new post very soon.

The salad works best if you use a tomato with a a bit of flavour – a named vine-ripened variety perhaps(or of course home-grown if you can), a tasty cucumber and authentic feta cheese, olives and extra virgin olive oil all from Greece. Just think, you’ll be giving the Greek economy a much-needed boost too!

If like me, you struggle with the harsh flavour of raw onions, then follow my tip for soaking the onion in cold water before squeezing out and chopping and adding to the salad.

Feta isn’t just for salads though- it appears in all manner of savoury stuffed pastries, like these little homemade fried cheese pies sprinked with sesame seeds and served drizzled with honey as an appetiser at Paleros’ New Mill Tavern:

And Paleros’ little bakery turns out a mean spanakopita – Greece’s famous spinach and cheese pie sold by the slice. Perfect for a beach picnic whilst touring the nearby islands of Skorpios and Meganissi:

I’ve found a classic spanakopita recipe in my new favourite cookery book George Moudiotis’ “Traditional Greek Cooking” which I give below. Now all I have to do is take a bite, close my eyes and imagine I’m back by the Mediterranean…

Recipe for Greek salad

Adapted from Bill Granger’s “Bill’s Food”. Serves 6

Ingredients

12 cherry tomatoes, halved or 4 medium tomatoes cut into chunks
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into thickish slices (you can half peel the cucumber to give a decorative striped effect if you prefer
a green pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into strips
1/2 red onion
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I like the Gaea brand from Crete)
1 teaspoon Cretan balsamic vinegar or ordinary red wine vinegar
16 black olives, stoned, preferably Kalamata
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, left whole
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaved parsley leaves, left whole
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g piece of feta cheese

Began by preparing the red onion. Slice it thinly and throw the slices into a bowl of cold water. After half an hour, remove the onions from the water and squeeze them with your clean bare hands trying to squeeze out as much onion juice as possible. Finely chop the resulting squeezed out onion slices. This treatment should render the raw onion mild and palatable and won’t give anyone eating the salad nasty onion breath.

Put the prepared tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and onion into a mixing bowl and mix with the olive oil. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to meld. When you’re ready to serve, add the vinegar, olives, mint, parsley and seasoning to the bowl. Mix well and transfer to an attractive serving bowl. Scatter over the roughly crumbled feta cheese and serve.

Recipe for Spanakopita – Spinach and cheese pie

Adpted from George Moudiotis’ “Traditional Greek Cooking”

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

900g spinach, washed, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 small bunch of spring onions, trimmed and chopped
150 ml olive oil
225g feta cheese, crumbled
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or flatleaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g filo pastry, about 12 sheets
pinch of grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

In a large frying pan,sauté the spring onions in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until soft but not brown. Set aside in a large mixing bowl. Add the spinach to the pan and, without adding extra oil or water, cook over a medium heat for about 3 minutes until wilted. Tip into a colander and squeeze out all the moisture then add the spinach to the onions. Mix in the cheese, eggs, herbs and seasonings (bear in mind that the cheese is already salty so be careful not to overseason) and mix everything together well.

Brush a rectangular metal baking tray 4cm deep with oil and lay a sheet of filo in it. Brush the pastry with oil. Repeat until you have used half the filo sheets. Spread the filling over the pastry then cover with the rest of the filo, brushing each layer with oil as you go.

Using a very sharp knife or baker’s scalpel, score the top sheets into diamonds to allow steam to escape during baking. Trim the edges and fold them over the top to seal brushing with extra oil to make them stick.

Sprinkle the top with a little water to stop the pastry from curling and bake the pie in the oven for about 45 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Serve warm or cold.

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