Feta cheese is commonly used to toss up a traditional Greek salad. But Greeks who are the highest consumers of this cheese eat it daily like bread and it is a permanent fixture on their dining table, eaten regardless of what is being served.
There is a reason why this cheese is the most preferred cheese in Greece. It is made from whole sheep or goat’s milk, creamy in texture, low in calories and when mixed with vegetable dishes become the main source of protein.
While a simple hearty meal of psomo-tyri (bread cheese) coupled with tomatoes and olives is enough to satiate one’s hunger, feta can be had in various simple forms. One could bake mushrooms or capsicum, stuff them with feta with a dash of olive oil and herbs. Feta sprinkled on watermelon also makes a cool combination. Or feta can be grilled in an oven and sprinkled with pepper. Pastas come alive with sun dried tomatoes, zucchini and olives with a sprinkle of feta on top. Stuff an omlette with feta or sprinkle nacho chips with feta followed by sliced olives and microwave it till cheese softens. It makes an excellent starter.
However, if you want to be a little more adventurous with this cheese you could try Boston based Aparna Nayak’s recipe -`Spanakopita burger’ tweaked a bit and thrown in with some Italian seasonings and green chillies to suit the Indian palate for good measure.
For the uninitiated, Spanakopita is a Greek savoury dish made with a mixture of spinach, onions and feta cheese, spread between layers of filo dough sheets and baked. The burger patties is just as delish.
• Minced meat chicken – 1 kg Free Range Chicken Minced
• Spinach leaves – 1 bundle
• Red onion – 1, small, finely chopped
• Garlic – minced, 2 tsp Oregano – dried, 1 tsp
• Italian seasoning – 1 tsp
• Red pepper flakes – 1 tsp
• Black pepper powder – 1/2 tsp
• Green chillies – 5, finely minced (optional)
• Crumbled Feta cheese – 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
• Olive oil – 2 tbsp, divided
• Salt to taste
Method of preparation
• Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan. Add the finely chopped onions and minced garlic to this. Cook till the onions are translucent (about 4-5 minutes) and set the pan aside to cool.
• Wash the spinach leaves and leave them in a colander for a few minutes for all the water to drain. Then chop the leaves roughly if you are pressed for time, I prefer to chop them fine.
• In a large bowl, put in the chopped spinach, cooled onion and garlic mixture, oregano, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, Feta cheese crumbles, minced green chillies (optional) and salt to taste. Mix all the ingredients together and then add the minced meat (chicken). Mix with a gentle hand as over mixing can lead to tough or slightly hard burgers. Refrigerate for atleast an hour (or marinate it overnight).
• Form patties of whatever size you are comfortable with and cook them on a grill or on a grill pan like I did. When using the grill pan, make sure to cook on medium flame.
• Most important tip: go easy on the salt as Feta cheese is quite salty by itself.
• It is important to cook on medium flame as it cooks evenly. The first patty I cooked, I did it on a low flame and it was all watery and soggy as spinach oozes water as it gets cooked. On high flame, the outer layer gets cooked very quickly whereas it stays uncooked inside.
(Recipe and pic by Aparna Nayak)