THE GREEK CHEESES
Cheese is another product which is unbreakably linked with the Greek cuisine and is almost invariably found on our daily menu either as an appetizer or accompanying the main dishes. It is also used as the basic ingredient of a wide variety of typically Greek dishes such as pies, salads, "saganaki", pasta. Unlike the French, the Greeks hardly ever eat cheeses for dessert.
The knowledge of how to curdle cheese from milk has been passed on from one generation to another since antiquity. Greece produces a wide variety of cheeses, such as myzithra, anthotyro, kopanisti, manouri, kefalotyri, kefalograviera and feta, of course. It is also the first country in Europe in the consumption of cheese per person - a fact which is mainly due to the popularity of the Greek cheese feta.
FETA SAGANAKI - A Greek Appetizer
Saganaki is a two-handled shallow skillet with a rounded perimetre, and any food cooked in it takes on its name. So, saganaki as a recipe includes many things. It can be a bubbling shrimp or mussel dish with spicy tomato sauce and melted cheese; it can be one of many flour-dusted panfried cheeses, too. This recipe is a take on the fried-cheese tradition, and one that began to make its way onto Athenian menus in the late 1990s. I like the contrast in textures, the crunchiness and subtle flavour of the sesame seeds next to the intenseness and softness of the feta as it is heated.
1/4 pound hard Greek feta
1 large egg
1 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil for sautéing
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
The feta should be a rectangular, not triangular, piece. Cut it into four 1/2-inch slices and cut each slice into quarters to get bite-sized rectangles.
Beat the egg lightly in a shallow bowl. Spread the sesame seeds onto a large plate. Dip the cheese in the egg and then in the sesame seeds. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet. Place about 6 of the cheese pieces in the skillet, and sauté over medium-high heat. As soon as the feta begins to soften, flip it over to brown on the other side. Remove and serve hot. Repeat with the remaining feta and sesame seeds.
A healthier option
Place a large, rectangular piece of feta in aluminium paper. Add a few slices of fresh tomatoes, some olive oil and sprinkle with pepper and oregano. Wrap it up in the aluminium and bake over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. Serve piping hot with some ouzo or Greek red wine.