Tag Archives: feta cheese

Feta, Honey and Black Pepper Appetizer


Greece 2016…and I can’t wait!  With a bangin’ new pair of sunnies I had been lusting after, also came the Christmas gift of vaca back in Greece this coming summer.  Although it’s hot and the sun shines year round in south Florida, it’s a different kind of heat.  There’s no humidity; it’s dry as a bone.  In all the years we’ve been traveling to Greece we’ve experienced rain TWICE.  That’s it.  Two times.  I’ve never been in the winter but the photos I’ve seen are gorgeous.  We typically travel to the Northern Aegean where they have seasons including autumn and winter.  It snows often, not huge amounts, just enough to be pretty.  And fall brings blustery winds that sometimes are downright cold!  Greeks are incredibly social people but the colder weather does at times keep them inside.  But we’ll be back for summer on Lesvos, where the white-hot rays of sunlight can be blinding and the ink-black night skies are covered with thousands of stars that look like tiny, twinkling pin-pricks.  That’s the Greece I love.  From the balcony of the bar at the resort where we stay, which juts out over the twisted, silver trunks of ancient olive trees; or our breezy balcony nestled into the side of a hill, to the waterfront dinners at the harbor of Molyvos, the night skies are a galactic showcase.  Anywhere on this magnificent island is the best place to star gaze.  So, more often than not, it’s Molyvos where we watch the sun set and the stars come out.  Along with all the locals and tourists, albeit not many tourists but there are some, we scan the harbor restaurants for the best seats of the night at the best eating places.  Sturdy, ladder-back chairs with woven rush seating do not beckon as they are not known for comfort.  But that is all you’ll find at the harbor; each leaning against the table on two legs until their patron for the night whips them out, legs clattering against the smooth but uneven cobblestones, and plops down.  All tables are square but can be quickly joined together for larger groups.  Each table is covered with a paper tablecloth, usually white with a large, blue map of the island printed in the middle.  And since the nights are typically windy, the table coverings are held down in one of two ways.  Either a huge, knotted, cloth-covered elastic, (think your hair!), slipped over and under the lip of the table or four steel pins which slide over the table rim, one on each side.  Really, really standard.  Any person reading this who has been to Greece is probably shaking their head, chuckling and thinking, “yup”.  I haven’t been the biggest fan of Greek wine here in the States but in Greece it’s a whole other kettle of grapes.  Wine is produced everywhere and produced well.  Think Plato and Socrates.  And don’t forget Dionysus, god of wine.  I’ve only had excellent cold, crisp whites and big, full-bodied reds and typically these are house wines.  Glasses in hand, we peruse the menus we know by heart.  We pretty much order the same dishes from our own predictable menu.  We begin with maybe a small bowl of local olives in olive oil with fresh oregano strewn on top.  While savoring those we might discuss what time we want to pick up the ferry to the other side of the island for tomorrows adventure.  I always go with early so we have the day ahead of us but that’s just me.  Plus the air is cold and fresh, the morning sunlight is blinding on the water, the salt spray is positively intoxicating.  The captain and I usually kick our shoes off and sometimes he lets me take over.  Scary but true!

And you thought I was telling stories.
And you thought I was telling stories.

Post olives we may order some grilled bread and a little feta.  Dinner we’ll share.  The ever-present and proper Greek salad comes out crisp and oh, so satisfying.  Grilled octopus?  Sounds good.  With lemon and olive oil.  And it comes with french fries which I never order but can’t keep my hands off.  Greek french fries can be exquisitely delectable.  Fried in olive oil from the island to a golden crisp, dusted with fresh rosemary and local sea salt they are a treat.  Jimmy and I don’t really order meat in Greece because the Greek cuisine treats vegetables and fish so well.  The seafood and produce are like nothing we can get in the states.  Typically the owner of the restaurant or taverna will bring out a platter of fresh fruit with the check.  The fruit is their gift for patronizing their establishment.  Gorgeous, hot pink slabs of watermelon are common.  Or you may be surprised with fresh figs.  It’s heaven and I can’t wait!

Grilled bread with olive oil and fresh oregano and warm olives in olive oil round off this presentation. I also offer a small pot of honey for those who'd like more.
Grilled bread with olive oil and fresh oregano and warm olives in olive oil round off this presentation. I also offer a small pot of honey for those who’d like more.

This is a wonderful hors d’oeuvre which can be served alone or on a platter with other indulgences.  And you don’t really need amounts.  Let me walk you through this.  Place your Greek feta, and PLEASE purchase a high quality feta.  None of this store brand in cryovac, okay?  Anyway, put your feta on your tray or platter.  Drizzle it well with your favorite honey.  Throw a pinch of red pepper flakes on the cheese and follow with a heavy dusting, or to your taste, of freshly cracked black pepper.  Present and enjoy with pride!

Turkish Street Food…Borek!

The "Grand Bazaar" of Ayvalik, Turkey
The “Grand Bazaar” of Ayvalik, Turkey

I’m crazy about middle eastern and mediterranean flatbread.  I’m even happier when they’ve been stuffed with a surprise or two.  Eight or nine years ago, on one of our vacations in Greece, we took a quick side trip to Turkey.  From our island of Lesvos it’s only a short ferry ride away.  Not to segue from this delightful recipe but if you should ever have the opportunity to take a ferry outside of the continental US you ought to take it.  Ferry rides are a wonderful way to really see how your temporary neighbors live.  On our way to Turkey the boat was filled with people, of course, and cars.  Lots of cars.  But on the return trip the cars were gone and in their place were refrigerators, patio furniture, a rainbow of comforter sets all still in their clear, plastic storage bags.  Pallets of fruits and bundled up cardboard boxes as far as the eye could see.  Truly, it’s a great way to see a little slice of local life.  Anyway, after a few hours on the water we safely arrived and disembarked.  We had been told there was a “Grand Bazaar” and we took off to find it.  Just steps before us the bazaar opened up to a beehive of activity with children running, some playing, some on urgent errands, shopkeepers hawking their wares from their stalls and a colorful topping of headscarves on the women shopping for their family’s lunch and dinner.  The cacophony of sounds was exhilarating; music blaring, people yelling at the top of their lungs, dogs barking and always the call to prayer over loudspeakers.  It was great!  We walked a while and stumbled across a table where a man and a woman were selling borek, the ubiquitous Turkish street food.

Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!
Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!

Borek is a thin, thin round sheet of dough or flatbread that is stuffed with a combination of greens and cheese or meat, any concoction you wish.  The filling is place in the middle of the dough, pinched closed and tossed onto something that looks like a convex steel drum or upside down wok  griddle.  The borek blisters to a gorgeous golden brown on the outside while the filling cooks on the inside. Different than our’s here in the States; often they are folded when finished then wrapped in wax or parchment paper.  The corners become chewy while the flat outside bubbles up to a crispy flavor-fest.

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!
Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!

The dough requires no yeast or sugar, it’s just flour, salt and water.  The resting time is blessedly short so if you feel like rattling around the kitchen on a Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine and still have dinner ready in and hour or so you can.  And think of the fillings…good gracious!  The combinations are limitless.  I’ve made the classic spinach and feta but tonight I’m also preparing potato and onion with a little Aleppo red pepper flakes added. Borek are so gorgeous and easy, not to mention forgiving.  The secret, if there is one, is to let the dough rest sufficiently and then take your time rolling it out super thin.  I mean SUPER thin.  Perfect for a picnic…a ballgame…or under a tree, downtown, with the one you love.  It’s pretty sexy food.  Yeah.  I think you’ll really like it.  Just do yourself a favor and, if you decide to throw them together, resist the temptation of leaving the dough too thick and, also, try not to overload the borek with your filling.  They’re supposed to be flat. To that, let me add, if your filling is spinach and feta, you can heap on the spinach as it will wilt to next to nothing as they cook.  But if you go with potato or ground meat scatter with a light hand. This recipe comes from the book entitled “Savory Baking from the Mediterranean” written by Anissa Helou.  Not only is this recipe brilliant but so is the book. I hope you enjoy it.  That’s what it’s all about!


Borek – Stuffed Turkish Flatbread yield: 4 whole hand pies For the dough:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE use a good quality feta and crumble it yourself
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach, finely shredded (I use more…about two large handfuls before shredding)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually add just over 1/3 cup warm water to the well, bringing in the flour as you go along.  Knead to make a rough ball of dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Knead for three minutes.  Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.  Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes more to make a smooth, firm dough.
  3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and parsley.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Roll out a ball of dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, lightly sprinkling with flour every now and then.  (I have to tell you.  I had a hard time with that.  Mine were about 9 or 10 inches in diameter and they came out beautifully!)  Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough.  Cover the spinach with a quarter of the cheese mixture.  Fold the dough over the fillings to make a half circle. Prepare the remaining boreks in the same way.  Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Transfer the boreks, one or two at a time, to the hot griddle or pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp and golden.  Transfer to a serving plate and brush lightly with melted butter.  Serve immediately.  (I cut mine in half before serving.  The boreks are easier to handle and look prettier.)
The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on gozleme...just let time go by.
The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on borek…just let time go by.

Trader Jack

Being in Beijing on a summer internship James has been considering different career paths, embracing some and trashing others.  It can be a difficult time especially if there are several enticing options.  I knew EXACTLY what I was going to be when I grew up.  I was about six or seven years old.  I was going to be an Indian.  An American Indian.  Specifically an Apache.  I was going to be a brave, a warrior, and I would be the only girl.  I completely immersed myself in American Indian lore, swallowing books one after another.  I would have a full quiver of arrows slung across my back and a razor-sharp hatchet hanging from my side.  I fully accepted that I would have to scalp a white person or another Indian in battle.  I only hoped I would be able to slice those scalps quickly and cleanly.  My clothing would be of the softest leather, my moccasins so light I could fly through the forests without making a sound or leaving a trail.  My name would be Red Wing.  And, of course, my hair would turn from honey brown to blue-black.  Mama was so very patient with me.  She was always 100% supportive of any and all of our endeavors.  Time and time again she would say to me, “Cielo, you can be anything you want.  You can be a doctor, a ballerina, a scientist.  But you cannot, YOU CANNOT be an Indian.”  I remember thinking, “You’ll see.”  Dad had been making preparations for his next trip to the Amazon, I remember he’d get so sick after rounds of shots.  The day of his departure I approached Daddy and told him I needed to talk to him about something really important.  He knelt down and I asked him if he was going to see any Indians where he was going.  He answered yes, that the area he would be working had several different tribes.  I asked if he would do me a favor.  I opened my dirty, little fist and in it was my most prized possession.  A small mother-of-pearl pocket knife with the name Birch State Park stamped on the side in cursive.  Cursive is very important when you’re in first and second grade.  I asked Daddy if he would make a trade for me with THE INDIAN CHIEF.  I ended my request by telling him, “It’s what we Indians do.  We trade.”  He slipped the knife in his pocket and off he went to the Amazon to work on the genetics of a certain kind of fish.  We never heard from him while he was gone.  I don’t know how my mother did it, knowing he was in remote areas but not really knowing where.  He went where the fish were.  Up and down the river, catching little prop planes about the size of mosquitos and then he’d poke around some more.

Wattley’s Turquoise Discus

When Dad finally returned he always came back just a mess.  He is naturally thin but after weeks on the banks of the Amazon he’d come back thin as a rail.  And usually with some God-awful intestinal malady and possibly a high fever.  It was never pretty.  After a few days he was more approachable and when I knew he was willing to talk I jumped in.  “Daddy.  Daddy!  DADDY!!  What did you bring back?  Did you see any Indians?  Did you make my trade?”  I couldn’t wait to see.  He smiled and brought out a large but thin wooden box.  He watched my reaction as I took off the wooden cover.  What I saw left me breathless.  It was the most magnificent insect collection imaginable.  There were butterflies with colors seen only in the rainbow four to five inches wide.  Jet black beetles that when moved glistened like black opals.  There were grasshoppers five and six inches long, the palest of iridescent green.  It was spectacular and most splendid!  Dad and I are the only bug lovin’ folk in the family.  They fascinate us and we recognize their beauty.  I don’t mean a common cockroach.  No, these were exquisite.  And he had gotten them from an Indian!  I treasured my collection for years but as I grew older my interests changed.  Mama sat me down one last time for a little “Cielo, you can be ANYTHING you want but not an Indian” talk.  It was okay.  I had moved on.  I was going to be a nun!

We loved shocking company with this photo!

In later years I asked Dad what he ate on these trips.  He said during the early years the Indians would prepare food.  Lots of eggs and some fish.  So here’s my recipe for a really good savory pie.  It calls for fewer eggs than quiche but more than spanakopita.  The greens and cheeses are interchangeable.  I adore the sharp bite of dandelion greens but spinach is just fine. Or chard.  I suppose you could use kale, everybody’s all crazy about kale right now but not me.  I hate kale!!  The only reason I added the Gruyère is because I had a couple of slices I wanted to get rid of and use so in they went.  Boy, did that make it sing!  Parmesan could be used in place of feta or a combination of both as well.  Feel free to make your own pastry but after working all day it ain’t happening.  I only make homemade during the holidays. And if you feel strongly about using only pork bacon, well, by all means.  But try Butterball sometime.  It does need to be prepared stove top but the flavor is superb, it’s crunchy and a thousand times less greasy.

Savory Greens Pie

yield: one deep dish pie

  • 1 store bought pie shell, usually found in the dairy section
  • 4-5 strips of bacon, cooked to crisp and crumbled
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bunches organic greens, washed and chopped into 3/4 inch pieces, eyeball it
  • 1 1/2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, finely chopped or grated
  • 6 or 7 organic eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup organic milk, I use fat-free
  • salt and pepper to taste, not much salt because of the bacon and cheese, lots of freshly cracked black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place pie shell in ungreased deep dish pie pan and set aside.
  3. To a medium-sized pan add olive oil and shallot and cook over medium heat until clear.
  4. Add chopped greens and cook, stirring often, until soft.
  5. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. To a large bowl add feta, bacon, eggs, milk and stir to combine.
  7. Add greens, stir well and taste for any salt or pepper needed.  I love black pepper!
  8. Pour into pie shell and scatter Gruyère evenly over the top.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark golden on top.
One of my most favorite photos of Dad. He looks as though he was whistling and he LOVED to whistle!!