Tag Archives: feta

Watermelon and Feta Salad

So we’re still in the middle of a heatwave…so today I’ve got a suggestion for a salad that is part tasty feta, olives and herbs, and part refreshing, juicy watermelon. It’s a funny old time of year. The things I usually love to eat – pasty, pastry, curry or warm lentils – are all just too, too heavy to enjoy when it’s hot by day and still warm by night. This has been driving me to try some new ideas, and this classic Greek combination has been part of my attempts to eat well while still also staying cool.

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Most recipes for watermelon and feta salad seem to be fairly simple – just add some dressing and a few black olives, with perhaps a dash of mint. However, I have a garden and windowsill that have really taken off in the heat, so I was able to pick a selection of baby herb leaves to add to the salad which added some aromatic flavour to the dish. Baby basil, rocket micro-leaves, thyme, oregano and parsley. There would have been dill in there too, but my plant had wilted, but I think it would also make a nice addition. The overall effect of deep pink fruit, white feta, black olived and bright green leaves is really quite stunning on the table.

One little tip – I am normally an advocate for taking fruit out of the fridge well ahead of serving to allow it to come up to room temperature – the flavour is so much better. However, in this dish, you really want the watermelon to be chilled, and if it’s ripe, you’ll still be able to enjoy the flavour of sweet melon with the salt of the feta. One of those dishes that sounds strange, shouldn’t work, but does, and works really well!

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To make a Watermelon and Feta salad:

• 1/2 medium watermelon, peeled and cubed
• 1/2 red onion, finely sliced
• 200g feta
• 70g black olives, quartered
• 2 limes, juice only
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• handful of mint leaves, finely shredded

• 2 handfuls of other herb leaves (depending on what is to hand)

1. Make the dressing – put the lime juice and olive oil in a jam jar. Shake vigorously. Add the red onions and leave to sit for 15 minutes.

2. Put the watermelon in a large serving dish. Add half the mint and half the other herbs, then toss lightly. Add the black olives and crumbled feta, trying to arrange them artfully on top (presentation is all!).

3. Pour the dressing over the salad, then sprinkle over the rest of the mint and the herbs, and serve right away.

Worth making? This salad is super-easy to make and fantastic as part of a casual lunch in the garden. It’s also very more-ish, and oh-so-easy to keep picking at pieces of feta and watermelon.

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Pumpkin Pita Pie

When it comes to selecting blogging themes and developing ideas, pretty much everything I do is based on ideas I have or some sort of national or international event (Olympics, Royal Wedding, Norwegian National Day), but from time to time it’s nice to get a suggestion of something new. And so it was then I was recently asked by the folk at Sunvil Supper Club if I wanted to try a recipe for pumpkin pita pie. It sounded rather nice, so I thought I’d give it a go and said yes.

At this point, I’ll share a learning from a now-wiser person – don’t agree to do anything when you are on holiday, as you will feel for a couple of weeks as if you have all the time in the world. Then you arrive back home in your blissed-out state, only to realise you’re up against the baking clock. Eek!

Anyway, this recipe is for a Greek savoury pie combining the sweetness of squash with the saltiness of feta, and enlivened with a dash of mint. It’s all quite easy to make, although I did come up against two little issues during my attempt.

First, the recipe wasn’t too clear about whether I should be using just tinned pumpkin puree, just mashed up butternut squash, or some combination. I think it was a choice, rather than both, and the fact I failed to read the recipe until I got home was a bit of a bummer. I had just come back from the United States, where the shelves were groaning under the weight of tinned pumpkin. But could I find it in Clapham? Nope. I had a look in a few stores, but wherever it was, it was hiding from me, and I just gave up (remember that jet lag?). I went instead for the idea of just mashing up a whole squash. That seemed the way that a Greek granny would do it, so I should do that too.

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The second thing I grappled with a little bit was the way that the pie should be formed. I assumed you lined the tin with several layers of pastry, brushing with olive oil between each layer, then dump in the filling, then cover again with more filo. However, it was (inevitably) more complex than that, involving preparing sheets of pastry, brushing with oil, adding a little filling, rolling into a cigar shape, then lining them up in a coil in the pan. Once you know what you’re doing it’s a breeze, but I would advise you not to use a pastry brush for applying the olive oil. Just put the oil into a bowl and dip your palm in there. It’s more fun to do it this way, and your hands will end up nice and soft.

To finish off my pie, I took a bit more filo and tried to wrap it artfully into a sort of swirl on top, and when it came out the oven, it did indeed look golden and inviting. The flavour of the pie is superb – rich sweetness and sharp salt, topped with very crisp pastry, complemented by a green salad (as suggested in the original recipe). This pie is tasty while warm, but is also nice cold, so I’m looking forward to wedges of this over the next few days for lunch.

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However, if I were to have another go at this recipe, I’d make one little tweak. Instead of the pie shape, I would instead make smaller fingers of the filling wrapped in filo, like mini savoury strudels. Christmas is just around the corner, and we’ve all the need for handy little recipes that we can use to wow our guests. This should be super-easy to make ahead of time, then just pop into the oven, serve with drinks and enjoy the kudos.

However, if you’re convinced the by the coiling approach, this is how it looks – rather nice, yes?

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To make a Pumpkin Pita Pie (adapted, original recipe here):

• 1 large butternut squash (around 500g once peeled)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 onions
• 340g feta, crumbled
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
• 2 tablespoons uncooked rice or bulgar wheat
• freshly ground black pepper
• 400g filo pastry

Prepare the squash:

1. Peel the squash, remove seeds and chop into chunks. Place in a large bowl with a spoonful of olive oil and mix with your hands until the squash is coated. Put the squash chunks into an overproof dish, and roast in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for around 45 minutes until tender and the edges are just starting to brown. Turn off the heat, and leave the squash until cool (easiest to do this the night before, and leave to cool overnight).

Make the filling:

2. Chop the onions, and saute with two tablespoons of olive oil until they are lightly browned and translucent. Leave to cool.

3. Take the cooled squash and mash or puree as you prefer. I like chunks of squash, so prefer to mash and leave some texture.

4. In a bowl, combine the squash, feta, cooled onions, eggs, mint, black pepper and rice/bulgar wheat. Mix until combined, but make sure you still have visible pieces of feta.

To assemble to pie

5. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Get hold of a large springform pan (the recipe called for one that was 14 inches (35cm), mine was nearer 9).

6. Take a piece of filo pastry. Lay it lengthways in front of you, and brush olive oil on the lower half (or smear with your hands). Brush again with oil. Add a little of the filling along the middle of the strip, then roll into a cigar. Aim for 1 inch (2.5cm) diameter. Brush with olive oil, or rub with oily hands.

7. Repeat the process, placing each roll into the pan, start at the edge, to build up the pie. You should end up with some sort of spiral. To keep things neat, arrange the rolls with the seam underneath, and lay the coils in the tin as tightly as you can.

8. One all the filling has been used, brush the top of the pie with a little more olive oil, then bake for around 50 minutes until the top of the pie is a rich golden colour.

Worth making?This is a classic flavour combination, and works very well in a pie like this. The mint is a welcome addition. Highly recommended, either as a pie or as the basis for festive party food (just reduce the cooking time).

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Endive, Pear, Feta and Pecan Salad

I am sitting on the sofa and can see sunlight streaming through the clouds. Might Spring be here?

Making a huge leap of faith, I have assumed that the start of March really does mean Spring is actually here, so time for a salad. This is a tounge-tingling combination of bitter endive, sweet pear, creamy/salty feta and sweet pecan nuts, topped with a simple light olive oil and white vinegar dressing, all of which looks quite dramatic on the plate, like this:

Endives are something I am very familiar with from my time living in Belgium, must usually seen baked. I have to admit, I am not a fan of the grey, sad witloof or chicon sitting in water when brought to the table. Maybe I will work out how to prepare baked endive one day, but for the time being, I like them raw and crisp, to add an interesting dimension to a salad. The white leaves, fringed with bright yellow-green also hint at Spring arriving. My research also revealed that they go by many names. I usually call them chicory, but that can be confused with the blue flower of the same name. Then I happened to see an episode of the dreadful Hell’s Kitchen USA, with everyone talking about en-dive (rhyming with hive). Maybe I’m just posh or wrong, but I thought it was pronounced like believe. I digress.

The pears in the vegetable shop at this time of year actually work quite well here – they stay quite firm and have a little crunch, which makes the salad more interesting that using their riper – but softer – cousins in the middle of summer. The trick is to try and get them into thin, tapering slivers that look good on the plate. You can keep them pale and interesting by dropping them into acidulated water – that’s water with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to you and me.

As the for the nuts, I was fully planning to use walnuts, but realised that I didn’t actually have any. I did, however, have pecans. Walnuts are more of a nutty “savoury” flavour, but with the tang of the endive and the salty taste of the cheese, I figures that sweeter pecans could work. Well, they would have to work, as I had not checked I had everything at home before starting, and I was mid-recipe when I worked out that it was pecans-or-nothing. In the event, they worked, and worked very well. And the silver lining is that pecans are the less obvious addition than walnuts, and add an interesting flavour element to the salad. Playing fast-and-loose with the classics, eh?

I loved this salad – interesting flavours, lots of texture, and a sharp simple vinaigrette with white wine vinegar and the last of my monocultural olive oil from holiday last year. Maybe time to start looking at a little trip too?

To make endive, pear, feta and pecan salad (starter for four):

• one pear
• one endive
• 100g feta, crumbled
• 30g pecans, chopped

Peel the pear. Cut into thin slices (removing any of the core or pips) and place the pieces in acidulated water (i.e. water, with a little lemon juice – this stops the pear turning brown).

Separate the endive, and cut each leaf in two lengthways.

Just before serving, drain the pear slices. Arrange the endive, pear, feta and pecans on each plate, and add a little of the dressing.

For the dressing:

• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoons salt
• 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
• pinch of white sugar

Add all the ingredients to a jam jar and shake vigorously until the dressing is smooth.

Worth making? This is a nice, simple and tasty dish. The flavours mean you will probably prefer this as a starter, but add green salad leaves to bulk out, add some croutons and a bit more feta, and it can also make a substantial main course. And of course, it’s great to eat outside in the warm weather that it just about to arrive…any day now…

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Pan-Fried Feta

During a visit to Athens a few years ago, I had a tip about a great vegetarian restaurant. Not that Greek food is particularly anti-veggie, but I liked the idea of somewhere that I really had a full range of choice on the menu. Once we found it, they were incredible friendly, but when we asked for the menu, someone shuffled over to apologise that they didn’t have a menu in English. Well, I had the foresight to learn (some of) the Greek alphabet on the way to Athens, so we decided that we should just wing it and hope we could make out what we were getting. This is probably the worst example of living dangerously I could come up with. We stood a chance of getting peppers instead of olives. The risk of a piece of raw meat being delivered to our table with a flourish were exactly nil.

One of the best dishes was something I had figured out involved feta. This turned out to be a delicious block of cheese which had been coated in flour and black sesame seeds, deep-fried and then drizzled with honey. It was utterly delicious – the cheese was soft, salty and kept its sharpness, and this went well with the crisp coating and the sweetness of the honey. Certainly made a change from the ubiquitous feta/tomato/olive salads! But seriously, deep-fried cheese? Healthy? No. Tasty? You bet!

This is my recipe which seeks to re-create that dish, and I am pretty happy with the result. When I make this, I usually aim for long, thin batons of feta, but each block usually decides that it has had enough and promptly splits in half. I attribute to a “fault” running through every block of feta I have ever tried this with and not sub-standard knife skills on my part.

Apart from the shock separation, everything went as planned. The coating puffs us slightly and turns crisp. The sesame seeds toast slightly and take on a lovely nutty flavour, but if you are a bit of a fanatic when it comes to appearance, try to find black sesame seeds, as they look a little more dramatic in the final dish.

These little blocks of fried loveliness were perfect in the late evening sunshine with some white wine and a light salad.

For the pan-fried feta:

• 200g feta
• 1 egg
• 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
• 1/2 teaspoons ground paprika
• 6 tablespoon olive oil
• plain flour (enough to coat the feta)
• 50g sesame seeds

• 3 tablespoons honey (according to preference, but preferable something light)

Cut the feta into 1cm x 2cm chunks, and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Combine the egg, pepper and paprika in a bowl and beat well. Roll each piece of chilled feta in the egg mixture, then roll in the flour. Once you have done all of them, roll each piece in the egg for a second time, then roll in the sesame seeds.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and cook the feta on each side until golden. In the meantime, warm the honey in a saucepan until it is very liquid.

Remove the feta pieces from the frying pan, drizzle with a little honey, and serve warm.

Worth making? When I first made this, I was surprised by how well it turned out. The cheese, sesame and honey was a lovely combination. Maybe a little calorific, but then you don’t need to eat so many of them. And a pleasantly different way to serve feta as an appetiser.

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Baked Sweet Potato with Feta and Spring Onion

I have always liked the idea of sweet potatoes (or yams). They taste great and have a brilliant orange colour when cooked, but so often they don’t taste quite right when you switch them for normal potatoes in dishes. This is probably because of their sweetness, which can seem odd in otherwise savoury foods.

A while back, I finally hit upon a way of cooking them which works brilliantly, is really simple and tastes delicious. I know this might not seem very exciting, but I think it is. Just peel them, rub in oil, cover in foil and then bake in a hot oven. That’s it! This makes the outside caramelise, while the inside stays soft and moist. It also means that you don’t have the skin afterwards. I am happy to eat potato skins normally, but I just don’t like them on sweet potatoes. No logic to that! The whole cooking-in-foil business is, in my view, necessary, as they can otherwise dry out and the skin can go a little tough.

The magic here comes with the topping – cook up a few spring onions in a pot, jazz it up with a little spice of your choice, then allow to cool and combine with some feta. Then top off with a a few uncooked spring onions and a little extra feta, plus whatever else you like (I used sumac powder and black onion seeds, as I happened to have these in the store cupboard, but feel free to go wild with what you have). The taste is sensational – the very salty cheese and the sweet/savoury flavour of the onions works well with the warm, sweet flesh of the potatoes and tastes sublime. The spices then dance around in the background, supporting the main show. Really tasty, for summer or winter, and very, very easy to make. Sure, they sit in the oven for a while, but you don’t need to spend more than five minutes in the kitchen.

To serve 2:

• 2 medium sweet potatoes
• 4 spring onions
• 150g feta cheese, crumbled
• olive oil
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
• 1/4 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon black onion seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Prepare the potatoes – peel them and rub each lightly in olive oil. This will prevent discolouration, and improves the surface during cooking. Wrap each in foil, place in the oven, and cook for around 1 hour, until the potatoes are soft and you can easily insert a skewer. If you like extra crispness, once the potatoes are cooked, remove from the foil, place on a baking tray and put back in the oven for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the topping. Finely slice the spring onions diagonally. Add three-quarters of the chopped spring onions to a saucepan with a spoonful of olive oil, and cook until soft but not brown. Add salt, pepper and cumin (if using). Allow to cool, then add three-quarters of the feta. Mix well. However, if feeling lazy, don’t bother cooking the spring onions – just put all of them them in a bowl with oil, salt, pepper, cumin and all the feta. Mix, then use. Easy!

Split the cooked potatoes in two. Divide the topping across each half of the potato, then add some of the reserved feta and spring onions. Finish off with a sprinkling of sumac and black onion seeds (if using), and a final drizzle of olive oil.

Worth making? This is both easy and makes a sophisticated taken on the baked potato. I’ve successfully varied it with different spices, or by adding a little strong cheddar. Halloumi could also work. Just be sure to use a cheese that packs a punch, so that it simultaneously stands up to and complements the sweetness of the potatoes. Yum!

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Sumac Braised Nettles topped with Onion Seeds

The weather on Saturday was glorious in London. I wanted to go and see some countryside, so I jumped in the train from Stoke Newington up to Cheshunt to explore the River Lee park, a network of canals, footpaths and cycle tracks with pockets of woodland, meadow and grassy glades.

The Lee is a tributary of the River Thames, which forms the heart of one of the largest nature parks in or near London. With blue skies, warm air, the fresh green leaves of spring and white flowers of elder and hemlock everywhere, it was truly beautiful. See for yourself below! I will definitely be heading back soon with my bike to see more of the area.


In addition to all the spring flowers, there was also the old scourge of childhood, the stinging nettle. I’ve got to say, the nettles looked pretty impressive in huge drifts along the banks of the rivers and canals. This is spring, so everything looks new and fresh.

Before I set off on my little trip, I had fully expected to come across nettles, and as I had recently seen a recipe in the Observer Food Monthly by chef Silvena Rowe which used them, I came armed with a bag and some gloves. Her recipe involved briefly cooking the nettle leaves, adding them to what seemed like a risotto mixture, then finishing with a good dash of sumac and a generous sprinkling of black onion seeds. I picked a good serving of nettle leaves, then we headed up through the park in the sun. It was hot, and we loved it. A great day out which I can really recommend. Just remember the sunscreen as you are walking along rivers, and you otherwise end up with a very rosy glow by sundown.

Once home, I duly made my nettle dish. While nettles will sting you when you are in the country side or the garden, their sting is neutralised by cooking, and in this case, wilting the leaves in water for a couple of minutes. They also have the advantage of apparently being very, very healthy. I expected this dish to be very much like a risotto…except, it wasn’t. It was delicious, but the texture was more like a rice salad, with a very fresh character from the sumac and onion seeds. The feta provided a strong, salty element to the dish, and on balance, it made a really nice light supper on a hot day. Yes, I was perhaps a little bit red, and a nice light meal was perfect as my body continued to radiate heat long after the sun had set…

If you would like to try Silvena’s recipe for sumac braised nettles topped with onion seeds, you can find it here.

In making it, however, I made a few tweaks. I used less nettles – probably two cups of just the fresh leaves as this was all I had. I needed to add a bit more liquid during the cooking, and I also added quite a bit more sumac than the recipe called for (probably a whole teaspoon in the end). Finally, I coated the top of the feta in more sumac to provide a bit of colour and to contrast with the rice and nettles. While the recipe is supposed to serve four (and this would be true as a side dish), I think it really makes a generous dinner for two.

Worth making? This is a nice dish which I’ll try again as it makes a pleasant change from risotto when you want to make a rice dish. The black onion seeds were particularly good. However, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that while I am glad I tried this, but I probably won’t be making it again with nettles. It was interesting to try, but I had expected a bit more “wow” from them. While this dish will probably appear on the menu again, it will be with spinach or chard. I guess I’m just not enough of a fan of cooking dinner in a pair of rubber gloves.

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Spinach Feta Pie

I need to make something simple for lunch today, so it’s time for that old favourite, spinach feta pie. I will avoid referring to this as spanakopita as I am sure I have strayed far enough from the original so as to no longer merit that name! This version is loosely based on the recipe from Ottolenghi’s The New Vegetarian column, but adapted to take account of what I had in the cupboards and fridge and the fact that it’s a bit chilly and I don’t really fancy leaving the house in this weather, especially as the election results continue to roll in.

What makes this a great pie, in my view, is the lemon zest (which lifts it slightly), the cheddar in addition to the feta (for an even stronger cheesy taste) and using a few spices. Super easy, and really, really tasty.


For the spinach feta pie:

• 700g frozen chopped spinach, thawed
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
• 120g feta, crumbled
• 70g cheddar cheese
• 1 egg, beaten
• 50g butter, melted
• 12 sheets of filo pastry

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cook the thawed spinach for a few minutes in a little water. Allow to cool, and then squeeze out most of the water.

Fry the onion in the oil until translucent. Add the garlic and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the spices, salt, pepper and the tomatoes, and cook on a moderate heat until any liquid has evaporated and it becomes a thick “sauce”. Put aside to cool.

Combine the cooled spinach, cooled tomato mixture, egg and lemon zest. Add the feta and cheddar and mix well.

Cover the bottom of a rectangular pie dish with six layers of filo pastry, brushing melted butter between each sheet. Let the pastry hang over the edges at this stage. Put the filling into the dish, and cover with another six layers of filo pastry, again brushing butter between each sheet. Brush the top with butter, and trim off any excess pastry.

Bake for 40 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Worth making? This recipe is very easy and absolutely delicious. It’s great either still warm or once it is cold, so perfect for a day in the park or for a picnic.

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