Archive for Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Kitchen & Garden: Flavorful feta finds its place

August 22, 2001


I bought about 4 ounces of feta cheese the other day, intending to use it in a large bean salad for a particular occasion. My plans changed and that salad didn't get made, but I still had this large quantity of feta cheese to use up.

We often add a little feta to a green salad, but we would need to eat a lot of salad to get rid of that much feta cheese. A little feta goes a long way, and most recipes use an ounce or less, so I was in need of multiple destinations for this cheese.

Feta owes its powerful, distinctive flavor to the goat's milk from which it originates and to the brine in which it is pickled. It is a staple of Greek cooking, but also appears in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisine.

American versions of feta, many of which are made with cow's milk and aren't packaged in brine, tend to lack the saltiness and the sharp flavor of the Greek cheese. For that reason, I generally don't buy feta that isn't sitting in its brine.

In cruising my cookbooks for solutions to my feta dilemma, I ran across a spinach omelet recipe in Annie Somerville's "Fields of Greens." Spinach another staple of Greek cooking and egg provide subtle contrasts to feta; the dill makes the flavors more complex and gives the omelet an unexpected kick. A dish that contains feta should be well-seasoned to prevent the feta from taking over.

You can substitute frozen spinach for fresh. The 8 cups of fresh spinach called for in the recipe will wilt down to the equivalent of two boxes of frozen spinach. Thaw the spinach and wring out the water, and proceed with the recipe instructions.

Greek Omelet

1 tablespoon light olive oil

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

salt and pepper

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 large bunch of spinach, stems removed and leaves

washed (about 8 cups packed)

zest of 1 lemon, minced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried

6 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup water

butter for the pan

1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a medium-size skillet; add the onion, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Sautver medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onion is tender, then add the garlic and sautor 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in the skillet; add spinach and quickly wilt with 1/4 teaspoon salt over high heat. Transfer to a colander, drain and cool. Using your hands, squeeze any excess moisture from the spinach and coarsely chop. Add the spinach to the onions along with the lemon zest and dill. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Season the eggs with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper; add the water and whisk. Melt the butter in a seasoned omelet pan. When the butter is hot, add half the egg mixture. With a spatula, move the eggs toward the center of the pan as they begin to set on the edges. Tilt the pan so that the entire surface is again covered with wet eggs.

As the eggs begin to set, place half the vegetable mixture in the center, then sprinkle with half the feta. Gently fold the omelet over and turn it out onto a plate. Repeat for the second omelet.

Makes 2 omelets.

When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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