The origin story of the white brined curd cheese from the Balkans has long been a point of contention. As of 2002 the Greeks have the official PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) on “feta,” which was again upheld in 2005 when Denmark, Germany, and France fought to use “feta” as a generic name for any salty, white cheese. As far as the Balkans are concerned, Bulgarians claim the cheese to be a descendant of their “sirene” from the Trakia region in the Balkan Peninsula.
While the Greeks may have ownership, getting someone to properly enforce labeling on imports is another issue. My Whole Foods still labels French, Greek, and Bulgarian as all “feta,” but thankfully indicates the country. So why care? There is a considerable difference between a blanched industrial version coming out of Denmark, a real Greek feta, and a real Bulgarian feta. I much prefer the Bulgarian sirene, especially when it’s made only from sheep’s milk (the fattiest curd at around 45%). So while country of origin is important for me, it’s sad that it’s become increasingly harder to find the Bulgarian kind. Either way, fresh, briny cheeses are good on salads. The crumbly curds lend a creamy and slightly acidic balance to crunchy vegetables.
Traditional Greek salads are made of the freshest, plumpest tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, chunks of feta, occasionally a bit of a thick-spined crisp lettuce, maybe some olives, capers, or an anchovy or two, and always with lemon and good olive oil. While I do swoon over this version, I find it’s mostly impractical to obtain the just-ripe veggies needed in a New York summer. Greek salad is always open to new ideas as far as I’m concerned (the Greeks would probably disagree).
So once or twice a summer, when I can find some delectably sweet and fresh tomatoes, a particularly spicy red onion, a crisp head of Romaine, and a super sweet, burpless cucumber, I will take my Bulgarian feta and place it atop a Caesar-like Greek salad with French levain croutons and a garlic anchovy dressing. It’s a feisty little bastard, and boy is it cooling and delicious in the summer heat. Cool off and enjoy!
1 burpless cucumber, diced
1 handful assorted of the freshest and sweetest tomatoes, washed and cut into pieces you’d want to fit into your mouth
1 head of a mild and thick-stemmed green lettuce, so crisp it crackles, washed, outer leaves removed, and ripped into pieces
1/2 awesome red onion, sliced into sickles
1/3 cup whole kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 oz fresh sheep’s milk feta of your choice, cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
A couple slices worth of crumby artisan bread (I used a French country sourdough levain), crusts removed and cubed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoon fresh Mediterranean herb (chives, oregano, spearmint, marjoram, basil, or thyme)
Garlic Anchovy Dressing
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovy fillets, minced
A ton of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 minced herb
Set the oven to 350. Mince the herb. Reserve half for the salad dressing. In a small bowl combine some fresh herb, the feta cubes, and a tablespoon of feta juice. Grind in some black pepper. Set aside
In a medium bowl mix the garlic, olive oil, and some black pepper. Roll the bread around. Set on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for 10 minutes, or until crunchy. Remove from oven and let cool.
Combine the salad vegetables. Whisk dressing. Add the remaining fresh herb, olives, and feta to the salad. Toss w/ dressing, add croutons, and serve immediately.
- Caesar done right
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