We eat a lot of green salads in our household. They’re fresh, good for you – one of your 5-a-day, and most of all they’re quick. The bag of pre-washed mixed lettuce is upturned over the salad bowl in a flash. Then, exhausted after a long day, I may even commit the heinous crime of pouring over the oil, then a dash or two of a good vinegar, or a squirt of a lemon segment I find in the fridge… salt, pepper, much mixing with the salad servers, et voilá!
But you can’t get away with that endlessly…. it becomes tedious. So I have an armoury of instant things to add to ring the changes…. It could be croutons, defrosted prawns or peas, munchy seeds, lardons, nuts, raisins, grated Parmesan… and it could also be some marinated feta.
Of course, you don’t have to marinate feta – the Greeks have been serving their village salad with brazen bricks of the stuff plonked unceremoniously atop for centuries. And if you can lay your hands on fabulously fresh feta, that can be wonderful.
But there is no doubt that marinating feta gives it a more interesting, layered flavour.
You will find you develop your own personal method. I use only olive oil, others use a mix of half olive oil and half rapeseed oil.
The herbs will vary according to what is available (although it is better to use ‘woody’ herbs such as thyme and rosemary, rather than ‘soft’ herbs like basil). David Leibowitz advises against incorporating garlic as he says it can cause ‘food-related illness’.
Things to do with marinated feta
You can use these little cubes of flavour in many ways, aside from pepping up a salad; here are some of them.
- over pasta
- over a risotto or pilaf
- mixed into couscous
- over pizza
- on their own as a sort of tapas
- or mashed onto crostini
- as I explain, above, over a salad; but they are especially good with a tomato salad, with oregano and black olives; or as part of a salad of Crispy Croutons, Prawns and Marinated Feta
- give an attractive jar as a present.
I leave mine to marinate at room temperature for a few hours, then I cover in clingfilm and keep them in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks.
Use the remaining oil in a rich dressing.
Obviously the fresher, and better quality the feta the better it is. Avoid the plastic Danish stuff at all costs. Supermarket Greek is alright.
British-made feta substitutes
But in the UK we make some excellent feta-style (Feta has a DOP and can only come from Greece) cheese. Here are some of the suppliers:
- Graceburn cheese, made by Blackwoods in Kent – very creamy cows’ milk – comes already marinated – won silver in the British Cheese Awards.
- Yorkshire Fettle, handmade and hand-salted ewes’ milk cheese – slightly lemony, made by Shepherds Purse. Greek feta is made from ewes’ or goats’ milk, so this is very authentic. For more about Shepherds Purse cheesery go to In Praise of Sainsbury’s and Yorkshire Blue.
- Briddlesford feta-style, salty and yoghurty cows’ milk cheese from the Isle of Wight
How to make marinated feta
For a salad for two, or crostini for four
- 1 block of feta
- olive oil to cover – about a cup/240 ml probably
- peppercorns (Indonesian long ones are ideal)
- couple of bay leaves
- a few sprigs of woody herbs – thyme and rosemary
- a couple of thumb lengths of lemon rind
- pepper flakes – Aleppo or Urfa
- You may want to sterilise the glass container – especially if you are giving it as a present. Go here to find out how to do this easily.
- When the container is cool, cut the cheese into chunks – as small as you can without them disintegrating.
- Put a few chunks into the container, a sprig or so of herbs, the odd bay leaf, a bit of lemon peel, a peppercorn, then more chunks of feta, more ingredients. Make sure the highest thing in the container is feta. Pour over olive oil until the feta is completely covered and the oil closes over it to form a seal.
- Leave to marinate for a few hours, and then cover with cling film (or a lid) and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.