Consumer demand for Mediterranean Diet foods continues to grow, as you'll quickly discover if you take a few minutes to check out the selection of seafood, hummus, olives, olive oils, vinegars, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek yogurt, pasta, whole grains, and fresh herbs and produce in your local supermarket. In this sea of tasty choices, you'll also discover greater availability of feta cheese.
Beloved for its pure white color and tangy flavor, feta has long been a staple in Greek cooking. It is traditionally paired with herbs such as thyme and oregano, and used with tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives in salads, served in cubes on appetizer plates, added to spanakopita and vegetable pies, and crumbled over vegetables and grain dishes.
Traditional Greek feta, a favorite with foodies for its rich taste and crumbly texture, is made with goat or sheep milk, or a blend of the two. Seek out supermarkets that will let you taste the feta before you buy it, or shop at Mediterranean markets where the owners can explain the different choices. Some kinds of feta are creamier or saltier than others.
Cured in water or whey to keep it from drying out, feta contains about one-third fewer calories and fat than other cheeses, and is a good source of calcium and protein. Because it has such a distinctive taste, it's a great food to help you exercise portion control. Crumble and sprinkle about one tablespoon per serving on a salad, on sliced tomatoes, or on grains or pasta. And, since it contains fat, just a small amount delivers a good measure of satiety as well.
Feta's tangy flavor makes it a versatile ingredient for dressings and sauces, too. Create your own homemade blend by combining about 1 cup of crumbled feta with 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of hot water in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper and add some chopped fresh herbs if you wish. (Add the herbs by hand after blending the other ingredients, to keep the dressing from taking on an odd green color.)
Here are a few ideas for using feta in every day meals:
Watermelon and Feta Salad
Add an unexpected kick to this refreshing salad by using a chili-infused olive oil. Made by adding hot chili peppers to olive oil, this ingredient has many uses: it adds heat to tomato sauces, fish, and marinades, and is great for drizzling over pizza and pasta.
1/3 cup fiery chili-infused extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from half a lemon (or lime)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium watermelon, cut into 1- inch cubes
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
10 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
1 cup chopped fresh mint
Pistachios, for garnish (optional)
Make the dressing: Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
In a large bowl combine the watermelon, olives, and feta cheese. Add the dressing and toss gently until evenly coated. Tear up the mint leaves and sprinkle on top or fold in. Garnish with the pistachios, if you wish.
Calories: 365, Fat: 19g, Sodium 490mg, Carbohydrate: 46g, Protein: 9g
Recipe courtesy of Lucini Italia.
Stuffed Peppers, Tomatoes & Mushrooms
Assemble a platter of delicious Mediterranean flavors. Make it ahead of time for an easy yet elegant meal.
1 cup instant couscous
Hot water, vegetable or chicken stock
4 red peppers, halved and seeded
4 yellow peppers, halved and seeded
8 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
8 flat mushroom caps
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup sliced, pitted green olives
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the couscous in a bowl and pour in enough hot water or hot vegetable or chicken stock just to cover by half a thumbnail. Set aside to absorb the liquid. Arrange the peppers, tomatoes, and mushroom caps on a lightly oiled baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for 10-15 minutes, until just lightly softened. Remove from the oven.
Fluff the couscous with a fork. Add the crumbled feta, pine nuts, sliced olives, garlic and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix carefully. Spoon the mixture into the pepper and tomato halves and over the mushroom caps. Drizzle lightly with a bit more olive oil. Return to the oven for 15 minutes, or until feta is just melting and the top of the filling is crusty. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the vegetables to a platter. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Calories: 354, Fat: 18g, Sodium 504mg, Carbohydrate: 39g, Protein: 14g
Recipe courtesy of Gaea.
Feta Cheese Spread
Enjoy this tasty treat with a glass of crisp wine or ouzo mixed with club soda.
½ pound feta cheese
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crackers or whole-grain toast
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the feta cheese in an ovenproof dish. Combine the lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl and spread over the feta cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven with the crackers or toast.
Calories: 174, Fat: 9g, Sodium 484mg, Carbohydrate: 11g, Protein: 8g
Recipe courtesy of The Oldways Table.