Tyrokafteri (Spicy Feta Dip)

It’s no secret that I love Greece and everything about it; especially the food. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to live in Athens, Greece, for 3 years during my Army career. It was a life-changing experience that still affects me every day. I met my best friend there, who continues to be like a sister to me. I also fell in love with Mediterranean food, especially Greek food. It’s what I cook most often when I entertain. But, more important, of all the many diets and nutrition plans out there, it’s Mediterranean food (I refuse to say “diet”) that I turn to when I want to drop a few pounds or just feel my healthiest. Here’s looking at you, 2 January, after every holiday season.

Meals in Greece usually start with a series of appetizers, or meze. Sometimes the meze are the entire meal. Other times, they’re just a precursor to a huge festive feast, such as Greek Easter. Meze can consist of just a few dishes or as many as 25. They can be as simple as a chunk of feta drizzled with some olive oil and oregano, or more elaborate dishes such as grape leaves stuffed with lamb and bulgur wheat.

Tyrokafteri is a spicy spread made with feta cheese and peppers that is typically spread on bread. It is one of my absolute favorites of the Greek meze. I actually discovered it long after I lived in Greece, when I returned on my honeymoon many years later, but I’ve certainly made up for lost time since then.

Tyrokafteri (Spicy Feta Spread) 

6-8 Servings

This dip is very quick, and it makes a lot. I used two whole cayenne chiles to make this spread. They are skinny red chiles about 3 inches long. You can also use one habanero chile, but make sure you remove the seeds and the membranes (where the heat is) or you’ll end up with more zip in your dip than you would like. Whichever chiles you choose, just make sure they are red or orange so you don’t change the color to an unappetizing gray. 

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 red bell pepper

1-2 red or orange chiles

1 pound feta cheese, crumbled

5 tablespoons Greek yogurt

Bread for serving

Clean the red pepper and the chiles by removing the membranes and seeds and cutting them into strips. You can just slice the chiles without cleaning them if you like a little more heat. 

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and sauté the pepper and the chiles until soft, about 15 minutes.

Place the contents of the skillet in a food processor with the feta and the yogurt and blend until smooth. Refrigerate the spread until serving.

Adapted from Modern Greek by Andy Harris

Buckwheat-Feta Burgers with Parsley Sauce

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Today’s recipe is gluten-free and vegetarian — a far cry from Paleo or Primal. So it seemed a good time to discuss my food philosophy a bit. What else should we do when ice is falling out of the grey sky?

Since starting Jeannine’s Cuisine (the blog, not the personal chef business), I’ve often toyed with the idea that I should have some sort of brand, or theme, or specialty. Actually, when people find out I went to culinary school and cooked professionally, one of the first things I’m asked is what I specialize in. Huh? Okay, I love all things Mediterranean; after all, I lived in Greece. But I love a good Asian meal as well. Let’s not forget the French influence from culinary school and trips abroad, and then there’s the pastry. So I guess my brand is just what it says…Jeannine’s Cuisine. This is the way I cook and eat. Sometimes, I prepare a totally Paleo meal for my husband. Other times he fends for himself while I have macaroni and cheese.

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There are a million diets/eating plans out there. Hardly a day goes by without hearing about a new one. I want to be healthy and happy just as much as the next person, but I am of a mind that as long as I focus on lots of good produce, some healthy, i.e. grassfed/organic protein, and, for me, some whole grains, I can afford the occasional indulgence. I’ve done a lot of reading on nutrition, both the low fat (remember those days?) and the low carb camps. I’ve read the testimonials and think for many people, especially those with autoimmune issues or food allergies, the Paleo diet can be a lifesaver. I’m just not one of them.

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So what can you expect on Jeannine’s Cuisine? Real food. We avoid processed food as much as possible, buy organic when we can, and aside from some whole grain bread from Whole Foods and a stash of Greek yogurt, we generally try to make everything from scratch. But there are limits. I don’t have a dairy cow or goats to make my own cheese, nor do I raise chickens and don’t intend to start. And yes, after a long day at work, I’ve been known to order pizza or Chinese. Gasp! But you won’t find recipes calling for packaged foods or cans of mushroom soup here. What you will find is a variety of good food. Some recipes are easy and suitable for a week night, others take a little (or a lot) more work. But they are so worth it.

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I’ve been trying to add more whole grains into my diet, without feeling like I’m having cereal for lunch or dinner. These burgers hit the nail on the head. The buckwheat cooks up just a little bit crunchy on the outside then you bite into the creamy center flavored with feta cheese and thyme. The parsley sauce is a little bit like Argentine chimichurri – tangy and little bit citrusy, a nice contrast to the nuttiness of the buckwheat.

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Buckwheat-Feta Burgers with Parsley Sauce

4 Servings

You will need to find raw buckwheat groats for this recipe, not kasha, which is toasted buckwheat. You might be able to find it at the larger Whole Foods stores, but you can definitely buy it online from Amazon. The parsley sauce that accompanies the burgers can stand on its own. I imagine it would be delicious with pan-roasted salmon. Or, you could also dilute it with a little oil and vinegar and use it for salad dressing. I prefer the burgers plain, but you could also serve them in lettuce leave or on a regular bun with lettuce, onion, and tomato.

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup buckwheat groats

3/4 teaspoon fine salt, divided

1 cup clean, dry lightly packed fresh parsley leaves

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon, plus a large pinch red pepper flakes, divided

a few drops Tabasco sauce

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)

6 tablespoons quick cooking oats

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Prepare the buckwheat by placing the water, buckwheat and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Place buckwheat in a large bowl and set aside for 20 minutes while you make the sauce.

Place parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic oregano, red pepper flakes and Tabasco in the bowl of a mini food processor. Pulse until chopped; then, with the machine running slowly, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and blend until combined.

Make the burgers by adding the feta cheese, onion, oats, egg, thyme leaves, and peppers to the buckwheat in the bowl. Use your hands to thoroughly combine the ingredients. Use a table knife to divide the mixture (it will be thick and sticky) into four portions. Using wet hands, divide each of the four portions into two and form into burgers, approximately 3 inches in diameter. Place them on a sheet pan or large plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add four of the eight burgers and cook approximately 4 minutes per side until golden brown. Repeat with 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining four burgers. Serve warm or at room temperature with the sauce.

Adapted from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck