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    For a memorable Greek salad, grill your feta

    Ann Maloney

    THE WASHINGTON POST – This Greek salad recipe brought back one of my favorite food memories. My husband and I were sitting in a small restaurant in Greece, waiting for our food to arrive. We watched as a waiter carried a salad toward our table. On top of it was something big, square and white. When the plate was placed in front of us, we realised it was a slab of feta.

    As we shared the salad, we mmm’ed and aahed over the creamy saltiness of a feta like we’d never tasted. That cheese, combined with the super-fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, was so delicious that we still talk about it when we recall our trip.

    That was more than 30 years ago, when my experience with Greek salads was limited and the ones I’d had were good but not memorable. Usually, bits of feta were crumbled on top of a lightly dressed bowl.

    In the heat of summer, looking for a way to dig into the season’s red tomatoes, I came across this preparation from Salads Are More Than Leaves by Elena Silcock. She calls it a Grilled Greek, and it takes the luscious feta experience to another level. Silcock has you place the slabs of cheese on a heatproof pan, drizzle them with honey and sprinkle them with fresh herbs. The pan then goes on the grill until the cheese turns golden around the edges and gets soft and luscious.

    The slabs of grilled cheese are then sliced in half and nestled atop tomato, cucumber, red onion and olives with fresh oregano and mint leaves. You’re left with warm, creamy, slightly smoky cheese; chilled crisp vegetables; and bright herbs all dressed in a tart, vinegary dressing. Silcock recommends serving the salad with toasted or baked pita chips, which are perfect carriers for a smear of that smooth cheese.

    Grilled feta greek salad. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

    The best feta to use for this dish is a Greek sheep’s milk feta because it is the highest-fat option, making it the creamiest and richest.

    Don’t want to mess with the grill? Bake the feta in an oven, or even your toaster oven, instead.

    If you’re an adventurous salad maker – or would like to be – Silcock’s cookbook is full of great ideas for building salads that combine varying temperatures, textures and flavours to create something that is far from an afterthought or a side dish. That said, even half a slab of salty feta makes this salad suitable more as an occasional indulgence. If you love the idea of it, consider serving it alongside grilled or roasted chicken, beef or fish.

    GRILLED FETA GREEK SALAD

    Active time: 20 mins; Total time: 30 mins
    Four servings

    This Greek salad with warm, soft feta is wonderfully smoky when made on the grill, but you can bake the cheese in the oven or toaster oven, as well. It is best to use sheep’s milk feta for this dish. Spread the warm cheese on toasted pita or pita chips, if desired. To make the recipe vegan, use a vegan feta-style cheese (see related recipe) or firm tofu and swap in maple or agave syrup for the honey. This salad is best if eaten right away.

    INGREDIENTS

    Two pounds cherry tomatoes, halved, or your favourite tomato cut into bite-size pieces
    One cucumber, cut into bite-size wedges
    Quarter teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed
    Six tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
    Two tablespoons lemon juice
    Quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
    Half medium red onion (three ounces), thinly sliced
    Two (seven-ounce) packages sheep’s milk feta cheese
    Four fresh thyme or dill sprigs or half teaspoon dried
    Two teaspoons honey
    Four ounces kalamata olives, pitted
    Two tablespoons fresh oregano, or two teaspoons dried
    Fresh mint leaves, torn, for serving (optional)
    Toasted or baked pita chips or toasted pita bread, for serving (optional)
    Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

    DIRECTIONS
    In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes and cucumbers and sprinkle lightly with salt.
    Preheat the grill to high see NOTES.

    In a small bowl, whisk together four tablespoons of oil, the lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Add the red onion to the dressing.

    Generously grease a heatproof baking pan and transfer the feta to the pan.

    Top each block with sprigs of fresh thyme or dill, or with the dried herbs. Drizzle with the remaining oil, and the honey, and season generously with black pepper. Place the pan on the grill grate, cover and cook for five to seven minutes, or until the feta is softened and golden around the edges. (At the last minute, you can add the pita to the grill to toast, if you like). Transfer to a heatproof surface to cool for two to three minutes, then cut each block in half diagonally.

    Drain the tomatoes and cucumbers, if necessary. Return them to the bowl and toss with the dressing, olives and oregano.

    Divide the tomato mixture among the bowls and top each with a wedge of feta. Sprinkle with the mint leaves, if using, and more pepper, if desired.

    Serve with pita chips or toasted pita and lemon wedges.

    NOTES: The feta can be baked instead. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the rack in the middle. Oil an ovenproof casserole dish or cast-iron skillet. Prepare the feta as directed and roast, 20 to 25 minutes, or until softened and golden around the edges.

    To prepare the grill: If using a gas grill, set it to 475 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, fill two chimney starters with charcoal, light them and when the coals are white-grey with ash, pour them into charcoal grate, adding more charcoal, if necessary, and put the lid on the grill, making sure the air vents are open all the way. When all of the coals are grey and hot, about 15 to 20 minutes, your grill should be between 475 to 500. (Use a grill thermometer or test the heat by holding your hand, palm-down about four inches above the coals for about two to four seconds). A charcoal grill may make this recipe take about 20 minutes longer.

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