Marinated Smoky Feta

Marinated Smoky Feta
Marinated Smoky Feta

If you want a fresh new take on an ancient cheese, we can help! Feta cheese, the salty, strong, non-melting goat’s milk cheese from Greece, has existed in its current form for 1,000 years, and its development has been traced to one of the first cheeses made in Greece, more than 8,000 years ago. This dish makes outstanding use of feta’s porous structure, which allows the flavors in the oil to work deep into hearts of the cheese cubes.

Have all of your ingredients ready to go at the start of cooking, because toasting the items in which the cheese will marinate will move very quickly. And the pan should be hot, but not “searing a steak” level of hot. You’re starting with garlic, which has a low moisture content and is easy to burn. When you start to toast the garlic, don’t leave the room and don’t expect it to take more than a minute before the next step.

We wanted the bright, fresh taste of lemon in this dish, and felt that the best way to get that flavor was with peels or strips of zest. Try not to get too much of the white pith under the peel. Shredding the zest on a microplane or grater makes it easier to burn in the pan and more likely to adhere to the cheese when you retrieve it from the oil.

Guajillo Chile Flakes were an easy choice for this dish. Their flavor is complex; there’s a lot of dark, raisin-and-berry fruit essence in a guajillo chile, as well as their inherently peppery flavor and a fun little kick. Once you can smell them get warm—and, again, don’t leave them alone because this will happen quickly—then add olive oil and Smoked Sweet Paprika.

The grade of olive oil to use here is entirely your choice, but we do recommend one that’s extra-virgin for this recipe. Extra-virgin olive oil delivers a ton of fruity flavor, and since the oil isn’t going to stay on the stove its flavors won’t degrade. If you’re using a refined olive oil, you may want to leave the pan over the heat for a few minutes, so the oil can extract a bit more essence from the flavoring agents.

Pour oil over the feta cheese when it’s cool-ish. Hot oil will not cause the feta to melt, but it can make it get mushy and cloud out into the marinade. Test some on your wrist; if it feels like it’s about your body temperature, then it’s ready to go on the cheese.

Seal the jar and let it marinate on your counter for three hours, then enjoy. Serve it on crackers or bread, or use it to top pasta. We thought it was a home run on top of our Cape Malay Couscous with Asparagus. Keep the jar of cheese in the fridge if you don’t plan to eat it all right away, and take it out to warm up to room temperature before serving. I’ve heard that marinated feta still in the oil can last for months, or even years, in the refrigerator, but we’re willing to bet that it won’t make it that long.

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1. Cut feta blocks into ½ inch cubes and put them in a mason jar.

2. Char garlic cloves in a hot pan until nicely browned.

3. To the same pan, add lemon zest and Bay Leaves and toast for 1 minute.

4. Then add Guajillo Chile Flakes and stir for 30 seconds or until you can smell the smokiness of the chilis.

5. Add olive oil and Smoked Sweet Paprika, then remove the pan from the heat.

6. Let garlic-bay-lemon-chile oil steep for 15 minutes, then add oil mixture to the feta in the mason jar.

7. Let the feta marinate for at least three hours.