feta saganaki with figs
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Greek saganaki is very much like Polish pierogi: it’s an all-encompassing, almost generic term which nevertheless means something precisely specific to the person who brings the subject of the dish up. Pierogis can hide virtually any filling inside the pasta-like casing: meat or veg, sweet and savoury, cheese or vegan. Possibly excluding fish but hell, you never know what the millennial blogsters are up to these days. Me, I’m old-fashioned, with an expat’s nostalgia journeying to my childhood Christmases in my mind, to mushroom-cabbage stuffing. The shortage of choucroute or wild ceps in the UK intensifies my yearnings.
Saganaki turns out to be a dish derived from its container, a little like tapas: it’s anything cooked and served in a tiny skillet, small sagani. It’s NOT a type of cheese as I long mistakenly thought. A number of things can be saganaki-ed including vegetables and sausages, but my Greek friend like a lot of her compatriots always means fried cheese when she talks about it.
To my surprise, it needn’t be haloumi (which is Cypriot anyway so wrong to think of it in a Greek dish on many levels) or anything melty and squidgy. Very often feta is given the treatment of rinsing under cold tap, dredging in flour and slapping into a – tiny or not – hot skillet. It is surprisingly nice even though it doesn’t melt; clearly Greeks are more open minded about fried cheese than me, who takes oozing for granted.
If you use feta or manouri, which is a bit like firm ricotta, the effect is refreshingly different: crumbly instead of oozy, crisp on the outside, delicious with a squeeze of lemon and offset by a sweet companion. I made it with caramelised figs which ended up served in my little saganaki dishes, instead of the cheese. May Zeus forgive me.
feta saganaki with figsServings: 3-4Time: about 40 minutes
- 2 x 180g (6oz) slabs of feta or kefalotyri
- 6 ripe figs
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. salt flakes
- ½ tbsp. butter
- 1-2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- plain flour
- oil, for frying
- sliced lemon, for garnish
1. Drain the feta and pat it dry; leave on a chopping board to dry out further.
2. Wash the figs, trim the tops and halve them vertically. Place a dry, large frying pan that will fit all the fig halves in one layer on medium heat.
3. Mix the salt and sugar in a saucer and dip the figs cut side in the mixture. When the pan is hot, place the figs in it cut side down and turn up the heat. Let them cook for about 10 minutes, until the released juices are starting to evaporate, thicken and bubble airily. Turn the heat down, turn the figs over with a spatula; add a knob of butter to the pan and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Take the pan off the heat and keep warm.
4. For the saganaki, place some flour in a shallow plate for dredging and heat up a tablespoon of oil in another frying pan.
5. Cut the cheese into thick chunks or fingers, rinse each piece under cold water and dredge through the flour to coat all sides. Drop the chunks into the hot pan and fry for about 3 minutes on all sides, until golden and crisp.
6. Serve the saganaki with lemon slices, with figs on the side and the pan juices spooned over them.