Whenever I venture to one of our local Greek restaurants Saganaki is sure to be ordered at our table. The simplicity of this dish and the incredible impact on the taste buds make it truly memorable. The inspiration for todays lunch came from a memory of a sesame seed crusted version I saw somewhere from Diane Kochilis' cookbook "Mezes."
According to Greek mythology, Aristaios, son of Apollo and Cyrene, was sent by the gods to give the gift of cheese-making to the Greeks. It was called a "gift of everlasting value", and the value of that gift keeps increasing with age. I know it is appreciated in my kitchen.
We enjoy saganaki at our local Greek restaurant that I hope rivals any we have found in Greece, which has to be due to the quality of the cheese. I am told a variety of cheeses can be used. Kefalotiri is a traditional Greek cheese manufactured from ewe or goat's milk or a combination of the two. It has a salty and piquant taste and a unique rich aroma. Perfect for saganaki. A good substitute would be Kefalograviera which is a hard cheese of high quality with a slightly sweet taste; or Kasseri which is a semi-hard ewe or goats milk cheese. If none of these are available I am told you can substitute a good goats milk feta cheese. At our local grocers you can purchase a cheese simple called Saganaki, but am not really sure which category this falls under.
When you sprinkle lemon juice liberally over the saganaki, it is transformed from the expected to the unexpectedly good! Something about the alchemy of tart lemon with the salty cheese and the slight texture and flavour of sesame really makes this an instant favourite. Today mine are all dressed up in their Sunday finery. The addition of black sesame seeds gives this humble recipe the WOW factor. With a simple cucumber salad this is a beautiful light lunch for two.
**Black and White Saganaki**
1 cucumber 2 sprigs mint or basil, leaves picked and torn 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled ½ lemon, juiced 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 4 slices kefalograviera cheese, 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick 1 egg white 150ml olive oil 2 lemons Crusty bread, pita or naan bread to serve
Peel the cucumbers to give a striped effect and thinly slice. Combine with mint or basil, lemon juice. olive oil and feta in a medium bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Lightly beat egg white with 1 tablespoon of water. Lightly dampen cheese slices in this mixture, then dip into sesame seed mixture to coat. Alternate by dipping every other cheese slab into black sesame seeds.
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add cheese and fry on each side for 2 – 3 minutes or until golden. At the end drizzle with lemon juice.
Serve immediately with cucumber salad, lemon slices and crusty bread.
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