When I flew from Vietnam to Athens, I found myself deep in the throes of culture shock.
There were no motorcycle taxis, no grannies wearing incredibly complex matching pyjamas, no urban chickens clucking about my feet as I sat to eat.
It was my first time in Greece and understandably it was a bit different to what I came from in Southeast Asia, a stunning panorama of ruins and culture but lacking the imminent chaos of my beloved Saigon.
And a lot of blue.
After a short few days in Athens with my mother and cousins, I headed to Syros, a tiny island a few hours by ferry from the capital. And my biggest problem became what to eat. You see, after months and months of stumbling out of my home to a wealth of bun rieu and pho and banh tam bi, I didn’t know where to start with a new country that favoured bread over rice. So I started with the staple I knew well: Feta.
In my previous post about eating gluten free in Greece I talked about the Feta Wars, but I also wanted to provide a really simple recipe for a dish that was never a disappointment. I’ve since made this at my brother’s place, to oohs and aahs, and replicated it again in Montreal when visiting my mum.
While many of us know baked brie, I certainly never thought of stuffing some Feta in the oven. It was always served on salads, or crumbled in omelettes in Montreal. But baked feta? How little I knew, how much I want to share.
Spicy Baked Feta Recipe (Called Bouyiourdi in Greece)
After trying this dish I immediately emailed friends and family asking if they had tried it. No dice. I reached out to a Greek friend who loved food. Nope, never heard of it. So where did this elusive Feta deliciousness come from? It turns out after some Googling, I found out that it is a mezze appetizer from Thessaloniki, often served during summer feasts. This seaside city in Northern Greece gifted us a delicious dish that has been a hit whenever I’ve made it.
The fun part, too, is just how easy it is to make – and modify – to your liking.
Despina from Culinary Backstreets (she who took me around Athens and stuffed my face with food) also asked around, and noted that the word came from the Ottoman times, where a “bouyourdi” was a tax document provided by officeholders. We were unable to theorize about how the name evolved into a food dish in contemporary Greece. A search of Greek-English dictionaries and history books hasn’t helped. If anyone has more information, I am all ears.
Regardless of mysterious etymology, the recipe is simple and contains two of my favourite things: Feta, and chilli. There are different versions of this recipe around, but I chose the one I ate first, with green pepper (capsicum) and the spice coming from the chillies themselves.
- Earthware dish or small clay pot, with a lid.
- 1 brick of Feta (do not buy crumbled feta — vacuum-sealed Feta bricks or a fresh brick from your local cheese shoppe is ideal)
- 1 small green pepper, sliced
- 1/2 of a Spanish onion, sliced
- 5 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- Smoked chilli flakes (called “boukovo” — they are on Amazon here)
- Pinch of dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
- Good quality olive oil
- Bread, crackers, or corn tortilla chips for serving
- Preheat the oven to 215 (approx 425F).
- In the clay pot, arrange the slices of green pepper, onions, and tomatoes to be as flat as possible, overlapping slightly but not too much.
- Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground black pepper to the base vegetable layer.
- Place the brick of feta atop the arrangement of vegetables.
- Drizzle with a liberal amount of olive oil.
- Top the feta with a pinch of dried oregano, and a liberal pinch of chilli flakes – depending on your spice tolerance, of course!
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, covered.
Serve once slightly cool with bread or corn tortilla chips for dipping (the latter for those who are celiac like me).
Alternatively: When I’ve had no clay pot with a lid available, I’ve simply cooked the feta in an aluminium foil ‘box’. Using two sheets of foil, one for the initial placement of the ingredients, as detailed above, and then crimped and sealed at the top. I then use another sheet of foil to wrap the packet to ensure no leaking. Bake on a baking tray as directed above.
Enjoy! And report back on whether it is as much of a hit with your friends and family as it was with mine.