Some of you will recall an earlier post in which I told you about my trip to Greece, to the island of Paros, back in June this year. There are not enough superlatives to describe my trip, which was very profound on many levels, but I'm sure it will come as no surprise to know that a major highlight for me was of course the food. One of the things I especially came to love was a local cheese called mizithra. Every few days we would wander down the little lane in this photo to the "fruit and veggie man", who also happened to be the "mizithra man" - he had big tubs of it, and would scoop out a big spoonful onto a sheet of lightly waxed paper, which would then be taken home to be used in all sorts of salads. I also loved it on toast with the local bitter orange preserves.
Mizithra is a soft cheese, with a mild, ever-so-slightly-salty flavour - somewhat similar to ricotta, but with a firmer texture. It doesn't have a stand-out flavour, so not really one to eat on its own - it is much better suited to crumbling into salads, or into pasta dishes, or maybe mix with some rice as a stuffing for peppers or tomatoes. Really, you could use it pretty much anywhere that you might ordinarily use feta, and is definitely useful when you want a slightly more subtle flavour than you might expect from feta. I also love it on toast with apricot jam - you could actually spread the mizithra on the toast instead of butter, then dollop the jam on top, but I like to go the whole hog - butter first, then the jam, and then crumble the mizithra on top.
Sadly, however, mizithra is not a cheese that you can buy here in New Zealand (not to my knowledge anyhow - if you know otherwise, please let me know), and it's certainly a product I've been missing since I came home. Imagine my excitement then, when I recently joined in with the Forging Fromage group to make my own ricotta and discovered the path to true happiness - yes, I could make my own mizithra. This was incredibly easy to make, and kept well, and has now become a regular staple in my kitchen. Since I didn't make any changes to the recipe whatsoever, I'm not going to repeat it here, but you can find the recipe in this post at Forging Fromage - follow the simple instructions and you can't go wrong. I have a feeling that the mizithra we ate in Greece was actually made from sheep's milk, and I would love to try making it with sheep's milk, but of course that is not a readily available ingredient here. I have been told though that we can get sheep's milk powder here, so I am going to try a batch using that sometime soon - I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. Of course if there is anyone out there who has tried that please let me know how it worked for you.
One of my favourite uses for mizithra is in this salad - this has a great combination of flavours and textures, and it's one that I make over and over again - I'm sure you will too. You don't have to be too precise about quantities here - feel free to add a bit more of this, a little less of that, as the feeling takes you. If you don't have access to mizithra, and can't be bothered to make any for this recipe, just substitute with feta. I also use the flesh of half a preserved lemon in this salad - if you don't have that, just use freshly grated lemon zest instead - but the salty tang of preserved lemon really adds an extra dimension that makes up for the mildness of the cheese.
Roasted Aubergine, Green Olive & Mizithra Salad
1 medium/large aubergine
salt & pepper
handful of green olives
flesh of 1/2 a preserved lemon, thinly sliced
(or freshly grated lemon zest)
rocket (or other salad leaves)
mizithra (or feta)
For the dressing:
extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt & pepper
generous handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cut the aubergine into chunks.
Toss aubergine chunks in olive oil, sprinkle over some flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Roast in a fairly hot oven - about 200 degrees C (390 degrees F), until soft and golden brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
While the aubergine is roasting, heat up a grill pan, cut a lemon in half, and grill the lemon (cut-side down) until charred and the juices are starting to run. Set aside for garnishing.
Add the preserved lemon and some green olives to the bowl containing the roasted aubergine - use as many as you like - at least a generous handful. I used these gorgeous Sicilian green olives from the Mediterranean Warehouse.
Next make the dressing, using approximately 2 parts extra virgin olive oil (the best you can lay your hands on) to 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice. Sweeten with a little bit of runny honey, and season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust the lemon juice, honey or seasoning to suit your palate. Pour the dressing over the aubergine and olive mixture and toss to coat everything well.
Arrange rocket leaves (that's arugula to some of you), or whatever salad leaves you have available, on a platter. Distribute the aubergine and olive mixture over the top, then crumble pieces of mizithra or feta over the top. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley and the char-grilled lemon halves.
I'm submitting this post to Forging Fromage (home of cheesy friends) and Hearth 'n' Soul (where you'll find lots of great cooks passionate about creating good food, and with many a good tale to tell) - hope you'll go and visit:
I'm also linking this post to Let's Do Lunch at My Sweet and Savory