Thursday, January 9, 2014

12 Days of Meyers - Feta Dip

I met Suzanna back in 2010 when I was working on a very special blog post for restricted diets. I had reached out to the local food bloggers with the hope of starting a community project to help out some folks that were dealing with an unexpected health issue that required a very restrictive diet.  She was one of the first to respond. During that time we exchanged several e-mails and with each, our budding friendship grew. From that project alone,  I knew her heart was big and that she had a passion to give back to our community.  I quickly enlisted her to join my volunteer committee for AFBA Philanthropy events and we've been great friends ever since.

What I also need to mention is just how crazy popular she is here in Austin.  Her South Austin Foodie blog has a very large following and is growing every day. If you live in or around South Austin then you know that the food scene is really picking up, but I swear, if it were not for her dedication to trying all of these places out and constructively critiquing them,  I would not know that half of them even existed. She keeps us informed with her weekly bits and bites, letting us know who is closing and who is opening. Occasionally she will throw in some original recipes (which I love) and she always treats each restaurant with the upmost respect when she decides to a post on them. She is highly respected and has been rewarded for such.  She is now in charge of rallying the volunteers over at the AFBA (no surprise) and she continues to stay up on all the media openings. One of the reasons I asked her to do a recipe for me was because the yummy lemon ginger scones that she made last year were the kind you dream about. Of course, I was not at all surprised that she used one of her many travels to create this delicious feta dip recipe.  Check out her site next time you can't figure out where to eat in Austin, or if y'all just want to know what's happening with the South Austin food scene.

I visited Morocco in 2008, and one of the things that sticks with me to this day are the vibrant colors throughout the country. From the souk merchants selling spices arranged in big piles, to the colorful ceramic tiles and dishware to the seemingly endless groves of olives and citrus -- color is everywhere! (And yes, both my pictures here feature ceramics I bought while in Morocco.)

Common throughout Morocco and North Africa are preserved lemons, which are simply made by putting lemons in salt, and letting them cure. Over time, the salt softens the rinds, which is the primary part used. With Meyer lemons, they are already a bit sweeter than typical lemons, so using them to make preserved lemons really makes for a nice flavor.

I was fortunate to receive Meyers from Girl Gone Grits last year and I found a jar of my preserved lemons in the fridge. For the 12 Days of Meyers, I thought a Moroccan-influenced recipe would be nice, and looked to my Moroccan cookbooks for inspiration. I’ve created a feta-based dip that can be easily tweaked for the flavors you wish to feature, and it also makes a great filling for a briouat, a phyllo-filled pastry which can be sweet or savory.

Use the dip as is with vegetable sticks and chips, as a spread on pita bread and then lightly toasted in the oven, stuff a chicken breast with it, or use as a sandwich spread.

Feta Cheese and Preserved Lemon Dip

8 ounces feta cheese (milder flavored or low sodium preferred), crumbled
3 medium cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons preserved Meyer lemons, roughly chopped (the rind, not the pulp)
⅓ – ½ cup Greek yogurt (I used non-fat) or low fat sour cream
1 Tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon za’tar seasoning*
2 – 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Meyer lemon zest for garnishing

In a food processor, place the feta, garlic, and preserved lemons; pulse a few times to chop.

Add yogurt, Meyer lemon juice, za'tar, thyme and black pepper and puree until desired consistency is reached.

Taste for seasonings; add additional lemon juice or yogurt (or milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk, or even water) to thin out. It will seem quite salty at first!

When flavors are balanced to your liking, scrape into a bowl, garnish with lemon zest, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour so flavors can meld.

* Za’tar is a North African/Middle Eastern spice blend of dried oregano, thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. If you’re here in Austin, Central Market carries it in their bulk spice section; other specialty grocers or Middle Eastern stores will carry it. It adds a nice unique flavor to dishes.


Phyllo dough, defrosted according to package directions
Melted butter or cooking spray
Feta Cheese and Preserved Lemon Dip (use as is, or blend with some cooked spinach)

This is a pretty loosey-goosey recipe, as I improvised as I was making them; it may not be the best choice for novice cooks (sorry!) because phyllo can be difficult. Alternately, you can buy the premade phyllo mini–cups, which are a cinch to use!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lay a sheet of phyllo on a clean, flat surface. Spray lightly with cooking spray or brush with melted butter.
Lay another phyllo sheet directly on top, and spray again.
Cut from the long edge into 2 ½ - 3” strips.
At the bottom of a cut strip, place about a tablespoon of dip.
Triangle-fold the strip all the way to the top, making flag-shaped bundles.
Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining phyllo strips.
Lightly spray tops with cooking spray, and bake 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown.
Let cool on a rack; best eaten slightly warm.

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