Looking for simple and flavorful spread ideas? Let’s head to Greece for one of its most famous mezedes called ktipiti (τυπητή), htipiti, also known in some areas as tirokafteri (τυροκαυτερή) or kopanisti (kοπανιστή).
The recipe for ktipiti may vary from one region to another, but in the most traditional form, it contains mainly feta, combined with roasted red bell pepper, and Greek yogurt, a yogurt made from sheep’s milk, all seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and fresh herbs such as dill, mint, and oregano. It can sometimes contain hot pepper and other soft cheeses.
What is the origin of feta?
Greek feta is a traditional, rindless, semi-hard but fragile cheese. Salty and very white in color, feta is obtained from the processing of milk and sheep rennet. It is the most exported Greek food product like parmesan from Italian cuisine or camembert from French cuisine.
Greek feta has a very old history. It is said that the history of cheese production is as old as that of humankind, because it appeared in conjunction with the domestication of animals. Some scientists have claimed it started at least 8,000 years ago. In ancient times, there were many references to cheese, and feta cheese, as we know it, a brittle cheese in a brine of sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, could go back to that time.
In Ancient Greece, the earliest records of cheese production are mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, where Cyclops Polyphemus was the first to prepare the ancestor of the feta. According to the myth, Polyphemus used to carry the milk of his sheep in leather bags, when one day, to his great surprise, he saw that the milk had coagulated and had taken a solid form, with an excellent taste.
Later, in the middle of the eighth century BC, records indicate that the ancient Greeks produced a type of sheep’s milk feta, using the Polyphemus technique, although at that time the product was simply called “cheese”.
Feta cheese is mentioned for the first time during the Byzantine period and is called prosphatos (meaning “fresh”); it is then associated with Crete. Pietro Casola, an Italian traveler to Heraklion, Crete in 1494, described the production and preservation of marinated feta distinctly.
But it was only in the 17th century that the Greeks started using the name feta, borrowed from the Italian word fetta meaning “slice”.
It was only in the 1930s that feta production began to develop beyond Greek borders. France produced nearly 20,000 tons a year at the end of the 20th century. At the same time, Germany and Denmark, also large producers, replaced ewe’s milk with cow’s milk. At the end of the 20th century, feta-like cheeses were produced all over the world, from Iran to Australia to East Africa.
The maturation process has two distinct phases: the first phase, which lasts 15 days under conditions of humidity and controlled temperatures, the second phase which lasts 30 days and takes place in refrigerated environments. The preservation takes place in a brine, in trays containing water and salt, but the feta does not require the use of preservatives. The salting protects the cheese from the possible development of microorganisms and enhances the taste.
Greek feta is sold in packaging that must contain the type of milk used and the area of production. However, if it is produced outside Greece, the name “salad cheese” must be indicated on the label.
In the European Union, the name “feta” has been a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) since 14 October 2002. This means that the name can no longer be used to designate such cheeses produced outside Greece or with similar methods. This means that the name feta can not be used with similar cheeses, produced throughout the European Union, outside Greece or in a different way.
What are mezedes?
Now let’s talk about these famous mezedes that make up the richness of Greek cuisine. In Spanish, they are called tapas, in Russian, zakouski, in Italian antipasti, and in French, hors d’oeuvres.
They are called meze, or rather mezedes (εζέδες), as it is more correct to use the plural, because there are usually many. Greek cuisine is part of what is known as the “Mediterranean diet” recognized by UNESCO since 2011 for its health benefits.
For the Greeks, eating is not only a question of biological need but also a philosophy of life deeply rooted in the history of Hellenic thought, a daily ritual not only related to the quality of food, but also and especially the conviviality and rules of hospitality, sacred to the Greeks. Wherever you eat in Greece, every host will be proud to welcome you with respect and make you part of his world, making every effort to make you feel at home and to offer you the best experience.
The mezedes are the indisputable symbol of this hospitality and conviviality typical of Greek homes and taverns and the Mediterranean diet in general.
These small appetizers can be enjoyed as a starter or become a unique dish but they should always be shared in good company, often washed down with a glass of ouzo, an aniseed aperitif that can be served very cold.
The term meze comes from the Greek word mezés (μεζές), which comes from the Turkish and Persian meze, which means “taste”, “flavor”, “seasoning”.
It is a tradition of Levantine gastronomy, but also Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Iranian cuisines. They are a set of dishes, which can be very diverse. Each meze is served in a small dish, so that you can taste a little bit of everything. You can peck by making small bites using pita bread or with a toothpick or a small fork.
You can also find mezedes where they are also called mezzes, in Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Romania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Estonia so much so that it is impossible to determine their exact origin since each of these countries has made these foods.
All the same, legend has it that it was on the foothills of Mount Lebanon, in Zahle exactly, that the tradition of mezze was born. City restaurateurs were said to be the first to offer these appetizers, modeled on ancient banquets, to accompany arak, the local drink, a close cousin of the Turkish raki and the Greek ouzo.
Indeed, even if all the countries in the Middle East and the Balkans have adopted the mezzes, these are mostly associated with the cuisine of Lebanon and they have crossed the borders since the end of the Ottoman Empire.
The mezedes are generally very varied and can include: black olives, pickles, anchovies, meats, feta cheese. Here are some examples of these Greek mezedes that you should prepare or at least taste, whether hot, warm, or cold:
– First of all, the ubiquitous tzatziki, a spread made with natural yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and mint.
– Horiatiki, the deliciously flavored Greek salad, made of feta, tomato, and cucumber.
– Taramosalata, a dip made with fish roes.
– Spanakópita, a spinach and feta pastry, made from filo dough.
– Stifado, a beef stew with onions.
– Dolmadakia, stuffed vine leaves.
– Prasopita, a pie made from filo dough stuffed with feta cheese.
– Briam, the Greek ratatouille
– Sheftalia, a Cypriot sausage made from lamb and pork.
When it comes to ktipiti, the salty taste of feta cheese and the creaminess of yogurt, which perfectly complement the smoky aroma of grilled bell peppers, it is simply addictive!
- 1 red bell pepper
- ½ lb feta , crushed with a fork
- 4 tablespoons Greek yogurt (sheep's milk)
- 1 clove garlic , degermed
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 2 sprigs dill , finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- 3 leaves mint , chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
Roast the bell pepper over a flame or in the oven until the skin is blistered.
Place it in a container with an airtight lid or in a freezer bag and allow to cool.
Once the pepper is cold, peel, seed, finely chop with a knife and drain well in a colander.
Crush the garlic in a mortar with a little salt until it forms a paste.
In a bowl, crush and beat the feta until creamy.
Add the yogurt, garlic, paprika, and herbs. Mix well.
Season with lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Refrigerate for at least two hours before eating.