I have a real passion for Greek Cuisine. I’ve mentioned my love of it before, and being part Greek myself this should come as no surprise. However despite my undying love for the aromas and flavors of Greek culinary tradition Greek food isn’t something I often prepare myself. Nor would it seem is it a culinary delight I seek out at restaurants these days. When I lived in Vancouver I frequented several different Greek restaurants on a regular basis. There were tons to choose from but I had my favorites, they made my favorite dishes like tzatziki, pita, rice pilaf, souvlaki, moussaka (though no one can compare to my grandma’s moussaka) dolmathes and so on just right. When I moved to Chicago the number of palatable - In my opinion - Greek restaurants severely diminished and the few that I enjoyed never could quite compare to my favorites from back home. I don’t know why but for a city that has a decent sized Greek community I find the food to be rather lackluster at most of the Greek restaurants I’ve been to here. There seems to be a fundamental difference between how Greek food is prepared in Chicago and how it’s prepared in Vancouver which I assume comes down to differing culinary and regional trends and traditions that develop as a result of diaspora. Traditions after all, often change when people leave their homeland and are forced to adapt to new ways of life in another country.
So this is one of the main reasons I stopped eating Greek food out, the other main reason is that I became vegan and as much as I love Greek cuisine it is by no means vegan friendly. Vegetarian friendly yes, most certainly, but not vegan friendly. Why I don’t cook Greek food at home more often is something of a mystery. It’s not as though I haven’t got the skill or the resources to do so. I guess it’s just one of those things, but I digress...
All last week I was having a wicked hankering for Greek food. It happens like that sometimes, all of a sudden I’ll get a taste for a certain ethnic cuisine and that’s all I’ll want to eat for days. One of the dishes in particular that I was craving, is a long standing favorite of mine. Just a super simple but delicious Greek Salad. I stopped eating Greek salad when I moved to Chicago because the restaurants here don’t make it right everyone’s got their twist on this classic salad and it drives me nuts. People are always throwing romaine lettuce into it, which I absolutely do not understand. The dressings are never right, there’s never enough garlic, and different places like to throw in other random additions that in my opinion just don’t belong. Kalamata olives, squid, sun-dried tomatoes, radishes - you name it and I’ve seen it stuck in amongst the lettuce leaves. I’ve made it at home several times in the past of course but when I went vegan that option went out the window too. A Greek salad just isn’t a Greek salad without the feta, in my opinion anyway, and since my husband doesn’t like olives there hardly seemed a point in making a salad in which the two most important ingredients were absent.
What about tofu feta? You might ask. Of course I was aware of tofu feta. I’d heard about it, I’d heard about people making it. I’d seen recipes in books on how to make it, but honestly none of the recipes I ever saw sounded like they’d be anywhere close to real feta, and while that may be fine in some instances it is certainly not fine within the context of a Greek salad. Tofu, or tofu tasting things do not belong. I just never saw how it would work or how it would be edible, particularly for me since I’m not a big fan of tofu to begin with.
That craving just wouldn’t let up though, and so I spent a day debating, deliberating, pondering and contemplating just how I could make tofu into feta cheese and have it not only be adequate but damn near amazing. The only other time I’ve tried to replicate the taste of feta was last summer when I veganized my mom’s recipe for spinach and feta stuffed peppers. I thought back to that recipe and came to the conclusion that the same basic principals should work again, if given the right amount of time and with the right technique. So I began, and what I ended up with turned out to be so mind-blowingly fantastic I can’t even begin to put it into words.
This recipe is super simple, all it takes is patience and time, and the result is phenomenal. Never again will I long for the days of cow’s milk feta. Never again will I even consider it for a second. Not only did the end result of this not taste anything even slightly resembling tofu, but it tasted exactly like what I remember feta to taste like. It was so damn good that when I went to go taste test it I ate a handful of it straight out of the container, by itself! For a tofu evader like me that’s freaking huge! It really made the salad, which of course was fantastic and totally satisfying!
So without further adieu here are my recipes for tofu feta, and a traditional Greek Salad - traditional at least where I’m from - I hope you enjoy them, and as far as the tofu is concerned I highly recommend using a tofu-press if you have one. See the note for more details. The press really is amazing, I’m just saying!
Fantastic Tofu Feta
1 lb Extra Firm Tofu drained and pressed for 2-4 hours
½ tsp Garlic Powder
½ tsp Dried Oregano
½ tsp Dried Dill
1 ½ tbsp Dried Basil
3 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
4-6 tbsp Caper Liquid
Black Pepper to taste
Sea Salt - start with ½ tsp and go up until you reach the desired saltiness
- When you press your tofu, try to make sure as much water comes out as possible. Your block of tofu should become extremely condensed, to the point of being almost half of it’s original thickness. It should not be really wet, slippery or slimy. This is how you know it’s been pressed long enough, and trust me when I say this level of pressing is what goes along way in helping the tofu actually taste like real deal feta. Take the time to do it right if you can otherwise the end result will not be as wonderful.
- Once tofu has been pressed crumble it into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and stir until well combined. Taste for salt and seasoning and adjust as needed. Place in an air-tight container and let marinate overnight. 12-24 hours is good, keep in mind the longer you allow it to marinate the stronger the flavor will be, thus the more feta-like it’ll be. I highly suggest at least a 12 hour marinade. Make the feta a day in advance, and actually the longer you leave it in the fridge the bolder the flavor becomes. It should last you up to a week in the fridge, and I think it tastes best at 2-3 days but a 1 day marinade is totally sufficient for this purpose.
5 Medium Tomatoes cut into chunks
½-1 Small Red Onion sliced paper thin (to taste)
1 15 oz can Black Olives drained
1 large Cucumber Peeled and cut into chunks
1 large Green Bell Pepper cut into chunks
1 recipe Tofu Feta
Classic Greek Dressing
1/3-1/2 C Olive Oil
1/3-1/2 White Vinegar
2 tsp Dried Oregano
½ tsp Dried Basil
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
1 Packet Stevia (optional)
3-6 Cloves Garlic finely minced (or to taste)
- Combine Chopped Tomato, red onion, pepper, olives, and cucumber in a bowl. Sprinkle tofu feta over top. You may not need or want to use the entire batch, that’s up to you. I used about 3/4 of a batch.
- Whisk all dressing ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Then pour over salad. Again depending on how much salad all your veggies yield you may not need to use the entire dressing. I used roughly two-thirds of it.
- Let the whole thing marinate 1-3 hours in the fridge. As with the tofu the longer you let it marinate the stronger the flavor will be. The raw onion and garlic also mellow out a little the longer they sit marinate in the dressing which is nice.
- When ready serve as an appetizer or side dish to a wonderfully home-cooked Greek feast! And enjoy!
PS: Stay tuned for more Greek inspired recipes!
*** Note - You don’t need a tofu press to press the water out of tofu, however I strongly recommend it. A lot of people argue that using a kitchen towel and a heavy object works just fine, I can’t attest to that personally because I’ve never had any success with that method. Try as I might a heavy bottomed frying pan on top of my block of tofu didn’t press out all that much, and because of the differing in size between the pan and the tofu it never sat level. If I tried to force more water out by pressing the pan down on the tofu all I succeeded in doing was squishing or crushing my tofu but it still contained water. The great thing about the press is that there’s a plate in place held down by a spring that’s forcing constant pressure onto the tofu so that water seeps out. The tofu retains it’s rectangular shape because of the box surrounding it and you don’t have to fuss or fight with it to get the water out. Put it in, set it up and leave it along for 2 hours. It’s a thing of beauty, and it works fantastic. Now that I have one I don’t know how I ever survived without one. It makes eating tofu a lot tastier, and I tend to avoid it less now. A press costs about $35 and in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t all that much money, certainly not if you’re going to get your money’s worth.***