It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about Manouri cheese and I promise not to allow this lapse of cheese to occur again. Cheeses are an integral part of Greek cuisine: we have Feta for salads or at the table with olives and bread, we have a wide array of firm sheep’s milk cheeses served at the table with a meal, there are cheeses for grating and topping our favourite pasta dishes., there are smoked cheeses, briny cheeses and soft cheeses.
One of my favourite cheeses is Manouri. Manouri is one of the oldest whey cheeses to come from the Mediterranean region. It’s a soft cheese that’s pressed into a log shape and it holds together as you slice into it. It’s rich, it’s buttery (won’t win any friends in the lean cuisine world), it’s wonderful in savory cheese pies (pittes) and it often appears as part of a dessert. One can simply drizzle some good Greek honey on Manouri to get the gist of what I’m talking about.
Manouri is made from sheep’s whey (sometimes a combo of sheep and goat) and it’s enriched with whole milk or cream. Manouri is mostly produced in Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly. Manouri can be found at most Greek delis and grocers and if you live in a community with little or no Greeks (maybe you should move?), ricotta silata is similar.
Manouri is a cheese that also holds up well when grilled. Of all the cheeses I’ve grilled, this one seems to hold up the best over heat. Your only danger here is leaving the cheese for too long on the grill. Any cheese will eventually melt into a blob if you leave it on the grill for too long.
Today’s recipe is a grilled Manouri with some earthy arugula and baby spinach tossed in Greek gold…extra-virgin olive oil. This past summer, I had the good fortune to be invited to visit Crete and stay at my friend’s summer home just outside Hania in north-western Crete. There, I got up close & personal with the Cretan diet: mostly vegetables, olives, breads, legumes, fruit, nuts, eggs and fish and seafood. Meat is consumed sparingly and when it appears on the family table, the protein would come from the family’s own flock of goats or lamb, rabbit or poultry. If pork or beef appears on the table, it comes from a trusted butcher and served on special occasions.
While in Crete, I was reminded of the most important rule in the kitchen, use quality ingredients, buy in-season produce and try and buy locally. Here in Canada, it’s hard to conform 100% but I try. One of the reasons Greek food tastes so good is the care in sourcing ingredients. One of the pillars of Greek cuisine is olive oil. Extra-virgin Greek olive oil. True, I am biased but it IS the best olive oil in the world. I challenge any non-Greek olive oil producer to prove to me otherwise.
My friend from Crete brings his family’s olive oil from Crete to Canada (and the US) and it’s my pleasure to be now exclusively be cooking with Acropolis Organics extra-virgin oil. Acropolis Organics also carries a Mousto Balsamic vinegar, made of the Romeiki varietal of grapes and sweetened with Petimezi (grape mollases) and the presence of mint just rolls off the palate.
I think this salad highlights both of these products well and there’s isn’t too much going on here. You’ll taste every ingredient listed in the recipe. Wonderful in their own right, simpatico when tossed together.
Grilled Manouri & Roasted Beet Salad
4 – 1/2 inch slices of Manouri cheese
1 large beet
4 cups of seasonal greens (I used a mix of baby spinach and arugula)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (Acropolis Organics)
a squirt of Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. of Mousto Balsamic Vinegar
1 small clove of garlic, minced
fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup of shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp. of finely chopped sage leaves
- Pre-heat your oven (or toaster oven) to 450F. Wrap your beet in aluminum foil and place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until fork tender (carefully unwrap and insert a fork to check for doneness). Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Unwrap, use the back of a knife to peel the skin off and slice into 4- 1/2 inch slices. If there’s some leftover beet, cut into cubes (we’ll toss them in the salad too).
- Rinse your salad greens and use kitchen towels or a salad spinner to remove any excess water. Set aside. In a large bowl, add the minced garlic, Mousto Balsamic vinegar and whisk. Now pour a slow stream of olive oil into the bowl while whisking. Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Pre-heat your gas or grill pan on your stove-top. Lightly rub your slices of Manouri cheese with olive oil. Brush and wipe your grill’s surface before grilling. We’re looking for a medium-high heat. Dab some paper towel in vegetable oil and wipe your grill surface. Place the Manouri cheese on your grill and sear for about 1 1/2 minutes/side. Carefully remove from the grill and keep warm.
- Add the salad greens and diced beets (if any) to the vinaigrette and toss until well coated. Divide and plate. Now place a beet slice in the middle of each portion and top with a slice of grilled Manouri. Sprinkle with pump seeds and a chopped sage leaves. Spoon any leftover vinaigrette over the dressing and serve.
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