Monday, October 15, 2012

The Tyrokafteri

I don't know if I've told you this, even though you may have already guessed it if you've been reading this blog for a while, but I can't live without feta. Feta cheese I mean. It's as simple as that. If someone told me that for some reason I couldn't eat feta, I would fall into deep culinary depression. Not even chocolate would be able to save me.

Don't make fun of me, but whenever I eat Greek cheese pie, which is a pie filled to the brim with feta, I have to have feta on the side, and to further embarrass myself, I'll admit that whenever I eat Chinese, Indian, Japanese or Thai food, I always have a huge piece of feta next to my plate. I'm totally aware that the flavors don't match—somehow I don't think people in Thailand consider feta cheese a staple—but I just can't eat something without having feta on the side.

I don't know why I'm addicted to it, I can't figure it out. One could argue that it's because I'm Greek but, no, there are other Greeks, many Greeks, who prefer other cheeses. I guess it'll remain a mystery. I'm pretty sure some of you empathize with me, though. You too may have some type of food that you just can't part with no matter what. C'mon, admit it.

My whole life I've been enjoying Greek, barrel-aged feta and when I moved to Holland five years ago I knew I'd have a problem. My greatest fear was that I would have to compromise with an inferior type of feta or even worse, imitation feta. Thankfully, I was wrong since I can find Greek feta of excellent quality here, so crisis averted.

Anyway, enough with my feta rumblings. Let's get to this dip/spread. There is a multitude of recipes in Greek cuisine that contain feta but one of my absolute favorites is the mezes called tyrokafteri. Tyrokafteri literally means 'hot cheese' and it's just that. Whipped cheese that is super hot; the heat coming from the addition of either fresh green hot peppers or boukovo, which is Greek dried red chilli flakes.

There are two types of tyrokafteri, the classic white one (aspri) and the other one, the more playful one, the red (kokkini). The white consists mainly of cheese and hot green peppers and it is indeed delicious, otherwise I wouldn't have whipped up some yesterday, nevertheless the red one is the superior of the two. It is far more complex and interesting flavor-wise as it contains long sweet red peppers that add sweetness and level out the heat of the boukovo, Greek strained yoghurt which gives an extra dimension of creaminess, and smoked paprika that adds a depth of flavor and a pleasant smoky quality to the dip.

Slathered on a slice of good sourdough bread or whole-wheat crackers, added in your favorite sandwich, served as a side dish for steaks or biftekia (Greek meat patties), or as a simple dip for crudités or pita, it's one of those Greek classics that should be a part of your repertoire. Tzatziki is not the only delicious Greek dip out there.

Tyrokafteri Kokkini - Greek Feta and Sweet Red Pepper Spicy & Hot Dip
Adapted from Aglaia Kremezi

Tyrokafteri is smooth and creamy but once you put it in the fridge it hardens up, making it difficult to spread. Before you serve it, make sure to leave it out of the fridge for half an hour.
Use good quality Greek feta and if you can find barrel-aged feta, which has a peppery flavor, then the results will be spectacular.

Yield: about 700 g / enough for about 12 people

500 g feta (if you can find different varieties where you live, use medium to soft in texture feta)
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh long sweet red peppers (about 220 g), deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp boukovo or crushed dried red chilli flakes (or 1½ tsp if you enjoy the heat)
3 heaped Tbsp Greek strained yoghurt, 2% or full-fat (I use Total)
1 tsp red-wine vinegar
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika or sweet paprika

Fresh chives, finely chopped, for garnishing

Special equipment: large food processor

Place the feta in a bowl and add enough water from the tap to cover it. Leave it in the water for 15 minutes which will get rid of the saltiness. This process is called in Greek "ksalmirisma" meaning removal of the salt.

In the meantime, add the olive oil to a medium-sized skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped red peppers along with the boukovo and sauté them, stirring regularly, until they soften but don't brown. Take the pan off the heat and let the peppers cool in the pan.

When the 15 minutes have passed, drain the feta from the water, cut it into pieces and place it in the food processor. Add the cooled down peppers, along with all the juices accumulated in the pan, scraping it well, followed by the yoghurt, the vinegar, and the paprika.
Process until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Give the tyrokafteri a taste and if you find it to be too salty, add a little more yoghurt.

Empty it into a bowl, sprinkle with the chopped chives and serve.

You can serve it immediately or you can place it in the fridge, where you can keep it covered with plastic wrap, for 1 week.


  1. I love feta too. This looks amazing!

  2. I love love Feta cheese ... and I love Greek food. Your lovely Greek dishes reminds me of the time I visited Greece and the beautiful islands some 18 years ago. Thank you for bringing those sweet memories back.

  3. Sounds so good! Where do you find a good feta here in the Netherlands?

  4. I simply adore Feta cheese and your recipe looks absolutely marvelous. I have some friends coming so I will put the Feta in water and keep on changing it till tomorrow and will make it. Fantastic Thanks.

  5. I will definitely be making this for Mark's 60th birthday party in December. The color is fantastic - and I can only imagine the taste! It is hard to get good Greek feta here - mostly it is French... just not the same...

  6. We love feta here too! Great recipe and healthy too!

  7. El — thanks!

    Caramel — thank you for reading :)

    MK — I find Dodoni feta at Sligro. It's sold in 1 and 2 kilo packets and it's delicious!

    Stelio — I'm glad you like it Stelio. Is the feta you buy super salty? Because soaking it overnight sounds a little extreme.

    David — oh, great! I'm sure he'll enjoy it. The French have delicious cheeses, feta is not one of them, plus feta is registered P.D.O (Protected Designation of Origin). No other countries have the right to call their white cheeses, feta.

    Skinny mommy — I'm thrilled you like it! It is indeed healthy.

  8. This looks delicious! I would love to try this dip!

  9. Oh yum - what a lovely spread - it would be perfect with a few other mezedes! I adore feta too, my mother in law always, always has a dish of feta and some olives alongside every meal - I ve followed suit and am definitley developing a feta addiction too. Thanks for sharing another lovely recipe!!!

  10. Your recipe comes in the nick of time; we just harvested a bunch of red peppers and i was going to make some red pepper paste, but this is also an option I had not considered. Feta is sold here everywhere both imported from Greece and local and I will make it as I love the combo of red pepper and white cheese. Could it be used for a pasta sauce i wonder?

  11. Lovely Magda. I knwo what you mean about Feta. I love it too. Especially the barreled stuff I used to get in London when lived there... Do you know the way you eat feta with everything... my dad is the same with white palestinian Sheep cheese... even after desert he has to salt his taste buds with cheese:0

  12. Pola M — do try it!

    Mulberry — you're becoming a feta addict too huh? :)

    tasteofbeirut — I wouldn't use it as pasta sauce but you can definitely give it a try!

    Lara — sheep's cheese sounds interesting. If only I could find that cheese, I'm sure I'd love it too. I'm kind of a cheese maniac :)

  13. Yum this sounds and looks delicious...anything with feta = instantly amazing. Totally have to try this stat.

  14. I, too, have a love affair with really good feta cheese. I put it on everything! Salads, soups, toast...It add just the right flavor to so many foods...grilled fruit topped with maple syrup and feta...divine. You, who know so much about feta and its origins, are an inspiration to all of us.

  15. Lovely colors in these photographs! Now you have me wondering! Thai food with feta on the side? Should we worry? :) Sounds like a real addiction! There are worse things to be addicted to!! This dip on french bread looks quite addictive!

  16. Sweet peppers like bell peppers?

  17. My favorite Greek dip ever! Great recipe - I will try your version next time.

  18. I was looking for this recipe for ever and yours it's easy and delicious! My Greek boyfriend was amazed I cooked it :-)
    Thanks so much!

  19. Hello! I have a question I wanted to ask you, is there some way of contacting you apart from comments? Thanks!

    1. You can find my email on the about page.

  20. After reading this post, I wonder if you have tried making your own feta. Several of my friends who have dairy goats make their own feta (saving me from the task, as I get it from them.) My friends tell me it's not difficult to make. Christina

  21. your splash of red wine vinegar... brilliant ++++++++

  22. lol. loved your feta addiction story. i am part greek and love feta and have to allow myself only a small bit on my salad as i could probably eat a whole block of it. i do something similar to what you do, but with sour cream. only at home though. i blame that on my polish roots, but don't think they do it to the extent that i do with italian food, mexican food, you name it. just love dairy.

  23. lol. loved your feta addiction story. i am part greek and love feta and have to allow myself only a small bit on my salad as i could probably eat a whole block of it. i do something similar to what you do, but with sour cream. only at home though. i blame that on my polish roots, but don't think they do it to the extent that i do with italian food, mexican food, you name it. just love dairy.