Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Minted Feta Flatbread

Back in college, some friends and I ended up at a local pizza parlor one evening. The dining halls were long closed, and we needed a snack to keep us going through our late-night studying. Or, more accurately, late-night people-watching at the coffee shop. The pies at this pizzeria weren't really memorable, but they were hot, cheesy, and loaded with toppings. Which is really all we cared about at that hour.

As we dug into our greasy slices, my friend Iskra pointed out the owners sitting at a nearby table. After they'd closed the doors for the night, they'd sat down to their own meal: a loaf of crusty bread that they'd just baked in the pizza oven, a ripe tomato sliced at the table, some olive oil and seasonings. Iskra sighed. "That reminds me of home," she said sadly, telling me about the simple summer meals of Croatia. A laden pizza, catering to American college students, had nothing on that elegant simplicity.

This isn't to romanticize the food of the Eastern Bloc, which by all accounts can often be awash with oil and bereft of seasoning. But there are some things that they can do right. Pastries, for one. And simple meals of good bread, cheese, and produce.

This wrapped sandwich reminds me of that idea; of simple ripe foods, of charred bread with briny cheese and juicy tomatoes. It makes a great breakfast, or afternoon snack. This is a recipe that can be as simple or complex as you want, depending on the contents of your pantry and kitchen garden. Either way, it's delicious.

A Paula Wolfert recipe inspired this combination, and tipped me off to the salty-punchy combination of feta and mint. I'm sure it's not news to some (especially those who grew up in the land of brined cheeses), but it blew me away when I first tasted them together. The addition of smoky paprika makes it even better. I made this flatbread several days in a row. And when I ran out of flatbreads, tomatoes, and everything else, I smeared feta and mint on a rice cake and was still happy. Although I probably shouldn't admit that. The salty, tangy feta, the sharp dried mint, and the smoky pimenton (if you've got it) are the backbone on which this rests. Everything else can come and go with the seasons.

Minted Feta Flatbread
loosely based on Paula Wolfert's Biblical Breakfast Burrito

This has countless variations, so it feels a bit silly to write it out. Consider this a basic template. Feel free to change it up as you like, omitting onion, substituting scallions, adding bell pepper, etc.

1 pita, tortilla, lavash, or other sort of flatbread
scant 1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/4 tsp dried mint
dusting of smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
1 small tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil
salt & pepper

Warm up your flatbread, either in a skillet or, if you like to play with danger, over an open flame. Remove from heat, crumble in some feta cheese, and sprinkle with the mint and a dusting of pimenton. Add tomato, onion, and parsley. Moisten with olive oil if your feta and tomato aren't juicy enough, and season with pepper (salt if you like, although the feta might take care of that). Roll up, and enjoy in the summer sun.


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