Let’s Lunch: Olympian Eats

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Welcome to this month’s Let’s Lunch!  I’m sure you hardly need to guess what this month’s theme is; is anyone capable of thinking about anything today but the arrival of the Winter Olympics?  Naturally, being as obsessed with Greek food as I am, the Olympic theme immediately suggested Greece to me, but a brilliant friend did me one better by pointing out that the lighting of the torch cries out for things that are on fire.  (I swear I am not a pyromaniac, but is flaming food not more festive?  Come on.)

Having spent my childhood making regular pilgrimages to Greektown for dinner, saganaki (pan-fried cheese) immediately sprang to mind.  We ordered saganaki every time we went, and while the process of having it brought to the table (“OOOOPPPAAAAAAA!!”) was intermittently terrifying, it has remained one of my favorites.  This would be a great snack for the opening ceremonies.

Since this isn’t a breaded, deep-fried number, you need a cheese that will actually hold up to being pan-fried instead of turning into a puddle in the bottom of your pan.  I use halloumi, but Greece has a whole slew of delicious sheep’s-milk cheese that will also fit the bill, including graviera, kefalograviera, and kelalotiri. I have also seen kasseri frequently recommended for it, but my own personal experience with kasseri was that it was too melty for the task.  If you find you’re having that sort of issue with your cheese, freezing the dredged slices before frying and then using rather a high heat may help.

Cheesy deliciousness after the jump.

Saganaki

One or more 1/2″ slices of halloumi or other appropriate Greek sheep cheese
Olive oil
All-purpose flour for dredging (seasoned with salt and pepper if you like but check the saltiness of the cheese first)
1/2 to 3/4 ounce brandy (Metaxa if you are feeling particularly Greek) or ouzo (sooner you than me) in a shotglass
Matches (whee!)
Lemon wedges

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a small heavy frying pan over medium high heat.  Moisten cheese slices with water if necessary then dredge in flour and add to hot pan.  Fry until golden brown, a couple of minutes per side.

Turn off the heat and pull the pan away from anything concerningly flammable or explosive.  (This is where the show happens, so you may want to do it at or near the table.)  Add the liquor to the pan and then light it.  (Do not hold it close to your face while you do this.)  Bellow “OPAAAA!!!”  No, I mean really bellow.  If you are not scaring any small children who are nearby you’re not doing it right.  Windows should rattle.  (I frequently ended up under the table when this happened when I was a kid.)  Swirl it around a little so the liquor burns off nicely.

Squeeze lemon juice over and serve immediately with crusty bread or pitas.  Think deep thoughts about all that hard work on skis and skates people who are not you are doing right now and the fashion cues you should take from the national outfits and/or Norwegian curlers’ pants.

Still hungry?  Check out the other offerings on Twitter, hashtag #LetsLunch, or below:

Hot borscht at Monday Morning Cooking Club.

Honeybell Chess Pie at Eating My Words.

Olympic King Cake at Tea and Scones.

Anya Von Bremzen’s Kotleti at Nancie McDermott.

Guinness Stout Ice Cream at Spicebox Travels.

Ham-Pineapple Garlic Rice at Asian in America.

Chocolate Guinness Whoopie Pies at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl.

Russian Tea at A Cook and her Books.

Coconut Hot Chocolate with Kahlua at HapaMama.

Solyanka (Russian Sweet and Sour Beef Soup) at A Tiger in the Kitchen.

Meyer Lemon Afternoon Cake at Free Range Cookies.

Vegetarian Poutine at Miss Cheryl Tan.

Sochi Sliders at Sandwich Surprise.

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  1. “No, I mean really bellow. If you are not scaring any small children who are nearby you’re not doing it right.”

    I adore this post. I did not go to the right restaurants as a child. Actually, growing up in my particular corner of Piedmont NC and particular family, I didn’t go to restaurants at all — cafeterias and barbecue places were IT. I adore this, and I cannot wait to make this. Brilliant choice for bringing Olympic theme to life. OOoooopaaaaaaa!!!!

    • Annabelle says:

      Oh, I did love a cafeteria — we did Morrison’s and Luby’s on trips when I was a kid, and there was nothing like getting a whole meal of side dishes! Greektown is one of the big things I miss about having moved away from the Midwest; none of the cities I’ve lived in since have anything like enough Greek food for my tastes. (And our local Greek bakery? Why does no one have spinach pie on my block here?)

  2. Mai Hoang says:

    Got to love anything involving two awesome things: cheese and FIRE! This looks great; thank you for sharing your adventures in Greektown too. :)

  3. Rebecca says:

    Oh! We share this childhood memory! At the time, I loved the flame and the “OPAAAAA!!!”, but I didn’t care for the dish. Now I love it. And have never even thought to make it. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. What fun! I love the part where you have to bellow really loud. This sounds like a great starter to any meal. It was fun doing Let’s Lunch with you. Thanks for the blog-love and round-up here!

  5. I think you’d rattle me as well as the windows, because sudden noises scare the bejeesus out of me (or should I say becheezeus), but I guess if I’m forewarned and feeling festive, I could get into it. Especially when there’s flaming cheese at the end of the Opa! rainbow. Thanks for sharing, Annabelle!

    • Annabelle says:

      Warning is definitely called for — I don’t know how much alcohol the restaurants we went to actually used, but there was a LOT of flame involved in addition to the noise sometimes! And to think I live in a town that outlaws the use of tealights on restaurant tables.

  6. Flaming cheese! You know how to have a good time! Happy #LetsLunch.

  7. Jester Queen says:

    OPAAA! I have totally missed you! And I can SO imagine your neighbors muttering, “There she goes flambeing her face again up there” as you make the dish.

    • Annabelle says:

      I’m so glad you came by! I’ve been pretty out of the loop lately but I’m hoping to be back on regular schedule pretty soon.

      I think my new neighbors don’t know me *quite* that well yet. I hope.

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