Food is simply more fun when you can set it on fire. Don’t believe me? Clearly, you need more saganaki in your life.
What Is Saganaki?
Although most people associate the word saganaki with gooey cheese that’s pan fried and served hot, the word itself actually refers to the cast iron pan itself. A wide variety of appetizers, or Greek tapas, if you will, fall under the category. Given the popularity of molten cheese though, 9.5 times out of 10, this is the version most people think of.
Fire isn’t a mandatory or even traditional ingredient. It was first presented with this theatrical flare at the Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Given the opportunity to set food on fire, however, why would you chose anything else?
How To Make Vegan Saganaki
Vegan saganaki is made just the like classic by simply swapping out the dairy. Of course, there’s no direct non-dairy translation for traditional kasseri cheese, but plenty of respectable substitutes. Plant-based feta is your best bet, since it melts reasonably for that satisfying gooey interior, has a strong flavor that can stand up to the alcohol infusion, and is widely available in most markets. My favorite vegan feta options, in order, are:
- Trader Joe’s
The key is to buy only full blocks, not crumbles or cubes, and nothing tofu-based which is impervious to melting. Of course, meltability is both an asset and a flaw for this preparation. Instead of staying firm but gooey, like a runny brie at room temperature, vegan feta tends to lose all structure and form, liquefying into a rich, creamy dip with a glorious toasty surface. Plant-based saganaki is possibly an improvement over the original, because this version has further applications, such as:
- Pasta sauce
- Pizza topping
- Spanikopita filling
What To Serve With Saganaki
Flaming cheese alone doesn’t make a meal, but it can become a central facet of a well-curated array of savory bites. Whether this is the prelude to a full entree or the main event itself is all in the portions. Classic accompaniments and serving suggestions include:
- Crusty bread, toast, or crackers
- Pita wedges, grilled or warmed
- Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
- Mediterranean or shirazi salad
- Raw crudites, like sliced cucumbers, carrots, or celery
- Roasted or grilled vegetables, like red bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant
Tips For Success
- Any high-proof spirit will work in this recipe. Try ouzo to keep it Greek, or use vodka for a more neutral flavor.
- Safety first! Turn off stove and remove the pan before adding alcohol. Use a long lighter to ignite the cheese, or light the end of a piece of dried linguine or spaghetti first to act as a conduit.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose.
- Make a smaller batch by cutting your feta in half or even quarters, and adjusting the remaining ingredients accordingly. It’s more about the technique than exact measurements.Like moths, we’re all inexorably drawn to the flames. When you want to start an event with a bang, impress someone special, or just play with fire, this will be your new favorite party trick.