Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tomato and Feta Cheese Dip

I have a lovely friend Jacqui who lives in Saigon. Not the Jacqui you've seen here on my blog before, but a similar and yet entirely different Jacqui, who is one of my most favourite people I've ever known. I met her here in Hanoi, but she got a promotion and had to move down South, so every now and then I go down there and stay with her for a weekend visit and we spend the whole time catching up, swimming in her pool, and doing a LOT of eating. It's wonderful.

I might be misguided here, but I feel like Saigon has a lot more food options than Hanoi. Jacqui's always taking me to some great little cafe with gourmet food and set menus like I've never seen here. Of course, it's also much more expensive!

Jacqui enjoying a Bloody Mary at Au Parc.
On one occasion she took me to Au Parc. This place has a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean feel, with delicious food to match. On this particular occasion we both ordered salads, mine with lamb and hers with goat cheese and orange. Mine was good, but the thing that got me was the dips. For 70,000 dong (about $3.50) we got three dips of our choice, with flatbread and crudités. We chose the Baba Ghannouj, which was tasty but nothing special; Creamy artichoke, spinach, and gorgonzola dip, which was quite delicious; and the Tomato and Feta cheese dip. This last one blew me away. With the first bite it was the only one I wanted to eat more of, to the point that I was almost licking the bowl when it was gone.

Ever since then I've wanted to reproduce this. However, feta cheese isn't always the cheapest ingredient here. I don't actually know how much it costs at home, but here at 200g packet can easily be 160,000 dong ($8). I recently got lucky on a trip to Metro, and they had packs of feta on sale for only 50,000 dong. Never mind that they were about to expire in a few days. It's cheese, right? An expiry date is only a guideline. I bought four.

That meant that I have a stockpile of feta right now, which is great because I eat greek salad all the time! It also meant that I could finally make my dip.

I crumbled up the feta and combined it in a blender with 2 chopped cloves of garlic, about 3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. Pureeing it required the addition of a bit of water, but eventually it blended and became quite smooth.

It was yummy on the evening I made it, but somewhat sharp tasting. I was thinking maybe I shouldn't have added quite so much garlic, lemon juice, and tomato paste.

I was eating it with these garlic & herb crackers I'd found in a nearby shop, and they went perfectly. 

The next day I got even smarter and cooked up a piece of my mysterious "Mediteurasian Style All-Purpose Dough" to scoop up the dip. This also worked very nicely. The flavours had mellowed out a bit by this time, but it was still a bit sharp tasting. It didn't have that "I could eat this FOREVER" taste like it did in the restaurant!

On another occasion I tried it with carrot sticks and this also worked well!

 I think I'll do this again sometime, but I'll be extra cautious with all those acidic ingredients. Or maybe they just need something to counter them? Or maybe it should actually be cooked a bit to reduce the acidity. I'm not sure, but I'm definitely going to try making it again!


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