A creature of habit, I take great comfort in small rituals that punctuate my weeks and provide me with some much needed organisation and structure in my life. Mainly revolving around buying and preparing food, two of my non negotiable routines are Sunday Farmers Markets and what I lovingly refer to as Fridge Basics.
Verging on compulsive, my Sunday morning farmers’ market excursion is how I gather inspiration and ingredients for the week ahead. When in London it’s Queens Park Farmers Market but even while abroad and with no access to a kitchen, on Sundays I drag my family through any market to sample the local delicacies. Roaming the stalls for the best seasonal goods requires my brain to think about the meals ahead and ideas for new menu combinations.
Another notable food ritual is those few quiet moments I set aside on a monthly basis to assemble my arsenal of Fridge Basics: Confit garlic, basic vinaigrette, flavoured butters, pickled chillies and red onions and the list goes on. You see, in my kitchen, Fridge Basics are a Thing and I hope over time they will be one in yours too. For those who are not quite with me, Fridge Basics are the condiments always in my fridge serving as important flavour bases and the foundations for many dishes. They are usually lurking in kilner jars of all sizes in the back of a fridge shelf, ready to use at any desperate given moment to spruce up a boring desk lunch or quick mid week dinner.
All those greens and seasonal veg from the market are automatically transformed into something interesting when tossed with confit garlic or topped with pickled onions. A piece of fish topped with a small disc of herb butter is suddenly food fit for a crowd. A jar of salad dressing in the fridge eliminates the annoying step that might send you over the edge when considering using up those almost turned salad leaves in the drawer. Fridge Basics’ main function is to ease meal prep pain for rushed and busy cooks.
This marinated feta holds a special place in my fridge and my heart as the original Fridge Basic. I discovered it many years after eating it as part of a mezze spread somewhere in the sunshine and immediately came home to devise my own version. Taking only minutes to assemble and with infinite flavour variations, it is a multi-use condiment. These salty cubes add an unexpected lift to salads, omelettes and frittatas, superb spread on sandwiches, a key ingredient in a buffet spread, ideal cocktail accompaniment and a perfect sneaky nibble while standing with the fridge door open and looking for inspiration (I know I am not alone here as a seasoned fridge snacker).
Like all the best things, there is a bonus. The oil left behind by the last piece of salty deliciousness is an extra flavour treat when tossed through steamed greens, veg and grains, as a salad dressing base and for searing a little protein for a quick throw together meal. So much so that at any time you will find a full jar of marinated feta and an empty jar as I use up the oil on anything and everything. It has a good shelf life too. Provided all the ingredients are submerged in the oil, this will keep for at least 3 weeks, making a little jar of marinated feta a welcome edible gift requiring no cooking, baking prowess or fancy gift wrap.
What’s on hand in your fridge for meal emergencies? I would love to know….
I like to make this in a mason/kilner jar but you can also make it in a small square dish and cover with cling film.
I don’t remove the seeds from the chili as it is only a mellow flavour in the marinade, but if you are sensitive you may choose to.
300g block of Feta type cheese (a hard goats cheese works well too)
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1 red chilli peppers thinly sliced OR 2 small dried chillies
3 bay leaves
5-6 sprigs of thyme
500-600ml olive oil (depending on the size of your container)
Cube the feta into bite size blocks
Cover the bottom of the jar with a film of olive oil and start adding some of the feta cubes. On top some of cheese cubes, layer the shallots, chilli, a bay leaf and some thyme and pour oil over the feta until it is covered. Keep layering the feta and the aromatics in the jar until they are all used up, making sure they are completely submerged with oil.
Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours. The longer the better
It will keep sealed in the fridge for 3 weeks.
Replace the above aromatics with: 1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp dried oregano
3 strips of lemon zest
a few sprigs of fresh mint and oregano
a pinch of chilli flakes or a good grind of pepper
5-6 sprigs of fresh coriander 3 bay leaves
1 sliced shallot
2 turkish chilli peppers
3 strips of lemon zest