Spilling the Beans
Here's why salt-based dishes are not entirely a bad thing
Bad feta, and uninspired uses of the stuff, are so common that it's hard to muster any enthusiasm when you see a feta-based dish. But if you can find some really great feta (okay, I know it probably won't be the original goat or sheep milk type) then scroll down for the recipe to a glorious, salty, creamy pie.
Many people are worried about feta, just as they are about liquorice and biltong. It's the salt of course. Sigh. The theory that higher salt intake is linked to disease and shorter life has not actually ever been properly proven. Yes, I've written these words before, but I feel repeating them is required as the same dogma continues.
Anyway, the nutritional info on salt given on food packaging is so surreally nonsensical that you have to wonder - do even the people handing it out actually believe it?
For a start, it's the recommended sodium intake you mostly see on packets. Well, there's a small problem: sodium and sodium chloride are two very different things. In fact table salt is more chloride than it is sodium.
The theory that higher salt intake is linked to disease and shorter life has not actually ever been properly proven
Ever try to do the maths on how much sodium you need in order to fulfil the recommended salt (ie. sodium chloride) intake?
It's ludicrous and the people writing this blather must know it. So what about the chloride then? Well, if you cut salt you cut chloride, and good research shows that lower chloride intake is actually associated with higher mortality.
Lastly, let's consider this: almost anyone in hospital gets put on a standard saline drip which, over 24 hours, offers around 18g of salt - three times the recommended salt dose in most countries. So only healthy people should avoid salt? Well, that really makes sense.
RECIPE: GREEK CHEESE PIE
900ml thick white sauce (your recipe may call it béchamel)
450g mashed-up feta cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
400g phyllo pastry
Olive oil & pastry brush
1. Heat oven to 180C.
2. Mix feta and beaten eggs together.
3. Add the not-too-hot (or even cold) white sauce. Season with salt and nutmeg.
4. Brush a 30cm x 20cm baking dish with the oil, and lay in a phyllo sheet (keep remaining phyllo covered as you go).
5. Use up slightly less than half the pastry, brushing evenly with oil between each layer.
6. Pour in the cheese mix, then layer phyllo on top again, till all used up, brushing all the way to the edges with the oil.
7. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden-brown. The cheese will still be wibbly and oozy, and this is right.
8. Let the pie rest for at least 10 minutes before eating. It's brilliant with something sharp and fresh: a vinegary tomato salad is perfect.
• This article was originally published in The Times.