Tirokafteri, or spicy cheese dip is a classic Greek meze typically consisting of feta cheese, yoghurt and some sort of chilli or hot pepper. Each taverna manages to make it slightly differently though–– I’ve seen versions with pickled pepperoncini peppers, roasted mild red chillies, chilli oil… riffing on Maria Elia’s tzatziki variations, this uses garlic tops or ‘scapes’ to flavour the cheesy dip instead of chilli.
When I’m visiting family in North Carolina, I love to go to the Durham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Without the space constraints of London, rather than one or two of each kind of produce stall, there are 20 veg stalls dominating and very little to tell them apart. But like any good market, you get to know the producers and you return to the same ones time and time again. My family’s favourite is run by Helga who sells a variety of herbs, greens and squashes and has an impressive nursery. The week I was there they also had scapes, which are the curly tops of garlic (or other allium) plants. For a while we thought they were called snapes which I think is a rather amusing misnomer.
Originally I was going to use them in tzatziki but there was a yoghurt shortage– so now you know what to do when the yoghurt’s all gone and you want to make dip.
tirokafteri with scapes (or tiroscaperi, as I like to call it)
- heat a little bit of olive oil in a saucepan and sautee the chopped scapes for a few minutes until they are soft and aromatic, but before they colour. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.
- in the meantime, crumble your cheese into a bowl and mix in the yoghurt. If you prefer a smoother consistency you can blend it.
- with a fork whisk in a drizzle of olive oil and some chilli flakes. check for flavour and add more yoghurt/oil/chilli accordingly. It should be a fairly thick mixture.
- When the scapes are ready and slightly cooled off, mix them into the cheese and yoghurt. Chill in the fridge for an hour or more to let the flavours marry.
To serve, spread the cheese dip on a small dish and season with more chilli flakes and olive oil. We had ours with Eleni Sr’s masterful stuffed tomatoes and peppers, the thick tangy yoghurt was a perfect foil to the oily vegetabley rice.