Marinated feta is a delicious flavor packed treat made by letting cubes of feta cheese soak in olive oil infused with garlic, lemon, and spices. Eat marinated feta as a snack, on bread or toast, with salads, or as a part of a cheese board or mezze platter.
I was originally turned on to marinated feta in a MasterClass episode taught by Yotam Ottolenghi whose cookbooks Plenty and Flavor are never far from my reach. Since watching him use marinated feta to add a punch of flavor to a plate of gorgeous spring peas, I've been obsessed with the stuff and we almost always have a jar in our refrigerator.
Keeping marinated feta on hand is not difficult because it's just so simple to make. Like, really. For all of you non-measurers out there who prefer to cook by throwing things into a pot and hoping for the best, this recipe is going to be right up your alley. Also, you might want to check out the no recipe required series for more of the like.
This is the kind of thing for which you can swap out ingredients all willy-nilly and as long as you stick to flavors you like, it's going to turn out delicious.
What follows is the basic ingredients and process plus plenty of ideas for additions and substitutions.
- Fresh garlic. This recipe calls for 10 cloves of garlic which might seem like a lot, but trust me - it's just the right amount to flavor the oil used to marinate the feta. Ten cloves will infuse the feta with the flavor of garlic, but it's not even close to being overwhelming.
- A fresh lemon. This recipe uses the peel only of a fresh lemon so you can save the juice for something else, like lemon rosemary chicken or lemon olive oil cake.
- Extra virgin olive oil. The flavor of the oil will come through in each bite of marinated feta so it's important to use olive oil that tastes good to you. My go-to brand is Cobram Estate California Extra Virgin Olive Oil because it's a delicious mid-price olive oil that's generally easy to find.
- Bay leaves. Dried Turkish bay leaves are my first choice for marinated feta but any kind will work well. Bay leaves are a supporting character in this marinade adding a subtle floral note to the flavor of the cheese. I love them in there but if you don't like them, have them, or want to use them, simply leave them out.
- Feta cheese. I have made marinated feta with many, many different kinds of feta and I am here to tell you the quality of the cheese makes a huge difference. See my notes below for what to look for when buying feta and the brands I like the most.
- Smoked paprika. I adore the flavor of paprika and you will therefore find it in recipes all across this site most notably in creamy chicken paprikash and baked paprika chicken. Any kind of paprika will do here, but I especially love the smoky flavor of smoked paprika for marinated feta.
- Aleppo pepper. If you've never cooked with Aleppo pepper consider this recipe your perfect opportunity. I am addicted to the stuff and (my husband can attest to the truth of this statement) use it possibly in excess. What can I say? I love it. The flavor is smoky, slightly sweet, and deliciously rich and complex. It's also on the mild side which is great because you can add a decent amount of it without worrying about burning your face off. Try it in this recipe and then use it to make red lentil soup.
Additions and Substitutions
This really is one of those recipes for which you can swap out nearly every ingredient for something else. Except the feta of course. You're gonna want to keep that. 😊
- If you're not a fan of garlic, swap it out with some chopped fennel or chopped celery and bell peppers. Shallots are also an excellent choice.
- You can use any kind of oil you like for the marinade. Olive oil is my favorite, but avocado oil or walnut oil are also good options. I do prefer to choose an oil with flavor rather than a neutral tasting oil like canola oil so that the oil contributes to the flavor of the cheese.
- Instead of
Aleppo pepper, use ground chipotle pepper or ground ancho pepper, or any kind of chili flakes.
- Instead of bay leaves, paprika, and
Aleppo pepper, use any kind of spices you like. Use a spice mix like Baharat or a Mediterranean seasoning blend. Or opt for something like za'atar or an Italian seasoning blend. Or really, truly, any combination of spices that sound good to you.
The best kind of feta for marinating
My husband and I live in an RV and travel around the country full time. So, I don't really have a local grocery store. Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say that my local grocery store is different from week to week.
Even in the most rural towns and remote places, I've yet to not be able to find at least one hunk of feta at even the tiniest grocery store. But there's no telling what brand it will be. As such, I've made marinated feta with a lot of different brands and most definitely have my favorites.
For me, the most important thing I look for when making marinated feta is a creamy cheese. Feta, especially American feta, can be quite dry which is perfectly fine if you're crumbling it over a salad, sandwich, or into a wrap. But, for marinated feta, the creamier the better.
Bulgarian or French feta is almost guaranteed to be creamier than any Greek variety so if you're lucky enough to find some, that's the kind you'll want for this recipe.
Most Greek and American brands are on the dry to very dry side and it can be very difficult to tell if a particular brand of feta cheese is going to be creamy without tasting it. So, sometimes you'll have to just take a chance, purchase it and make a note for next time about whether you liked it enough to buy it again.
But, when you can see through the packaging, look for feta without a lot of holes. The more little holes and divots you see in the cheese the more likely it will be very dry and crumbly.
Of the most widely distributed brands that you'll find in most US supermarkets, President feta and 365 by Whole Foods Market feta are the creamiest I've tried. But, seriously, if you can find a Bulgarian or French brand, absolutely go with that.
Step-by-step photos and instructions
Lower the heat and add strips of lemon peel and a few bay leaves to the skillet with the garlic. Sauté until the bay leaves are beginning to brown.
Pour about a cup of olive oil into the skillet with the garlic, lemon peel, and bay leaves.
Stir in the paprika and
Cut feta cheese into bite size cubes and add a few cubes to a jar or another container. Pour some of the marinade over the cheese making sure to include a few cloves of garlic, lemon peel, and bay leaves. Add a few more feta cubes, then pour in some more marinade. Continue to layer cheese and marinade until the container is filled.
Pour in additional olive oil if necessary to ensure the cheese is completely submerged. Cover the container and put it in the refrigerator. Allow the cheese to marinate for at leas 12 hours before eating.
Pro tip! The amount of salt in feta can vary significantly from brand to brand, so taste the cheese you have before adding it to the marinade. If the cheese is not very salty, you might want to stir a bit of salt into the marinade. If the feta tastes salty enough to you, there is no need to add any additional salt to the marinade.
How to serve marinated feta
Our favorite way to eat marinated feta is straight from the jar, standing in front of the open fridge when we're feeling kinda snacky. We also love it on a night when a dinner of cheese and crackers on the couch while watching a movie is all we want in the world.
But, there are a hundred ways to serve marinated feta, all of them delicious. It's the perfect addition to a mezze spread or cheese board, of course. It's also a great addition to a picnic or tailgating spread because the cheese is already cut into bite-size pieces.
By the way - the garlic in the marinade is soft and mild tasting and positively delicious smeared across crusty bread or toast.
And, of course, marinated feta adds a delicious burst of creamy flavor to all kinds of salads, including Israeli salad and tortellini salad. And a simple salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumber can become an entire meal with a handful of Ja'ala (roasted nut and seed mix) and a few cubes of marinated feta.
- 1 lemon
- 10 cloves of garlic
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 1 cup (250 milliliters/ 200 grams) extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper
- 8 ounces (2 blocks/ 230 grams) feta cheese
- Using a sharp pairing knife, cut the peel from the lemon so that you have long strips of lemon peel.
- Peel the cloves of garlic but leave them whole. Add them to a small skillet or saucepan and set it over medium high heat. Cook the garlic, stirring them around from time to time, until the cloves are charred (blackened) in many places.
- Lower the heat to medium low and add the strips of lemon peel and the bay leaves to the skillet with the garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until the bay leaves are starting to brown.
- Pour 1 cup of the olive oil into the skillet. Raise the heat back to medium high and bring the oil to a simmer. Stir in the paprika and Aleppo pepper and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand until the marinade has cooled to room temperature.
- In the meantime, cut the feta into bite-size cubes and add them to a jar or another kind of covered container.
- Pour the cooled marinade over the cheese. If using a jar, add a few cubes of feta to the jar, pour some of the marinade over the cheese, then continue to layer feta and marinade until all the cheese has been added. Be sure to include the strips of lemon peel, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. If necessary, add additional olive oil to ensure the cubes of feta are completely submerged.
- Cover the container and place the feta in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours to marinate. The cheese will last in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. I like to serve the cubes of feta with the cloves of garlic in the marinade which are soft and mild tasting and delicious smeared over bread or toast.
The amount of salt in feta can vary significantly from brand to brand. Taste the feta you are using before adding it to the marinade. If it's not very salty, add some salt to the marinade. If the cheese tastes salty enough to you adding salt to the marinade is unnecessary.
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MORTON & BASSETT Organic Turkish Bay Leaves, 0.1 OZ
HexClad Cookware 3.5 Inch Paring Knife, Damascus Stainless Steel Blade with Full Tang Pakkawood Handle: Home & Kitchen
Frontier Co-op Oak Wood Smoked & Ground Spanish Paprika, Deep Smokey Flavor, Kosher
The Spice Way - Premium Aleppo Pepper
HexClad Hybrid Nonstick Frying Pan, 8-Inch
Cuisinart 1 Quart Saucepan w/Cover
Serving Size:2 ounces feta
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 285Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 50mgSodium: 535mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 8g