Creamy Feta-Red Wine Vinegar Salad Dressing

feta dressing

When I was a newbie, someone in the cookbook biz once told me that if a cookbook has one great recipe in it, it’s totally worth it. And I agree with that. I have a mountain of cookbooks, and most have plenty of tempting recipes but I’ve only made one thing from many of them. But those that do make the cut become standards—or what we call “go to” recipes.

One such cookbook was the Joy of Cooking, which was re-published with great fanfare (and some undeserved derision) in 1997. I remember a blurb on the book jacket from a previous edition, by a bride who swore she toted the book along when she moved abroad. Which I didn’t, although I was hardly a blushing bride. So at least I have an excuse.

My “go to” recipe from that book was the Feta Dressing. I think it was promoted as ‘healthy’, which certainly has some appeal. But what I liked most about it was that it had lots and lots of feta in it, one of my very favorite cheeses, and one of the most versatile. Feta is the cheese I go to when I want to crumble something over hot pasta, since the strong flavor holds up really well and as it warms up, the cheese turns into soft, salty cubes that play off whole wheat pasta particularly well. I like the pasta with stewed greens, garlic, and a heavy hand of chopped olives tossed in. Or even crumbled over pasta with pesto. Try it!

thyme

I’m also a big, big fan of winter greens, like frisée, Belgian endive, and escarole. And this dressing is thick enough to stand up to those tougher, slightly-bitter salads that I crave when the temperature drops.

I didn’t jot down this recipe when I did my transatlantic split, but it was pretty easy to re-create. The original had oregano in it, but I used thyme. The dressing includes a good dose of red wine vinegar, but resist the temptation to use another one: the abrupt acidity of red wine vinegar gives the dressing its kick.

Creamy Feta-Red Wine Vinegar Dressing
Makes 3/4 cup (200 ml)

Inspired by the Joy of Cooking

Feta is now protected and must be from Greece, and is made from sheep or goat’s milk. I pluck my feta out of the watery bins in Arab markets in France, and sometimes buy the real-deal or I choose a milder, similarly-crumbly, salted cheese, depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment. Other varieties, which can no longer be called feta, are made elsewhere and you can use what’s available.

I’ve made this dressing with dried oregano, too. If using dried, use half the amount called for. Be generous with the dressing when tossing the salad. I leave it chunky, because I like the texture (and it’s one less thing to wash), but it can also be pureed in a blender or food processor.

  • 4 ounces (115 g) feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon finely-chopped fresh thyme or oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Mash the feta with the vinegar and herbs with a fork until fairly smooth.

2. Mix in the olive oil and water, until smooth. Because feta cheese can vary in moisture, add more oil, vinegar, or water, if desired.

3. Season with pepper and salt, to taste.

Storage: This dressing will keep for four days in the refrigerator.


Other suggestions for this dressing:

  • A Caesar-ish salad with romaine lettuce, red onions, and garlic-heavy croutons.

  • Alongside tabbouleh.

  • Mashed with tinned tuna fish and chopped capers or green olives and scallions, for a twist on tuna salad.

  • Dressing for a plate of seasonal tomatoes with fresh oregano chopped and strewn over the top.

  • A mix of winter greens, tossed with slices of pears and toasted pecans.

  • Over grilled chicken breasts or tuna steaks.

  • WIth falafel!

  • As a dip, with toasted pita chips, radishes, or raw vegetables.



    Related Links and Recipes:

    Marinated Feta

    Real Tabbouleh (Desert Candy)

    Cherry Tomato and Feta Tart (Café Fernando)

    Watermelon and Feta Salad (Simply Recipes)

    10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking

    Roasted Mushrooms with Feta, Spinach & Bacon (Smitten Kitchen)

    Oven-Baked Chicken with Feta (Nami-Nami)

    Roasted Feta (Matt Bites)

    Lamb Kabobs with Mango Chutney and Whipped Feta (Steamy Kitchen)

    Joanne Weir’s Cucumber and Feta Salad

    Mushroom and Feta Casserole (Kalyn’s Kitchen)

  • 61 comments

    • My “go to” recipe in JOC is the buttermilk waffles. I highly recommend you try them sometime!

    • This sounds great! And I think I have some feta (all be it, not great feta), in the fridge, so I know what I’m having for lunch!

    • Feta is my favourite as well so thank you for the recipe. I hadn’t known that given feta a designation. I wonder what does that now mean for French Valbreso? That is my go to feta as it is creamier and a little less salty than the other brands we find here, which most invariably is Mt. Vikos.

    • Yum – that looks great. Think I’ll be trying that really soon – I have some winter greens in the garden that I can try it with – can’t wait!

    • In 1951 my mother did take the Joy of Cooking with her overseas. She was moving to Rio de Janerio with 3 children ages 12, 6 and 9 months. It was as the time a glamorous city that in some sections still had hollowed out logs as pipes for the intermittent water system. She’s 96 now and still swears by her original copy and all the newer editions. She happily points out that her first copy includes recipes for crow in case of hard times. She says she would have substituted parrot if the need had arisen. We children were just grateful for the homemade catsup recipe.

    • elizabeth: I must’ve been channeling your mother. I did bring a copy of the Joy of Cooking on CD-Rom with me to Paris, but it was in Mac OS9, and when Mac introduced OSX, the world changed and it was too problematic to use.

      (I see I’m not the only one to have beaucoup de problems with it.)

      Oddly, I have a French cookbook, for cooking by les grand-mères that has a crow recipe, too. But I’d have to be pretty hungry these days to try it!

    • I brought my Joy of Cooking with me to Paris. It’s the first place I go when I need to check on the basics (like for example the other day when I wanted to make orzo and the package did not indicate how long to cook it!) or get an answer to a question about food chemistry. It’s a keeper. (And that dressing looks darn good.)

    • I like the combination of salty and tangy with the bitter greens too, David. Thank you for this recipe, I’ll give it a try tonight.

    • Your comment about feta going so well with whole wheat pasta (spaghetti sounds good) makes me want to toss the dressing on some hot noodles and devour, particular if I added chopped artichokes.

      I think I’ll pass on the marjoram-flavored water, however.

    • I have my copy of JOC here in Paris with me, too — it’s dog-eared, stained, a few pages are stuck together, and pages are falling out because I’ve broken the binding.

      But I can’t bear the thought of buying a new one — I have all my notes scribbled in the margins of this one!

      I’m a very good and very experienced cook — and I can’t imagine life without it — tips about cooking vegetables I’m unfamiliar with (my husband LOVES mashed celeriac — a new veggie for us, and major victory for me!) soups, stews, and making some of our old favorites from scratch.

    • Feta is my favorite cheese too. I’ve never used it in a salad dressing though. Can’t wait to try it.

    • Yum – that does sound good. I’ve been on a miso dressing kick lately. Here’s my recipe if you’re interested in giving it a try:

      http://danamccauley.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/salad-with-wine-surely-you-jest/

      I use it on all kinds of salads. It’s surprisingly good on canned tuna.

    • Sounds like it would be good on a wedge of iceberg, like blue cheese dressing.

    • This sounds mouth-watering. I’m trying to eat more salads right now, and not as many sweets :(
      My daughter just moved into her first apartment and I gave her my Joy of Cooking, thinking I’d never miss it, but realized I did go to it more than I thought I did.

    • Funny, I agree with the “one recipe making a book worth it” theory. I haven’t done much with my Joy of Cooking (my mother insisted I have the old version that she is familiar with), but I do love my Doubleday cookbook…not too dissimilar to JOC. The bread and butter pickles are my guilty pleasure.

    • I acquired my first copy of JOC 35 years ago. It has provided basic information on how long to cook a rib roast and to what temp the meat should be along with ideas on birds, fungi, and things that I had only heard about. I updated to a ten year old copy recently. It is the one book that I always used as a “go-to” reference before Google and the the inter-webs. I can probably blame my sustained interest in cooking on this great book. Whenever Julia or Graham had an idea that interested me, I would look it up to see if it was possible for me to duplicate and change.

    • Yes, everything is better with feta!

    • I agree completely about the “one great recipe” rule for cookbooks. This one sounds wonderful. I love feta; any dish that contains it is going to be a hit with me.

    • When I first got married and received my Joy Of Cooking I used to stay up late reading it. Now it is my standby for so many recipes and always my starting point when creating my own recipes. I love it to death!

      This dressing looks delicious. Having grown up in Spain I seem to think the only way to eat salad is with olive oil and vinegar. My husband might welcome this as an overdue change! Thanks!

    • I can’t wait to try this dressing. I love feta! Is French feta your favorite?

    • Ooh, yes, yes! A great salad dressing recipe makes a good home cook a great one, don’t you agree? And this one surely fits the bill–I can almost taste it on a simple salad with cucumbers, grilled tomatoes and cubes of middle-eastern-marinated grilled pork. Yum!

    • I’m glad to see you make reference to JOC. It’s been my “Funk and Wagnal” of cookbooks for so many years. The internet is great for all the info I need most of the time, but I still have trust issues with unknow persons or institutions instructing a classic technique or recipe that I haven’t tried, so I go to my ‘Joy’ to compare. It is so comprehensive and does have many outstanding old and new recipes. And.. when a new recipe makes it into the Joy, it’s like a new word making it into Webster’s..( in my mind, anyway!)

      This dressing looks good. I like the pear and walnut idea with the bitter greens.

    • My JOC goto is giblet gravy for roasted turkey. I make it whenever I make a roasted bird and I haven’t found a better substitute. Could drink the stuff, much to the chagrin of my doctor.

    • The Joy of Cooking has been my favorite cookbook since I was a youngster. I inherited my mother’s WWII edition, and my go-to recipe there was for sugar-saving chocolate mousse (since sugar was rationed back then). It is simple and elegant and is the best chocolate mousse recipe I’ve ever used. My next copy of Joy was given to me in 1983, and I have so many go-to recipes in there I couldn’t list them all. Many of the recipes include wry descriptions or anecdotes that make the book even more valuable, if possible. The narrative for a poppy seed pastry notes that, when assembled, it resembles the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes or a crocodile. (That’s one of my go-to recipes, by the way.)

    • I love feta cheese and also am eating more salads so this is perfect timing!

      I own a lot of cookbooks that I only make 1 or 2 recipes from but those recipes are fantastic so it’s worth it.

    • Feta is also my go-to cheese. I get nervous when I don’t have some in the fridge!

    • Hi David,

      I enjoy your blog – both the content and the style. I have a question for you. I’ll be in Paris for a week in March to visit my daughter who is living and working there. While I’m there, I would really like to get some instruction in crepe-making (on a real crepe griddle – not the disappointing Tibos I have at home!) and on making buckwheat (ble noir) batters. Can you recommend an instructor or two for me to ask? I intend to visit the Breizh Cafe in the Marais while I’m there! Many thanks.

      Rosalind

    • Interesting, my go-to is JOC are the Sour Cream pancakes
      Compared to mixing up Bisquick or Krusteaz, they are a total pain but very much worth it. This dressing looks perfect

    • This is exactly what I put on my Greek salads, except I have never mixed it up as a dressing! Admittedly though, about half the time I use lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar – I love the brightness of the lemon.

      I love the idea of using this dressing for pastas!

      The Joy of Cooking was among the first 5 cookbooks I grew up on. I was a latch-key kid, like so many, and started cooking at age 5-6. Fortunately, I never burned down the house, and I still have a copy today. In fact, I think I still have 4 of the 5 books: JOC, The Moosewood Cookbook, Julia Child: The Art of Cooking French Food, and The Love of Eating, by Renny Darling) The Good Housekeeping Cookbook was the 5th. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever had a failed recipe from any of them.

      Thanks for the great post, David!

      Cheers,

      ~ Paula

    • Rosalind: I’m not sure if there’s anyone who teaches crêpe-making on a griddle, unless you find someone on the street that will let you pitch in!

      But you can take a look at my list of Paris Cooking Classes & Schools and perhaps one of them offers what you’re looking for. Good luck~

    • so true…a good quick salad dressing is priceless!

    • The picture of the salad set my mouth a watering! It looks so appetizing and fresh. I adore feta. I can’t wait to try this.

    • fétaaaaaaahhhg ! ♥
      be still my heart…. :)

      I never tried hot feta, I was afraid about the result being too salty, but I love it at room temperature with pasta, green olives and red onions finely chopped. maybe hot is just a step away, i’ll try !

    • Hey! I thought I invented adding raw escarole and frisee to salads. I was thwarted in my efforts today at Berkeley Bowl because the bin of “braising greens” was picked clean of all but kale, chard and radicchio. No frisee or escarole to be found. I was forced to actually purchase a whole fresee and escarole! Of all the nerve!

      Anyway, it’s great to get validation for my fall/winter salad choices.

    • I must confess; I tried feta a few years ago and found it too salty and the brine it was packed in was a turn-off for me. If I recall, I used it in a Greek yogurt salad. I will have to give it another try, especially with a dose of red wine vinegar and a pairing to some collard or mustard greens. I NEVER would have thought to pair this cheese with a bitter green, thanks for the tip! Oh…and another, tuna, capers and feta. You are as resourceful as, JOC.

    • For all the over-loaded shelves of cook books I have, (my brother says I’m trying to put the first storey of the house into the basement), I have owned a Joy of Cooking for only two years. Now I refer to it often. Before Joy of Cooking I used the really old two-volume Gourmet Cookbooks when I wanted to find the last word on any recipe. Those are falling apart now and can be retired.
      The feta dressing looks like just what is needed to liven up this dreary winter. Thanks.

    • This looks great!! but I’m curious what people are calling not-”feta” now?

    • Hi David, I made this dressing for dinner tonight! I absolutely love it…thanks!

      Rachel

    • Rachel H: Glad you liked it. It’s so easy to make, isn’t it?

      i: They’re using terms like ’100% brebis’ on the packaging, like Salakis is doing here in Europe. Next time you’re in a grocer where you live check out what they’re calling it~pretty interesting.

      oakjoan: I love Monterey Market! I just bought a huge head of escarole, which I love, but there’s enough for twelve giant salads in that head. Have you tried it lightly-sauteed or wilted in a bit of warm olive oil, salt, a touch of vinegar, and some garlic? It’s great.

    • “Feta is the cheese I go to when I want to crumble something over hot pasta, since the strong flavor holds up really well and as it warms up, the cheese turns into soft, salty cubes that play off whole wheat pasta particularly well.”

      Yeah!!!

      …but I’ll have to think of a way to make this work because I have this ‘fear’ of vinegar (any kind). Often I just eliminate the vinegar from the recipe but since you say it’s the red wine vinegar that gives it this ‘kick’….hmmm

    • Sounds like it would be a delicious spread for an addition to BLT sandwich.

      I have the joy of cooking and occasionally turn to it for traditional recipes…but, I prefer the with beautiful pictures. For me, especially in savory, cookbooks inspire, but rarely do I ever follow a recipe.

    • Dear David, thank you for just being there and making such a regular effort to chat and let us know your favorite recipes. You brighten up my days. Bless you.

    • When I moved over in 1984, I brought Fannie Farmer in hardcover and JOC in paperback!

      They are my go to books, and then Silver Palate’s first cookbook.

      What would we do without them?

    • I think that the 1997 Joy of Cooking cookbook was the second cookbook in my collection, it’s dog-eared and besplattered, a sure sign of a well-loved cookbook. I use it as a reference book, as much as for its recipes and it’s never failed me once. I look forward to trying your version of their Feta salad dressing, it’s sure to be a winner.

    • Was it one of those recipes with the name of the magical land of “Cockaigne” attached?

    • This recipe is right on time for me. I love feta. I eat it in my salads but now I can use it in a dressing. This will more than a “go to” for me. It will be one of my standards! Merci.

    • My mom and I both have the same edition of Joy – 1972. She wore her first copy out, so we found one the same year as mine – so that we have the same page numbers : )

      My fav Joy recipe? The quick wheat flake cookies. I always make them with oatmeal and the zest of one orange – simple but spectacular. Really. And the about ingredients/substitutions sections? Worth their weight in gold.

      Do I use every recipe in the book? Nope. But it’s a great reference book and now I have one more recipe to try – the feta dressing!

    • Joy of Cooking is nice, but you’d have to pry my mid-60s Betty Crocker out of my hands. It covers all the basics so well, and the cookie recipes are the best (not to mention the oil-based pie crust which my mom can make like no other).

    • David, we made this last night for dinner, and I just couldn’t get enough! We ate pizza with our salads and I dipped the puffy crusts in the remaining dressing. Good god, man.

    • David my dear,
      I read your blog daily for inspiration, for my worldly flair and for your delightful literary flavor. I chuckled out loud that you were not a blushing bride…you tickle me.
      Thank you for sharing!

    • I followed the recipe, but it seems extremely thin. Are you sure it shouldn’t be 5 tablespoons of oil and 2 of water, rather than the 5 T of water and 2T of oil as in the recipe you gave?

      No, the proportions are what I used. Swapping the oil and water amounts would mean the same amount of liquid. I don’t have my original copy of the book, but that’s what worked for me. In fact, the leftover in the fridge became so thick, I used it as a dip. -dl

    • When I got married, my grandmother gave me a copy of JOC in which she wrote all of her notes from her own copy and told me that if I learned nothing else, before attempting any recipe “always consult the JOY”. Same grandmother who regularly sent me her home canned Bread and Butter pickles and handwritten recipes in all my birthday and holiday cards.

      Thank you Erma Rombauer for influencing my Grandma Jo.

    • It’s the middle of winter. Why am I craving this fresh, crunchy salad? My tastebuds are dancing!

    • hi david. i enjoy reading your entries so much! i was wondering whether could i substitute the red wine vinegar with another kind of vinegar?

    • At the risk of hijacking David’s blog for a moment — here’s another turn…for those of you cooking in France (or formerly cooking in France), what is your favorite “go-to” recipe book here? I’ve wandered the librairies, and I haven’t seen anything that appears to be an equivalent to our beloved JoC, Fanny Farmer, Better Homes & Gardens, or any of the other American culinary bibles.

      With apologies to the vegetarians, pescetarians, and vegans amongst us — in particular, I’m fairly flummoxed by the cuts of meat at the boucherie…anybody found a good guide to French cuts of beef and pork and what to do with them?

      There are two butchers in my town, and their shops are mindbogglingly gorgeous…but so are their prices, so I’m a bit stuck with buying animal-based protein at Carrefour or Auchan…and while they say “a braiser”, “a bouiller”, etc., it would be nice to have a little better guidance.

      So what say you, fellow kitchen hounds? What’s your favourite?

      Thanks to all — and thanks to David for allowing my tangent.

    • I’m so glad to see your praise for the 1997 “new” Joy of Cooking! My copy has fallen apart I use it so much! and I never understood the derision it received. Of course, right next to it I also have my mother’s copy of the “classic” JOC. I’m one of those who rarely follows a recipe to the letter, and I often find myself reaching for one or the other for the bare bones of a recipe (proportions, temperature, time) on which I can hang the ingredients and limitations I’m working with (older one for more traditional American recipes, the newer one for more “world cuisine”).

      I think the derision was because people aren’t used to folks messing with ‘classics.’ But the recipes in the edition of Joy of Cooking that I referenced worked, which some of them from previous editions weren’t well-tested. Although to be fair, the previous editions were aimed at a different generation, and perhaps depended more on “cooks intuition.” -dl

    • By the way, I’ve found that feta can be challenging for the “good enough cook” who tends to improvise in the kitchen. Things learned the hard way: however delicious my combination of ingredients, if there’s one too many, the addition of feta will make it taste like vomit. So if I’m using feta I try to stick to no more than three other ingredients–or I strictly follow a recipe from a trusted source! That dressing sounds like just the thing for the tired lettuce of a midwestern winter.

    • my mom gave me jofc for christmas about 15 years ago, and hid money in the pages. she wanted to see if i ever opened the book. i did, and found the money. my sister, did not…

    • Hey David,
      Long time readr, first time poster. You’ve talked about that whole wheat pasta recipe before (farro?). Perhaps you should create a post with the recipe and pics? :) I am interested …

      ciao
      ashwin

    • I saw this post/recipe while I was on vacation and am now getting around to writing it down – even tho I DID bring my copy of “Joy of Cooking” with me when I moved to Italy. I guess this particular recipe never jumped out at me, but since I love feta, this will certainly be on my go-to list from now on. Thanks for sharing!

    • I made this last night and my hubby went nuts for it. I make similar dressings all the time but it never occurred to me to mash the feta with the vinegar like this. I usually make the dressing and sprinkle it in at the end. Made for a great consistency.

      I did have to dramatically cut the amount of water called for, but you mentioned it might vary.

      Thanks!