Saganaki Is The Cheesy Greek Appetizer That Will Satisfy All Your Cravings

Cheese lovers, get ready to meet the appetizer of your dreams. If gooey stringy mozzarella sticks are your jam, wait until you meet the deliciousness that is saganaki. Greek saganaki delivers satisfying bites of cheese that have been coated, fried, and topped with a squeeze of lemon, eaten alongside classic dishes like Greek salad and crusty bread. The cheesy appetizer is served hot, so cutting into it yields an oozy, melting middle that can set the pace for the rest of the meal.

The name saganaki references the name of the small heavy frying pan traditionally used to make this dish. Visit a Greek restaurant in America to order the cheesy meze starter, which may arrive at the table aflame — a dramatic effect credited to Chicago's Parthenon restaurant in the 1960s. While exclaiming "Opa!," waitstaff would douse the dish with alcohol before setting it ablaze, and also ring shepherds' bells for added flair. Both dish and performance were popular among customers and lines formed outside, with the restaurant serving glasses of ouzo to those waiting their turn. Though the fired-up plates are less likely to be spotted in Greece, the dish itself is frequently shared a little less flamboyantly among friends or family at restaurants and taverns from Athens to the islands.

A perfect storm of taste, presentation, and texture

One of the best parts of saganaki is that you don't need much prep work to sink your teeth into the cheesy starter. In under ten minutes, you'll have an impressive-looking dish dressed up with your choices of honey, a sprinkling of herbs, or fig jam, bringing a bit of Mediterranean flavor into your home.

Choosing the right cheese to fry up or pan sear is key when preparing saganaki, however. Too soft, and the cheese will melt all over your pan; too firm, and you won't be able to tuck into this appetizer easily. Greeks reach for local cheeses that deliver gentle nuttiness, like graviera or kefalotyri. For the perfect presentation, mildly firm cheeses like kefalograviera or kasseri offer the right thickness and consistency that hold form when fried. While it may take some hunting to find one of these authentic Greek cheeses to prepare the dish, you could use tangy halloumi, paneer, or feta as substitutes. The flavor will be different, but you'll have a solid hunk of cheese to fry.

If you want to get fancy for your next dinner party, flambée the saganaki for your friends. Flaming presentations are a bit of a magic trick, as the cheese is prepared beforehand then placed onto a pan or plate to be torched, by lighting alcohol poured around it. If this sounds like too much work, saganaki will hold its own without pyrotechnics, as the drool-worthy dish commands attention simply from being so tasty.