Bright, Bold Bouyourdi

Warm, creamy feta quells the blaze of chiles in this crowd-pleasing taverna classic.

Published June 5, 2023.

Bouyourdi is a dish that belongs in the middle of the table. Thessaloniki’s beloved meze—an earthenware dish of punchy tomatoes, olive oil, sweet and hot peppers, and oregano crowned with a collapsing block of feta cheese—is vibrant and undeniably convivial, inviting diners to dive in. 

“Feta with tomato, pepper, and olive oil—this is the perfect combination to eat with bread,” Aglaia Kremezi, Greek culinary authority and cookbook author, declared.

And it’s not just the eating of bouyourdi that is a collaborative effort. The recipe itself is quintessentially Thessalonian, which is to say it is the product of the cultural exchange that has unfolded in the Greek port city for thousands of years. 

Thessaloniki and the Politiki Kouzina

For more than two thousand years, Thessaloniki, Greece, has been a center of trade and cultural exchange—a history one can taste in the city’s distinctive cuisine. Dine in the port city, and you’ll find not only tzatziki, horiatiki, and other Greek standards but also the food of the Politiki Kouzina, or the cuisine of the city of Constantinople. Introduced to the region by the Greeks who relocated from Asia Minor and the Black Sea following political upheaval in the 1920s, this culinary repertoire is marked by richness, warm spices, and heat. Signature dishes include soutzoukakia (meatballs in a cinnamon-and-cumin-spiced tomato sauce); ktipiti (a spicy whipped feta dip); and, of course, bouyourdi.

“In Thessaloniki, we have more cuisine that came through what was once Constantinople [modern-day Istanbul],” explained Irini Tzortzoglou, Greek chef, winner of MasterChef UK 2019, and author of Under the Olive Tree: Recipes from my Greek Kitchen (2020). “This Politiki Kouzina [cuisine of the city] tends to be richer and spicier.”

The magnetic combination of face-flushing peppers and soothingly tangy feta has solidified bouyourdi as both a favorite taverna order and a go-to dish to make at home. It’s as unfussy as can be, requiring only a handful of ingredients and minimal knife work.

Feta with tomato, pepper, and olive oil—this is the perfect combination to eat with bread.
Aglaia Kremezi, Greek culinary authority and cookbook author 

To Taste

When I asked Tzortzoglou if she could outline the fundamentals of bouyourdi—how the ingredients should be prepared; how they should be arranged in the baking dish—she chuckled. “There are no hard and fast rules,” she explained. “If you went to Thessaloniki and tried bouyourdi from five different tavernas, you’d have five different versions.”

A deep dive into recipes for the dish proved Tzortzoglou’s point. Some called for only feta, tomatoes, peppers, olive oil, and oregano, while others featured more ingredients, such as garlic, onions, or shredded kasseri cheese. These components might be neatly layered or scattered atop or below the feta. And the cooking methods ran the gamut as well, with different recipes instructing to bake the bouyourdi in a covered dish, an uncovered dish, or even simply a foil packet. “It’s all down to your personal taste and how you intend to eat it,” Tzortzoglou said.

Pantry Staples Pack a Punch

Bouyourdi is a near‑effortless recipe—made even simpler by the fact that two of its ingredients, chile flakes and oregano, are probably already in your pantry. Here’s a little more on how each of these staples enhances the dish.


Heat is a crucial element in bouyourdi. Fresh chiles supply grassy, vegetal spiciness, but chile flakes are just as important, contributing subtle fruity, raisiny notes. The most traditional versions of the dish rely on bukovo, a chile flake ubiquitous in Thessaloniki, but red pepper flakes work just as well.


The earthy, peppery flavor of oregano is a hallmark of Greek cuisine. While we often prefer the flavor of fresh herbs in recipes, dried is preferred here. Because oregano is native to hot, dry climates, it has evolved to withstand warm and arid conditions. This means that the herb’s flavor compounds are less volatile—so they retain much more of their flavor when dried, unlike more delicate herbs with more volatile flavor compounds. 

For my bouyourdi, I envisioned a warm, creamy baked feta that would yield to a spoon. With a goal of centering the savory, juicy glories of in-season tomatoes, I’d stick to just the essentials, eschewing added alliums and cheeses. And I’d aim for a noticeably spicy heat balanced by the cheese and olive oil.

A Flavorful Foundation

In the European Union, only Greek-made cheeses crafted according to PDO requirements may be labeled “feta.” One of those requirements is that the feta must be composed of at least 70 percent sheep’s milk, resulting in a bold, gamy, and complex cheese. While cow’s milk versions of feta are common in the United States (and are still delicious in this dish), it was well worth seeking out the traditional Greek sheep’s-milk feta for that added range of flavors.

The mild pepper in the dish is traditionally the Florina, a horn-shaped variety from the fertile Macedonia region. Florinas are sweet and tame, making the bell pepper an acceptable stateside substitute (I opted for green, for its added pleasant grassiness).

Bouyourdi’s spice is two-pronged. A fresh chile, usually small and potent, provides vegetal, citrusy heat (I liked the moderate heat of a longhorn chile, but half a jalapeño works just as well), and a sprinkle of bukovo, the dried pepper flakes that are ubiquitous in Thessaloniki, contributes subtle, raisiny notes (red pepper flakes make a good substitute). 

No Feta Brine? Make Your Own

The amount of brine you get when you buy feta can vary from a lot to none at all. If there isn’t enough brine to submerge your feta, it’s worth making your own, as the salty liquid increases the cheese’s shelf life. Instead of making a simple salt and water brine (which can dry out the cheese and make it taste oversalted with time), we recommend creating a brine featuring milk and vinegar to replicate the calcium and acetic acid in commercial brines. –Lan Lam


Mix 1/2 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup water, 11/2 teaspoons table salt, and 1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar. Place the feta in the brine in an airtight container and refrigerate for one week or use it to top off your container of feta in brine if the liquid level has dropped below the top of the cheese.

Building a Fire

In assembling the dish, I aimed for a bouyourdi that would be both handsome and easy to dip into and spoon onto bread. I had a couple of options when it came to arranging the dish’s components in their small baking dish. A version with the ingredients neatly sliced and layered was eye-catching, but it was difficult to capture the slices and fit them onto the bread. Chopping the vegetables, mixing them together, pouring them into the bottom of the baking dish, and placing the block of feta on top was much more manageable—but the plain white block looked bare. So I combined the two approaches, chopping the bulk of the vegetables and using them as a base for the feta and then placing a couple tomato slices and chile rings atop the cheese. 

After drizzling the whole assembly with a tablespoon of olive oil and topping with a smidge more oregano, I covered the dish with foil, trapping moisture and allowing the vegetables to steam and soften. After 25 minutes in the oven, I removed the foil and cranked up my broiler, sliding the dish back in for a quick blast of heat. Once the edges of the tomato and chile were browned, I removed the bouyourdi from the oven and added a final flourish of bukovo. It barely made it to the center of my dinner table before the dish was wiped clean.

Serve bouyourdi alongside other meze as a meal or as a sharable appetizer.

Bouyourdi (Spicy Greek Baked Feta)

Warm, creamy feta quells the blaze of chiles in this crowd-pleasing taverna classic.
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