Searing-hot oil, brandy and fire make a volatile combination, but flaming saganaki would be nothing without them.
The classic dish will be part of the food lineup at the 45th annual Columbus Greek Festival, slated for Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1 to 4.
Pete Tsirambidis, a consultant with Atlantic Food Distributors in Cleveland, was in town Aug. 24 getting volunteers for the festival acclimated to making the melted-cheese dish.
"It's a show," Tsirambidis said.
It begins with a square of kasseri cheese dipped in water (or an egg wash), flour and tossed in a pan with hot oil.
After the cheese begins to melt, Tsirambidis splashes some brandy on top and tips the pan, causing a burst of flames that engulf the cheese before being quickly extinguished. The fireworks continue when he squirts fresh lemon juice on the kasseri.
After letting the sauce dissipate, it's time to plate the dish. The cheese is served with crispy pita wedges and a side of lemon.
"As long as you know what you're doing, it's OK," Tsirambidis said.
The flaming saganaki is part of an array of rustic Greek dishes for which the festival has become known.
Patrons can take their pick of appetizers, entrees and desserts at the festival from 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 555 N. High St. in downtown Columbus.
Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens age 65 and older and free for ages 12 and younger. A single ticket purchase grants admission all four days.
Whether it's the lamb-chop dinner to such handheld items as a gyro, the range of food should satisfy almost any appetite, said Stacey Stathulis, spokesman for the festival.
Food represents only part of the cultural heritage celebrated at the festival, Stathulis said. Greek music will fill the air and folk dancers will perform across festival grounds throughout the weekend. Visitors will be invited to learn some new steps.
The cathedral, which will be open for tours, will be the place to purchase a wide selection of authentic Greek and locally made merchandise.
"The members of our parish come out in force to give their time to the festival and they really look forward to welcoming the central Ohio community to our house," Stathulis said.