Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking – What the heck is Halloumi?

This week a friend of ours was nice enough to share the bounty of his vegetable box with us. For those of you not familiar with the concept of veggie boxes, in many places you can sign up to receive weekly boxes from a local farm of whatever fresh produce has been harvested as of late. It’s seasonal, it’s local, it’s typically organic, and the food tends to be spectacular! His delivery also came with a fun looking recipe for Roasted Vegetable salad with Halloumi. One problem, what the heck is Halloumi?

Turns out it’s a cheese and we all know how much I adore cheese so I was totally excited to try something new! I had to do a little research. Turns out Halloumi is a traditional Greek cheese from Cypress that is a hard cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep’s milk. It’s billed as “the grilling cheese” because it has a high melting point. When cooked, the cheese softens and its salty flavor mellows. You can find Halloumi in most stores, certainly whole foods but do check in with your local international foods market as well.

So I took the opportunity to try out two different recipes, one that roasted the cheese in the oven for a salad and the other that pan-fried it as little appetizer bites. Both were delicious. In fact the salad was downright superb, largely I think due to freshness of the vegetables and the dash of amazing red wine vinegar I recently bought (not all vinegars are the same folks! It’s worth investing is some really good ones.) I found Halloumi cheese quite appealing right off the heat when it was soft and tender and it’s flavor was slightly salty but mellow and reminded me a bit of a feta and mozzarella love child. Delightful. However, within minutes as the cheese cools it hardens slightly, becoming chewier and less appealing texturally in my opinion, though depending on your tastes this may be moot. Pairing the cheese with the red wine vinegar in the salad and the lime juice in the appetizer was really successful as the acid helped balance the cheese. Overall, I really liked both these dishes and I would definitely try Halloumi again, though I might stand over the stove to eat it quickly while it’s nice and hot and soft!

Roasted Green Bean Salad with Halloumi Cheese
Adapted from Terra Firma Farm

1/2 lb green beans, trimmed, washed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 red onion, sliced into 2 inch thin strips
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, diced
1 c packed basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
2 tbsp of good red wine vinegar
1 container of Halloumi cheese (8-12oz)

Toss the green beans in 2 tbsp of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange on baking sheet in one layer.  Cook at 425º for 20 minutes, tossing every 5-8 minutes, until slightly browned. About half way through cooking the beans, add the onions and garlic to the same baking sheet and toss well to combine. Return to the oven to finish cooking.
Brush both side of the cheese with olive oil and place in the center of a separate baking sheet. Cook at 425º for about 20 minutes, flipping half way through. Both sides of the cheese sound brown. Cook a longer if necessary.
While the vegetables and cheese are cooking, dice 4 tomatoes and chop the basil. Set aside in a large serving bowl. When the vegetables are lightly browed and tender, add them to the bowl and toss to combine. Add the red wine vinegar and a bit of freshly ground black pepper while the ingredients are still warm and mix well.
When the cheese is nicely browned on both sides, remove it from the oven and cut it in to chunks, adding it to the salad bowl. Toss with the remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Cook’s Note: this salad would be delightful with or without the Halloumi. You may also substitute feta or fresh mozzarella, though skip the baking step for the cheese if you substitute either of these in.

Halloumi Appetizer Bites
Adapted from Nigella

3 tbsp garlic oil (store bought or make your own)
2 limes, juiced
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 block of Halloumi cheese (8-12oz), sliced

In a shallow serving dish, whisk lime juice, garlic oil and parsley. Set aside.

Slice the Halloumi into 1/4 inch thick strips and then cut each in half again. You are looking for pieces that are two bits worth. Don’t worry if the cheese flakes and breaks into smaller pieces. Heat a nonstick pan to medium high heat and dry fry the slices to brown on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. As the slices are done, add them directly to the lime juice and oil mixture and toss to coat. Serve immediately and hot!
Cooks Note: to make your own garlic oil, peel and then with the palm of your hand smush two or three garlic cloves. Add the garlic pieces along with ¼ cup olive oil to a small sauce pan and heat over low heat for 5-10 minutes. You want the garlic to infuse the oil so the oil should bubble slight around each garlic piece, but take care not to fry the garlic. Once the garlic begins to get a hint of brown, take the oil off the heat and remove the garlic. This isn’t a dish to walk away from. It only take a moment to burn garlic which doesn’t make for very tasty garlic oil.

1 comment:

  1. I love that cheese - I get it when we go to Greek restaurants - love how melty and salty it is - I think I pretty much like any cheese though!

    Great recipes!