A guest blog by, Madeline McLean (sister)
Since living in London, and traveling once to Syria, I have been involved in a some what serious love affair with a rather specific kind of cheese: halloumi. Nicknamed appropriately as the “squeaky cheese”, halloumi is a breed of its own. Not categorized as a hard cheese, nor a soft one either per-se, it is actually more rubbery than anything else and is characterized (and ultimately adored) for its salty taste. Halloumi is most well known for taking serendipitously to the grill, as it is commonly prepared in the Middle East, though it can also be served au-natural in cubes or slices. I can highlight thousands of methods for serving, which is why this cheese is so beloved by many a fromage-avore – or generally anyone for that matter.
I enjoyed halloumi (or pronounced hall-oom) in Syria for breakfast, lunch and dinner as a traditional component to the mezze spread (or mazza). Preferred hot off the grill and drizzled with olive oil, set over a bed of fresh thyme (only in Syria, thyme is like American thyme on steroids, with long broad leaves that can be munched like arugula). At London falafel stands, halloumi is regularly stuffed in falafel wraps amongst scoops of hummus, tahini and pickle. Likewise, halloumi is often the representative for the vegetarian option – as it is quite hearty and satisfying – in many a pub or café, where I have seen it in a burger, wrap or sandwich guise. Easily reproducible at home, one can pan-fry or grill slabs of halloumi, sandwich it between a couple pieces of ciabatta, or wrap it in a pita and treat it as if it were a burger: pile on the veggies, lettuce, pickles & condiments.
My favorite halloumi dishes are typically salads, where the options are literally endless. Jamie Oliver’s strawberry with speck & halloumi is incredible. It is also great over a bed of lentils or quinoa and grilled vegetables, with slices of beefsteak tomatoes and basil, or in the place of feta in a Greek-type salad. Below I made a simple summer salad in about 15 minutes using cherry tomatoes, Armenian cucumber and a basil mint & caper dressing. For me, it’s all in the dressing when in comes to such a simple dish – plus, halloumi takes very well herbs and spices.
Halloumi Summer Salad
Makes 4 servings
Slice 8 ounces of halloumi into about 8-10 pieces (you want them to be thick slices so as to withstand grilling). I like the brand Mt. Vikos Halloumi from Cyprus.
If pan frying: over medium heat, place the halloumi in a non-stick frying pan with just a touch of olive oil. Be frugal with the olive oil as the cheese naturally sweats therefore leaving a fair amount of liquid, leaving the oil mostly futile.
If grilling: the cheese will stick, so lightly dust the grill with olive or vegetable oil before placing the halloumi on the grill rack.
For both methods: wait until each side is relatively browned before flipping—the crispier the better in my opinion. Once the slices are finished, set aside.
Once the halloumi is cooked using either method, chop about 1 cup of whole cherry tomatoes and about the same amount of cucumber (if you are using another sort of cucumber, de-seed first).
Place the chopped tomatoes and cucumbers in a medium salad bowl.
Finley chop several stalks of each: basil, mint & chive (here, it is fine to be inaccurate, as long as you end up with at least 2-3 tablespoons of the chopped herb medley). Next, roughly chop about 1 ½ teaspoons capers. Combine herbs and capers in a small Mason jar or Pyrex measurer. Add the zest of 1 lemon, plus a splash of lemon juice.
Then, drizzle about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (or to taste). Finish with a hefty crack of pepper & a sprinkle of sea salt and mix all together to finish the dressing.
You can either tear your halloumi into bit-sized hunks, or roughly chop into squares to add to your mélange of tomatoes and cucumber. To finish, pour the dressing over the top and mix.
This salad is not noteworthy for its creativity, but it sure brings out the flavors of summer veggies and the all-too-lovable taste of halloumi, the squeaky cheese.