Rub your fingers across your teeth for a few seconds. Hear anything? Squeak-y, squeak-y. That’s a little bit like the sound and feel you get when you chew cooked Halloumi cheese. Unique to Cyprus, Halloumi is a semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk — or a mix of both — seasoned with mint and soaked in brine. The salty, tangy yet mild tasting Halloumi, whose name stems from the Greek work for salty, “almi,” has a special characteristic: it doesn’t melt. Grill it, fry it, and it doesn’t turn to gooey liquid. Life in Cyprus without it apparently is inconceivable. And I don’t blame them.
Monday night I tasted Halloumi wrapped in prosciutto, cubed in soup, chopped over a beet carpaccio, pan-fried with roasted eggplant, and sandwiched in between quince. Halloumi is versatile, good raw and even more satisfying in its more chewy cooked form. Before then I don’t recall having tried Halloumi cheese, yet it tasted so familiar. It reminded me a lot of Colombian queso blanco, a white, salty and somewhat rubbery cheese that we eat with bocadillo (guava-paste-like sweet) or arepas.
Seemingly I didn’t get enough of the cheese on Monday for last night I was eager to sample it at home and share my discovery with D. The speckles of mint in the cheese might have caused a little skepticism at first, but one bite of the raw Halloumi got D asking for more. The final dish — grilled Halloumi and lemons with a lemon-garlic-dill vinaigrette — was an even bigger hit. The lemons accentuate the tang of the cheese and cut through its saltiness. And you’ll just want to peel off and eat the golden, crisp crust that forms on the cheese. Another plus: the grilled lemons flood your home with a warming citrusy scent. With tropical storm Noel’s winds, we had to use the indoor grill.
Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Lemon
Adapted from Gourmet
Ingredients– Lemons, 2
– Halloumi cheese, 1/2 lb. cut into 1/3-inch triangles
– Garlic, 1 large clove minced
– Salt, 1/4 teaspoon
– Sugar, 1/4 teaspoon
– Olive oil, 1/4 cup
– Fresh dill, 2 tablespoons finely chopped
1. Prepare a gas grill for direct-heat cooking over moderately high heat.
2. Cut 8 thin slices from lemons. From remainder, squeeze juice to measure 2 tablespoons and put in a bowl.
3. Mash minced garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt using side of a large heavy knife. Add to lemon juice. Whisk in salt and sugar until dissolved, then add 1/4 cup oil, whisking until combined.
4. Separately toss lemon slices and cheese each with 1/2 tablespoon of the dressing.
5. Grill cheese and lemon slices on grill rack, covered, turning over once until grill marks appear on cheese and lemons begin to wilt
6. Whisk dill into remaining dressing. Divide cheese among four small plates, top with lemon slices and drizzle with dressing. Serve immediately.
The original recipe calls for four 3/4-inch slices of country or peasant-style bread, which is brushed lightly with olive oil and grilled with the cheese and lemons until toasted. The cheese is served on the bread.
More things you can do with Halloumi cheese
– Eat it raw and alone.
– Eat it raw with watermelon. This is, I was told, is a traditional way Cypriots eat it.
– Cut it into cubes and mix it into salads.
– Grill it and top it with tomatoes, maybe even grill those too.
– Serve it pan-fried with eggs.
– Grate it and sprinkle it on pastas or pizza.
– Fry it and dress it with chili oil.
You can buy Halloumi cheese at Whole Foods Market.
[tags] Halloumi cheese, Cyprus, food [/tags]