My son’s request is the easiest to deal with as he could easily eat it raw. I’d like to think it was down to a textural thing but as he locks his teeth in, one bite seemingly transforms him into a mouse, such is the well-known sound that the cheese makes. I have since managed to convince him that the briefest of scorching is a good thing, just to harden up the halloumi a little. He still likes to jump around like a small woodland creature whenever it gets dished up though.
My daughter has a preference for smoke to go with her unripened, brined cheese and doesn’t quite understand why I can’t fire up the BBQ every time we have it. Nor can she understand that you can’t really bring a BBQ into the house without an adequate extraction system. Or that sometimes halloumi, a large flat mushroom and a drizzle of pesto is a speedy, vegetarian alternative to a burger. Especially when done in a pan. ‘Alright,’ she’ll sniff. ‘But I only want it cooked on one side.’
My wife, well, she likes her halloumi burnt. Why, I do not know. But having been caught out by the ol’ unwatched pan adage in the past, I have been stopped on the way to the bin before, holding a pan complete with smoldering slices of despair and asked ‘What are you doing? I’ll eat that.’ ‘I’ve burnt the halloumi though,’ I’ll reply, slightly flabbergasted but more often than not, she’ll take the pan and pop the remnants into her mouth for a charcoal fix.
Whether this was a game or some curious health kick, I am not sure but thankfully, all the incidents I’ve just described were actually one-offs from the past. Our little journey in developing a taste for certain Hellenic dairy if you will. And if my family had kept these little quirks up, like I said rustling up three contrasting preferences for halloumi, cooked like steak almost, would be a nightmare.
These days we all speak from the same page, all happy to eat halloumi fried to tanned and mottled perfection but just lately, I have been pushing the boat out by marinating it first. Given the salty kick that it often delivers, it might seem hard to believe you can infuse any sort of flavours into this much heralded cheese but you can with lemon, garlic and za'atar; that special middle Eastern blend of oregano, thyme and savory.
The key to making sure that this works, is again to keep an eye on the time because if you let it steep for too long, the acids from the citrus will start to break the cheese down. So leave for an hour or two, tops. Tying in the mint, sweet red onion and pomegranate relish also helps cut through the brackish edge and adds some vibrant colour to the dish and when we tried this recently, I served it up with a handsome and filling bulgar wheat salad and some smoked chicken. But this would go down just as well, served up in some wraps, with some fresh herbs and some of that relish.
Just don’t burn your halloumi. Unless you also know someone weird, who likes to eat it that way.
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.
Marinated halloumi with a mint, pomegranate and red onion relish and bulgur wheat salad - serves 4 (without the chicken!)
2 x 250g packs of halloumi, each sliced into eight
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbs extra virgin olive oil
For the red onion and pomegranate relish
3 large red onions, sliced
50mls pomegranate molasses
1tbs red wine vinegar
1 pomegranate, seeds popped out
1 tbs mint leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to season
For the bulgur wheat salad
250g coarse bulgur wheat
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
Small bunch of spring onions, sliced
2 tbs mint, roughly chopped
2 tbs parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
50ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season
Extra mint, for garnish
First, place the sliced halloumi in a bowl, add the marinade ingredients and gently mix together. Cover and leave for an hour at room temperature.
Once the vinegar has evaporated, add the pomegranate molasses and stir, reducing some more for a minute or 2, until the onions become sticky and jammy. Sprinkle in some mint, stir through and set aside
Drain and leave to cool before adding the tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and herbs. Mix together then add the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, stirring again to combine. Taste for seasoning
When you are good to go, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium to high heat and add the halloumi slices around the pan in a clockwise fashion. Keeping a watchful eye, flip the halloumi so that both sides fry up nice and crisp, but not too brown!