Halloumi — Off the Beaten Aisle

By: J.M. Hirsch
grilled cheese salad

You’ll probably feel pretty stupid calling it “squeaky cheese,” but as soon as you take a bite you’ll understand why it makes sense.

Sometimes called Greek grilling cheese, halloumi is just that — a dense cheese that holds its shape and won’t drip through the grates when grilled.

And when you chew it? It makes a squeaky sound against your teeth.

Luckily, mouth noises aren’t the real selling point of this cheese. Taste and versatility are what will drive you to find this relative of feta cheese.

Traditionally made from sheep’s milk on the island of Cyprus, halloumi today often is made from a blend of milk from of sheep, goats and cows.

The taste is tangy and salty with a mild “milky” flavor — all characteristics that make it an excellent base for other flavors.

Now, as to that melting thing. Or rather, lack of.

Halloumi is one of a small class of cheeses that do not melt when heated. Others include Latin cuisine’s queso blanco and queso de freir, and India’s paneer.

While these cheeses will soften when heated, they won’t change their shape. And it has nothing to do with fat content.

It’s all a matter of acid. A cheese with lots of acid or very little acid won’t melt. Halloumi has lots, which is why you really can toss it directly on the grill.

Halloumi is popular throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where it often is cubed and threaded on skewers for grilling.

So what should you do with it?

• Cut the halloumi into bite-sized cubes, then pan fry them in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned. Season with black pepper, then use as croutons in a salad or over tomato soup.

• Take your cue from the Middle East and thread large cubes of halloumi on skewers with marinated vegetables, steak or chicken, then grill.

• Cut the halloumi into ½-inch slabs, then grill over direct heat (outdoor grill or in a grill pan) until softened and lightly browned. Top with sautéed vegetables, especially onions, peppers and tomatoes with garlic.

• Add finely diced halloumi to vats of chili or chicken soup.

• Use thin rounds of pan-grilled halloumi in place of bread for serving appetizers (topped with whatever you like).

• Feeling indulgent? Cut the halloumi into thick sticks, then dredge through egg and panko breadcrumbs, then fry in oil.

Grilled Cheese Salads

Feel free to take this salad in any direction that feels right. I kept it simple to let each ingredient shine, but add anything else that appeals to you.

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
8.8-ounce package halloumi cheese
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
4 ears corn, husks removed
1 medium red onion, halved
2 apples (any variety), halved and cored
Olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the grill to high.

Prepare the ingredients for the grill. Slice the halloumi into 4 equal slabs. Carefully thread the tomatoes onto wooden skewers. Brush the corn, onion halves and apple halves with olive oil.

Place the corn on the grill and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the corn, then add the apples and onions, cut side down, and grill for another 5 minutes.

Add the cheese and grill for 3 minutes, then flip the cheese, turn the corn, add the tomatoes and grill for another minute or two.

Transfer everything to a plate and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together ¼ cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble each salad, set a slab of halloumi on each serving plate.

Cut the kernels off the corn. To do this, one at a time stand each ear on its wide end and use a serrated knife to saw down the length of it.

Roughly chop the onion and apples.

In a medium bowl, gentle toss together the corn kernels, tomatoes (removed from the skewers), onions and apples. Drizzle with half of the dressing and toss.

Mound a quarter of the salad mixture over each slab of halloumi, then sprinkle with lemon zest and additional dressing.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 610 calories; 420 calories from fat (63 percent of total calories); 46 g fat (18 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 24 g protein; 6 g fiber; 1,410 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at jmhirsch.

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