Crispy Haloumi Cheese with Dates, Walnuts, and Apples
When I tried to take this dish starring Cypriot sheep's milk cheese off the menu at Zahav, our guests turned into a pack of angry villagers. I can't blame them — there's something so primal delicious about the pairing of crispy and salty warm cheese with sweet and tangy date paste. More than 50,000 European Jewish refugees were detained on Cyprus following World War II, after the British turned away their ships from Palestine. Most of them, including my great grandparents, moved to Israel after independence in 1948, bringing haloumi with them. Haloumi has a high melting point, which makes it great for frying, searing, or grilling. Just make sure to serve the fried cheese right after you cook it. It gets really firm as it cools and your guests will be making squeaking noises as they eat it. There's really no good substitute for haloumi and its ability to take heat. Haloumi is increasingly available in markets.
Combine the dates, walnuts, olive oil, vinegar, a couple pinches of salt, and 1/2 cup hot water in a food processor and puree until smooth. Set the date paste aside.
Film a skillet with canola oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. Arrange the cheese cubes in a single layer in the skillet and cook, turning, until the exteriors are golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.
Spread the date paste over the bottom of a serving plate and add the fried haloumi. Top with the apple, dill, and Urfa pepper, and serve immediately.