By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Originally from Cyprus, Halloumi cheese was first made during medieval times and professional chefs have used it for centuries. But, this salty cheese is suddenly popular with home cooks. It’s got great buzz in restaurants and home kitchens. If you haven’t cooked with it yet, you want to.
Halloumi is a white cheese with a texture similar to mozzarella but it has a high heat tolerance. The taste is saltier than mozzarella and actually can be frozen in its brine. Traditionally, Halloumi was wrapped in mint leaves as a preservative. Now you can enjoy Halloumi with diced mint and fresh sliced fennel and black olives as a wonderful first course.
Fry the cheese without any oil in a non-stick pan until brown on all sides. In the warmer weather, try Halloumi with watermelon. The salty taste balances well with the sugars of the refreshing chilled melon. Here’s a recipe to get you started.
Halloumi with Sautéed Fennel
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium fennel bulb, cored and cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 ¼ cups)
½ medium yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ¾ cup)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 pitted Kalamata olives, slivered (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ cup minced fresh mint
8 ounces Halloumi cheese, cut into ¼- to 3/8-inch thick slices
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy, 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add the fennel and onions and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften (but don’t let them brown),
4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and continue to cook until the vegetables soften completely, another 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and stir in the
olives, lemon zest, mint, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
Set a large (preferably 12-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (no oil is necessary) until hot, about 1 minute. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, cook the Halloumi until golden in spots, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side of each slice is golden, about another 2 minutes. Reduce the heat as needed if the Halloumi is browning too fast.
Arrange the Halloumi on a serving platter. Stir the compote and spoon half of it over the Halloumi. Serve immediately with the remaining compote on the side. It’s so delicious with slices of crusty bread warmed in the oven.