My unbridled appetite and undying devotion--that's what the squeaky cheese gets.
If you've never tried halloumi from Cyprus, you may be wondering how I could carry on so epically about a cheese.
Once you do try it, however, you may wonder what meaning your former life ever had.
Traditionally, halloumi's made by dipping fresh sheep and goat's milk curds into hot water, kneading them with chopped mint, shaping them into small, rounded bricks that resemble tofu (or cocaine), and then brining them in saltwater.
A high melting point allows for slicing and cooking with no oozing out of shape. Introduce no more than the heat of a grill or a dry pan and the slices' outsides mottle brown, their insides turn luscious, and they squeak against your teeth in a most delightful way.
Salty, for sure, but also milky sweet, halloumi begs for a squeeze of lemon and a bright and colorful sidekick--like this couscous salad that wants for nothing. (Except for maybe the bottle of Santorini that never made it to its photo shoot.)
Don't let the ex-pat cheese's price tag--which hovers around $10 a package--dissuade you. That's still less than a dinner centered around pastured chicken or grass-fed beef. Plus, any leftovers can be eaten for breakfast with watermelon slices as the Cypriots do.
Why are you still sitting there?
Squeak it up.
Couscous salad with halloumi cheese and za'atar pita
Serves 3 (4 if you're miserly with the cheese)
- 1 cup whole wheat couscous, cooked and cooled to room temperature
- 1/3 of an English cucumber, diced
- 1/2 of a large sweet bell pepper, diced
- a dozen pitted kalamata olives, sliced
- a large handful of grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1 small avocado, diced
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, divided
- a blob of apricot preserves
- zest and juice of one lemon, divided
- 2 Tbsp. red wine, sherry, cider, or rice vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 1/2 box of baby arugula or other salad greens
- 2 whole wheat pita breads
- 2 Tbsp. za'atar
- pinch of aleppo pepper (optional)
- 1 package of halloumi, drained and cut into 1/4-in. slices
- flat-leaf parsley and fresh mint, chopped for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine everything from the couscous through the avocado and season plentifully with salt and pepper.
In a small jar, combine the preserves with all of the lemon zest and half of its juice (set the other half aside for later), the vinegar, the olive oil, and another pinch of salt and pepper. Shake the dressing until homogenous and pour it over the salad, folding gently to combine. Heap your greens on top, holding off on tossing them until just before serving, because nothing ruins a good time like limp greens.
Dress up your pita with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the za'atar (plus a smidgen of aleppo pepper if you're feeling spicy) and snuggle them together in an aluminum foil pouch. Place in the oven until pitas are warm and pillowy, about 10 minutes.
Just before you are ready to eat, set a large skillet over medium heat. Dry-fry the halloumi slices for 2-3 minutes on each side, until they're brown, crispy, and outrageously appealing.
Cut your pita into wedges and squeeze the reserved lemon half over them as well as over the fried halloumi.
Divvy up the goodies as fairly as possible on plates mounded with couscous salad that you've decorated with parsley and mint.