There are few things quite like cheese browned in the oven, the bubbly, deliciously savoury golden crust.
What if I told you that there is a way to get that golden deliciousness all over the cheese and then have it on your plate – without the oven, melted mess and sloppiness? Would you believe me? I hope so, because it’d be sad to miss out on something as amazing as fried – or grilled! – halloumi cheese.
Halloumi originates from Cyprus, and is made of goat and/or sheep’s milk, often also mixed with cows’ milk, and the uniquely wonderful thing about it is its ‘squeaky’ texture when it’s raw – and the fact that it stays in one coherent soft and cheesy piece when fried or grilled, while browning all around in the best melted-cheese fashion.
Sounds a little exotic, but thanks to its ever-expanding popularity, most Western European (and probably American as well) supermarkets I’ve looked in have at least one variety, and often even a selection of it, so acquiring your grilling cheese is easy. Here in Sweden a 150g block (about enough for 2 people’s lunch salads) runs 20-30 Swedish krona (2-3€) on average, but I imagine prices will vary between countries.
I have tried both, grilled and fried versions of this, and I must admit that it is a hard choice to say which one I like better, but if cooking indoors and in a hurry, a nonstick pan and a bit of oil is a far faster fix than firing up the barbecue on a balcony, or even heating up the cast-iron grill pan.
I won’t bother lecturing you on the sort of things you should eat it with, because frankly, it goes with any sort of salad that I can imagine (with the exception of perhaps sweet Oriental dressings), and perfectly well in a sandwich, or even on its own, as finger food laid out on a plate. So, I will stick with general directions of how to prepare it, and the rest is really up to you. It goes magnificently well with acidic foods – tomatoes, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and I imagine it’d not go amiss with some citrus in the salad, perhaps grapefruit pieces or such. I think that of quick-prep dishes, and all-season foods, this is one of my all-time favorites, and also one of the most versatile – as a warm topping to a cold salad in summer, or as a vegetarian dish (for the vegetarians you know) at your barbecue, or else as a sandwich filler, or with a side of warm potatoes or even some herbed, buttered gnocci in colder weather, and I could go on and on…
But, the how-to is both, simple and easy.
- Take your halloumi block. It is usually sold in a plastic pouch filled with a bit of brine, just like Feta. Cut open the pouch over the sink (unless you like a wet mess on your countertop), and blot the cheese dry with a paper towel.
- Cut the cheese with a sharp knife into crosswise slices 5mm-1cm thick (your preference, I aim somewhere between the two myself).
- Preheat a nonstick pan on medium heat and put a little bit of oil of your choice in it. I have used anything from butter to extra-virgin olive oil, and plain refined vegetable oil, but I found that what I like best is cold-pressed edible rapeseed (Canola) oil. It has a very gentle nutty aroma, and adds a gorgeous golden shade to the frying cheese. I use 1-2 tablespoons of oil per block of cheese, but that, too, is up to you in the end.
- Once oil is hot, put your cheese slices into the pan, leaving about 1cm space between them at the very least (they will expand in area as they cook), and let them fry for a few minutes, checking occasionally until the underside is a desired golden color. Flip and fry on other side.
- Chili (fresh, chopped or dry flakes), chopped garlic, and dried thyme or oregano work well as additions during frying. Fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, oregano or coriander leaves are fantastic on the cheese once it’s cooked… but I get ahead of myself here.
- Once cheese is fried, take it out onto a wooden board or a plate with some paper towels and let it cool a minute, then either cut into desired size bits, or just pile into your sandwich/onto your salad plate, and eat. That last bit is what it’s all about after all!