Bright, beautiful Halloumi salami


halloumi salad recipe from ripe figs

In the Mediterranean there is the art of eating mezze …

… and I’m still learning that. It goes something like this: Visit a restaurant with friends and everyone order a few meals. Then, for a few hours, eat lightly, enjoying each meal when it comes out, taking a few well-earned digestive breaks in the middle, always ordering more food than any of you can expect to eat in one sitting.

One night in Istanbul, they took me to dinner at a popular pub (a word derived from Persian for wine, alas, and house, khaneh). As the etymology suggests, this is where locals come to drink and eat and where milky white glasses of anise-based brandy are sipped along with hot and cold little plates like stuffed mussels, braised artichokes, grilled sardines and meatballs. We ordered a selection of dishes and when they started going out, I piled them on a plate, greedily dropping one delicacy after another, enjoying the intimacy by picking up the food with my fingers and licking it afterwards. After a while I noticed that my companion hardly touched the plate and I started to feel ashamed. I don’t have to worry; as the night wore on, she ate much more than I did, but as she walked alone, she managed to fit in more. It was a lesson that reminded me of a Turkish proverb, “If you go far, go slowly. “With food so good, it would be stupid not to do that.

This is one of the most popular mezze dishes that I prepare for friends at home and it is the perfect appetizer in my eyes: sweet, salty, crunchy, fried. Halloum rectangles are dusted in semolina or corn grits, sautéed until crispy, drizzled with warm honey infused with thyme and topped with crispy pomegranate seeds. It was inspired by a dish I kept coming back to at a restaurant in Nicosia, Cyprus. Let’s be honest, with fried cheese you can never go wrong.

Halloumi Saganaki
Serves 4, as part of the mezze

10 1/2 ounces of halloumi cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup fine semolina or cornmeal
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon finely chopped
thyme leaves
a few handfuls of arugula leaves
4 to 5 fresh figs, quartered (optional)
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
black pepper

Cut the halloums into 8 thick slices.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and arrange the semolina or cornmeal on a plate. Dip halloumi slices in scrambled egg, then roll them in semolina or corn flour so they have a crust around them.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan until heated, then fry the halloumi pieces for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Place on a paper towel to soak up excess oil.

Meanwhile, heat the honey in a small pot of thyme.

Now assemble the bowl. Place the arugula on a serving plate, and on top arrange the halloums, fig nests, if using them. Drizzle a little hot honey on each slice of halloum. Finish with pomegranate crumbs and grind a little black pepper on top.

Yasmin Khan is a travel writer, human rights activist and author of a new cookbook, Ripe figs: Recipes and stories from Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, exploring the ways in which dishes and traditions migrated across borders through refugees in the eastern Mediterranean.

PS How to make an epic plate with cheese ia rosemary and olive oil cake, which seems like the perfect thing to accompany this salad.

(This essay and recipe were reprinted from Ripe figs Published by WW Norton & Company. All rights reserved.)

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