Yesterday I told you how to make mint yoghurt, with a straightforward recipe. Today is day two of the Birthday trilogy and I’m indulging that dip with a little bit of halloumi, the Mediterranean cheese found in Greek and Lebanese restaurants or otherwise known as the hard, squeaky cheese which people buy for vegetarians during BBQ season. It’s also a word that isn’t featured in my iMac’s spellchecker dictionary, so it keeps on getting corrected to ‘helium’, just in case you see any peculiar references to grilling or eating helium later on.
Halloumi is a really special piece of work, a unique cheese which stands in the face of how you believe cheese should exist and be consumed. It is also stablemates with avocados, because they share one defining characteristic, which is that they have a very narrow window of opportunity during which they are at their prime for consumption.
Avocados have that frustratingly tedious habit of being rock hard for days on end, then finally soften before almost immediately turning into a blackened mush. There’s a very finite period during which you reach ‘peak’ avocado and you have to seize upon them quickly when it’s there, rather than hoping the avocados will hang around to fit in with your schedule. That would just be wishful thinking, but sadly they’re just not that kind of fruit.
Halloumi has that similarly frustrating characteristic, although this time it’s not so much about when it’s ripe, but how quickly you can get it from saucepan to plate and into your gob. You need to know how to cook halloumi perfectly, or you could be unintentionally dumbing down an otherwise great experience. When it’s hot from the pan, halloumi is soft, silken and verging on an oxymoron because it’s melted cheese that still has texture, rather than being reduced to stringy goo or molten liquid, it retains it’s shape and still has a firmness that you can work against.
But this doesn’t last long. Once your cheese has gone from pan to plate, it’s losing heat every second, with every centigrade that it cools, that lovely silken texture is evaporating, only to be replaced with a rubbery, squeakier-than-a-mouse, salty cheese. It’s like night and day, if you eat it cold for the first time you’ll no doubt be disappointed, wondering what all the fuss is about. But get it hot and you’ve just hit the jackpot.
So, with that warning in mind, I’ll leave you with the recipe and hopefully you now understand the haste with which you must serve this dish, your diligence is imperative and will be amply rewarded by the cheese gods (and your diners).
Hot halloumi slices with mint yoghurt
By Gavin Wren
Uses a frying pan
1 bowl mint yoghurt
50g small mixed leaves
Optional lemon slices to garnish
Heat a frying pan over a medium heat for several minutes, so that it’s reached a good heat across the entire pan.
Meanwhile, slice the Halloumi into even slices. Prepare your plates for service with a small pile of leaves in the middle of each one. Either have the mint yoghurt ready at the table for diners to serve themselves, or be ready to slather it on the plates yourself.
Add a drizzle of oil to your frying pan, then add the halloumi slices one by one, arranging them in a circle, clockwise in the pan. Allow them to fry for a few minutes, periodically checking the underside to make sure they don’t burn. I can’t give you an exact time as it will vary a lot, just check them every 30 seconds or so. Once they’ve taken on a browned colour, flip them over and cook for another couple of minutes. Beware that the second side cooks quicker than the first side, so these will brown much quicker.
When ready, place the slices on your plates, serve and consume with great haste.