We first encountered fried cheese a couple of decades ago when George (may he rest) owned the eponymous G’s Restaurant here in Warwick. It didn’t matter how busy he was, if you ordered something Greek, G would come over and sit down, and talk about the food and his relatives, and memories of his childhood. Even if I hadn’t liked the hummus and baba ganoush, the pita, dolma and fried halloumi, I would have ordered the mezze platter just to visit with George.
We all adored this salty, semi-firm cheese. It has a high melting point, so can be grilled or broiled or fried and hold its shape. And, as we all know, cheese with a browned crust is always welcome! My kids have loved it since they were very little.
I drove down to DC this past weekend to visit, and we all had supper together at Zaytinya, a Jose Andres restaurant not far from Brian’s apartment. When we saw the halloumi salad on the menu, it was a no-brainer. We were all very happy.
The following day, I got to ride up to Baltimore with Meg in her new car, Dr. Oliver Sacks. I loved her new apartment in a neighborhood near Johns Hopkins. Her roommate Anna and musical partner, Elizabeth, were rehearsing for a gig and we got to enjoy a bit of their wonderful music after a bite of lunch. And guess what these clever young women made for lunch? You guessed right, fried halloumi!!
So, as you can see, the universe was speaking to me about halloumi, and I wanted, no needed to make it asap! I’ve occasionally found it at specialty stores, but I can’t get it here in Warwick. Last summer, ShopRite stocked something quite similar, and much less expensive. It was called “Grilling Cheese.” But I hadn’t seen any of that lately, either. When I got to the cheese counter, I asked a woman who was stocking the case. She said they haven’t had it in months, but that they’d just gotten a box, which she sliced open on the spot, and handed me a package. See? The universe, again!
So, you can make this with halloumi, if you can find it. Or with Grilling Cheese. Or paneer. And rumor has it that you can use full fat mozzarella, but I haven’t tried it yet.
When I first prepared this recipe for Bob, he took a few bites, and announced: Oh, my f*****g god!
Life is Good, Fry Some Cheese
Serves 2; multiply as you wish
6 slices halloumi, grilling cheese, paneer, or full fat mozzarella
4 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. pomegranate molasses, thick aged balsamic, or balsamic glaze
¼ cup honey**
4 dates, pitted and sliced (medjool are best)
2 small oranges, peeled and sliced
¼ cup shelled, roasted pistachios
big handful of baby kale, baby arugula, or other greens
Coarse sea salt, to taste
**I used some comb honey I was given by a beekeeping friend. Any mild honey will be delicious. If you haven’t experimented with local honey, I hope you will!
Choose a heavy, nonstick skillet. Add 2 tbs. of the oil, and place over medium high heat for a minute or so. Add the cheese, making sure the pieces are not touching. Fry for 2 minutes or so, checking often; turn the slices when the bottoms are spotty brown. Repeat on second side, removing as browned to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Line a platter with the kale or arugula. Arrange the cheese, orange slices, and dates over the greens. Drizzle with the pom molasses or balsamic and the remaining olive oil, then the honey. Sprinkle over the pistachios and salt. Serve immediately.
Alternative: These cheeses are equally good grilled. You may use either an indoor or outdoor grill, make sure the grates and the cheese are well oiled to discourage sticking. Watch carefully for doneness, cheese browns fast!
Variation: Fried or grilled cheeses are a great basis for a mezze platter. Some wonderful accompaniments: hummus, baba ganoush, cucumber, tomato, dolma (stuffed grape leaves), grilled veggies, and/or pita wedges.