Many meatless proteins—tofu and tempeh, chief among them—have little to no flavor of their own. While they do absorb other flavors easily, and a skilled chef can coax either into a fair imitation of meat, neither one gives the cook much to work with. So for a vegetarian option with a distinctive character, consider halloumi cheese—a Cyproit import with widespread potential.
Thick and spongy, halloumi has a rubbery texture slightly tougher than mozzarella, making a characteristic “squeak” when the teeth bite down on it. Made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, the cheese is salty and slightly tangy, but mild—letting it pair well with a variety of flavors both sweet and savory. And, since it doesn’t melt until very high temperatures, it can be much more versatile than many cheeses, treated like any other protein.
Traditional preparations pan-fry thick slices of the halloumi, as one would an eggplant, or broil them under high heat. The outer skin becomes crispy, while the interior softens just a bit, maintaining its “squeaky” texture. In Cyprus, fresh halloumi is cubed and tossed with watermelon and mint, eaten as a summertime salad. The cubed cheese can also be strung on a skewer and grilled, kabob-style. Halloumi steaks are mild enough to balance out powerful spice, like a firey tomato sauce or a red chili relish. And when brushed with honey and grilled, the cheese takes on a sweetness that pairs perfectly with grilled fruit or a fresh berry compote.
Move over, mozzarella—there’s a new Mediterranean cheese in town.
Photo from JoeM500 on Flickr.