Hooray for Halloumi. This firm and squeaky cheese is well known as a substitute for meat in burgers or added to tasty kebabs for a barbecue. However, there’s much more to this versatile cheese and Leyla shares some of her favourite ways of eating it including a delicious Cypriot recipe for halloumi with pasta.
There are few things more pleasurable than biting into the yielding flesh of a thick slab of smoky halloumi taken straight off the barbecue blistered brown by the heat and relinquishing all its salty wonder with every bite. Society is now relatively accustomed to this firm and squeaky cheese traditionally made with the milk from goats and sheep and originating from Cyprus; it’s frequently used as a meat substitute in burgers and on kebab skewers, added to salads or served with vegetables. It can be eaten straight off the knife but is also often found grilled, fried or barbecued due to its unique quality of form that lends itself so well to the cooking process – it’s a cheese that doesn’t melt, it just gets a bit softer.
My father is from North Cyprus, so growing up surrounded by the fabulous Cypriot and Turkish cuisine (as well as excellent Mauritian cuisine from my mother’s side), I’m probably more accustomed to this cheese than most. And I therefore know just how versatile it can be. As well as the above, it is also traditionally found incorporated into bread dough and one of my favourite ways of devouring it, with pasta. This dish is one from my childhood - one of those where I’d get overly animated when I knew it was on the menu for dinner. I’ve carried it through to adulthood, frequently returning to it and sharing it with friends who have almost unanimously fallen for it at first taste. It’s one of the simplest meals in my repertoire consisting of a mere six ingredients, yet yields one of the biggest pleasure bounties.
Combining flavours of both fresh and dried mint, chicken stock and lemon juice with the saltiness of the cheese, the result is a plate of pure satiety. Serving the cheese in its grated form allows each mint laden particle to mingle with the lemony chicken juices and coat every bit of pasta. To make this dish vegetarian, simply replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Excellent eaten either hot or cold the next day, it makes the perfect accompaniment to some left over roast chicken taken on a picnic.
Halloumi Pasta with Lemon and Mint
400g whole wheat pasta
2 litres of ready made chicken stock (or three chicken stock cubes)
2 tbsp dried mint
A few sprigs of fresh mint
Finely grate the cheese and mix with the dried mint. Chop a handful of the mint leaves and set aside. In the meantime, cook the pasta in the chicken stock. If you don’t have ready made stock, use three chicken stock cubes in around two litres of water. The liquid should cover the pasta by an inch or so. If the liquid gets too low before the pasta is cooked, add a splash more. You want most of the liquid to have been absorbed by the end, but with some still remaining.
Layer some of the grated cheese and mint in an empty shallow bowl per person. When the pasta is al dente, ladle half a portion into the bowl along with a little of the stock. Sprinkle another layer of the grated cheese, top with some more pasta, and finish with the final layer of cheese. Sprinkle with a generous amount of the fresh mint.
Squeeze the juice from ¼ to ½ a lemon over each bowl (depending on how much your guests like lemon – I like it a lot), and serve with a few more wedges should they wish for more.
For more delicious cheese recipes from some of Britain’s finest chefs, visit Great British Chefs collection. What are some of your favourite ways to serve halloumi? Let us know here or over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.