Let me apologies for the radio silence over the last week or so. I’ve been so busy with different things from dealing with projects regarding this blog, FBC and then a last minute trip to Dubai to help with preparations for my cousin’s upcoming wedding in Rome. February is going to be a very crazy month. But, I’m not complaining…I’d much prefer to be busy!
Valentine’s Day is a couple of weeks away and I thought I’d offer you a three-course, Lebanese influenced menu for two. We will start with the first course.
Halloumi is a traditional Cypriot cheese that is also popular around Lebanon and the Middle-East (Note: Cyprus is an island that is about 129 miles/208 km from Lebanon). Halloumi cheese is traditionally made from a mixture of sheep’s & goat’s milk, is salty and has a texture similar to mozzarella. What’s unique about this cheese is that it has a high melting point making it ideal for grilling or frying. Update: Upon further conversation with Peter of Kalofogas, it has been brought to my attention that the Cypriot Halloumi (with a capital H) is a PDO product (Protected Designation of Origin).
I’ve always loved the addition of Zaa’tar to Halloumi. Zaa’tar is a savoury blend of herbs and spices typically including dried wild thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It has an earthy & pungent flavor. In Lebanon and around the Middle East, Zaa’tar is traditionally enjoyed at breakfast with a variety of cheese or spread onto breakfast pizzas (Manakeesh) which are also popularly consumed throughout the day, especially after a long night out when one needs to soak up excess alcohol!
This dish is great made ahead of time, you’ll just need to grill the Halloumi cheese just before serving.
- 250g Halloumi cheese, sliced lengthwise into four slices
- 2 red bell peppers
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 1 garlic clove-smashed
- 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses or 1 tablespoons/15ml fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon zaa’tar
- 2 tablespoons or 30ml of olive oil
- ½ loaf of arabic bread-cut into small triangles
- 2 ziploc bags
- Begin by char-grilling the bell peppers on a medium flame, moving them around often to ensure even cooking.
- Once the bell peppers are char-grilled on all sides place them in a ziploc and seal tightly. Set aside for about 2-3 minutes and then using the bag peel the skin away. It’s ok if some of the burnt bits remain there is no need to wash this off, they add depth of character flavour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/4G. Fillet the edges, leaving the seeds and cap intact. Discard the seeds and cap. Add the bell pepper fillets, garlic, lemon juice or pomegranate molasses (I like pomegranate molasses because it adds lovely sweet and sour flavours) & paprika to a mixer and blitz till you reach a smooth puree.
- Place the arabic bread triangles in a pan and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or till crispy.
- Heat a heavy bottomed chef/sauté pan and lightly wipe with some olive oil. Place the halloumi cheese slices and cook about 2 minutes on each side. Turn over and repeat.
- In the mean time you can prepare the zaa’tar by mixing it well with olive oil till all is well incorporated.
- Serve the coulis and zaa’tar at room temperature. Plate the Halloumi cheese on the bell pepper coulis, drizzle liberally with the zaa’tar mixture and then top with the crispy pita crisps.