Give Me Five: Spiced halloumi salad

There’s just no substitute for really good cheese with flavour and body

Halloumi has a distinctive squeaky, slightly rubbery texture

Halloumi has a distinctive squeaky, slightly rubbery texture

 

The vegan diet intrigues me. I can be vegetarian for weeks and not notice the lack of meat, but once I tiptoe into the world of veganism I soon begin to miss dairy.

I know that nuts, seeds, pulses, beans and vegetables are great sources of protein, and that there are plenty of excellent plant-based foods rich in all the nutrients we’ll ever need, but I do miss dairy. It completes so many of my favourite dishes: feta crumbled over beetroot salad, yoghurt drizzled over roasted cauliflower and lots of cheese in my vegetable lasagne. It’s always the thing that pulls me back, the same way the smell of fried bacon has lured many a vegetarian back to carnivorous ways.

I can even cope without eggs, and use chia seeds as an egg replacement in baking with great success. I replace cream with deliciously rich coconut cream. And coconut-based yoghurts are divine, a true revelation. But there’s just no substitute for really good cheese with flavour and body. It has a distinctive character that can only be achieved by ageing goat’s or sheep’s milk.

There are vegan cheeses available, some nut-based, but Ireland has such a flourishing dairy industry with incredible farmhouse cheeses that it seems a pity not to eat them. One of my recent discoveries is Brewer’s Gold, a semi-hard cheese with a craft beer-washed amber rind. It’s made by Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese with organic milk supplied by the Little Milk Company.

It’s an incredibly smooth, creamy, slightly sweet cheese that’s firm but not hard. It has slight hoppy notes due to the ale-washed rind. I’m already planning on having this cheese for my St Stephen’s Day turkey sandwiches, to replace the usual brie. I’ve started to give my kids wedges of cheese along with slices of apple and a few crackers; it makes a great, balanced mid-morning or afternoon snack. I cut hard cheeses such as mature cheddar into little sticks or star shapes using cookie cutters, roll soft goat’s cheese into little balls and coat with toasted nuts. It’s perfect finger food for toddlers.

The cheese I’m using for this week’s recipe is halloumi. It’s a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. Due to its high melting point, it can be fried or grilled easily. It has a distinctive squeaky, slightly rubbery texture. When fried it keeps its shape well. I like to cut it into cubes and fry it in good olive oil. The cubes can be tossed in a salad, mixed through a bowl of grains or roasted vegetables, or served with some good tomatoes and crusty bread.

For this salad I’ve cut the halloumi into thick slices, then coated them in a mixture of curry spices and flour before frying. The flavour is fantastic, and the cheese crisps up on the outside while remaining soft and meltingly smooth on the inside. It’s brined already, so there’s usually no need to season it with additional salt.

I’ve used fresh crunchy radish to balance the richness of the cheese, but some piquant pomegranate seeds would be lovely too. Stuff all this salad and cheese into a warm flatbread or pitta or just serve as is. Just make sure you serve the salad as soon as the cheese is fried, as the halloumi turns rubbery once cooled.

 

 

SPICED HALLOUMI SALAD: SERVES 4

 

The five ingredients

  • 25g flour
  • 10g garam masala or curry powder
  • 500g halloumi
  • 125g salad leaves
  • 8 radishes

 

From the pantry

  • Olive oil
  • Lime juice or cider vinegar

 

Method

Place the flour and spices into a shallow bowl. Mix well. Slice the cheese into 12 thick slices. Coat the cheese well in the seasoned flour. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil a large frying pan.

Fry the cheese for a few minutes each side until crispy and browned. Set aside on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the radish and mix with the salad leaves. Dress with a mixture of olive oil and lime juice or cider vinegar.

Pile the salad on to four plates. Top with three slices of fried cheese and serve immediately.

  • Every Thursday we’ll tweet and post the five ingredients on irishtimes.com so you can have them ready on Friday. Email givemefive@irishtimes.com with your own suggestions for recipes
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