Say hello to Halloumi
FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

Has it ever happened to you that you get fixated on a particular ingredient or dish, especially on vacation? Wherever you go, it seems to be on the menu and you can’t help but order it? You see it on posters, in the supermarket, in the cheap café and the fancy restaurants, haunting you, stalking you, fueling your food obsession.

This happened to me last April, when we took a trip to South Africa. We stayed around Cape Town and the stunning Stellenbosch area and transited for a few days in Johannesburg. No, we did not go on safari or do anything touristy, the whole purpose of the trip was to take my husband for his 40th birthday to reconnect with his family from there. It was one of the most relaxing and indulgent trips I’ve ever been on. His young uncle — more like a cousin, really — took us on the most incredible foodie vacation, planning long, boozy lunches at vineyards that found us drinking delicious Chenin Blanc from noon till the gloriously golden African sun set over spectacular rows of vineyards set against the dramatic landscape of jutting mountains and ferocious blue waters.

The quality of food and wine in South Africa is mind-blowing… at a fraction of the cost. We would always have to ask if it was the price of the bottle or just a glass, as we could hardly believe such a beautiful wine could only cost so much.

Whether it was in a special, farm-to-table vineyard like Babylonstoren or in a casual-dining setting in the heart of Johannesburg, one little ingredient kept popping up on the menu: Halloumi, a cheese made from goat and sheep’s milk.

Perhaps it’s because its salty savoriness brightened by a generous squeeze of lemon just paired so well with their red wines. Or its unusual texture, firm but yielding, with a bit of squeaky chew and a charred or fried crunch was so appealing. It may have been simply the fact that I just liked it. It wasn’t complicated. It was yummy and would truly open my appetite. The perfect “appetizer” in all aspects, in millennial IG speak, fried Halloumi was just pure love.

When I got back from our trip, all I did was crave for it. Coming back to the grind was harsh. Sure, I had missed my kids immensely, but after a week of absolute pure epicurean indulgence combined with intermittent exercise, which consisted of long walks in the vineyards, treading sand by the Cape of Good Hope and hikes up Table Mountain, the fast-paced, urban jungle of Metro Manila was a complete shocker. The summer months had just arrived, along with its stifling heat and the flooding of my IG feed of envy-worthy beach photos.

Weekends had found me in our garden by the pool, the kids happily splashing in their salbabidas and floaters with my husband acting as entertainer/lifeguard, while I would sit by the edge, with a big glass of cold, crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a plate full of fried Halloumi. For a little moment, everytime I bit into that piece of cheese, I was back in South Africa. It was a vacation in bite, flavored with wonderful, boozy memories.

Halloumi is originally a Cypriot cheese born during the Medieval Byzantine era (395 to 1191 AD). How it has made its way into popular status in South Africa I have yet to figure out, but how it made its way into my heart — mmm, that I know and I’m certain if you try it, it will do the same. The semi-hard cheese is un-ripened and brined, made from sheep’s and goat’s milk, often being mixed with some cow’s milk. The fresh curds are heated before being brined, which gives it a high melting point, making it a perfect cheese for grilling or frying. Think of it as a stronger, more savory mozzarella.

Halloumi works well in a salad and as an appetizer all on its own. If you like that sweet-and-savory pairing, it works nicely with watermelon. Personally I love to serve it simply grilled or pan-fried, with good olive oil, lots of lemon and some fresh parsley and tomatoes. Halloumi can be kept in the freezer, which makes it a really good quick appetizer to make on the fly in case you have surprise guests or feel like pretending you’re on a gorgeous summer holiday.

 

 

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Watch the cooking video on my IG @stephaniezubiri and on my YouTube channel – search Stephanie Zubiri Crespi. For more recipes and videos visit www.stephaniezubiri.com

Grab your copy of my book Feast With Me, out now in select National Book Stores and Powerbooks. It is also available on www.anvilpublishing.com and www.nationalbookstore.com with local and international shipping.

Recipe File: Fried Halloumi With Parsley And Tomato

(Serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

1 package of Halloumi cut into half-inch-thick slices, pat dry

Good quality extra-virgin olive oil

A generous handful of flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 red onion minced (optional)

Freshly cracked black pepper

Lemon wedges for serving

Procedure:

In a very good nonstick pan, heat some olive oil on high. Fry the Halloumi till golden and brown on both sides. Place on a plate and top with some very good quality olive oil, fresh cracked pepper, a mountain of roughly chopped or simply torn fresh parsley and cherry tomatoes, with a sprinkling of the minced onion, if you wish. Serve with lemon wedges.

Wine pairing: Pair with a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc

This would go wonderfully as an appetizer to any Mediterranean-themed meal —Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, or even Moroccan.

* * *

Watch the cooking video on my IG @stephaniezubiri and on my YouTube channel – search Stephanie Zubiri Crespi. For more recipes and videos visit www.stephaniezubiri.com

Grab your copy of my book Feast With Me, out now in select National Book Stores and Powerbooks. It is also available on www.anvilpublishing.com and www.nationalbookstore.com with local and international shipping.

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