I’ll never forget the first time I tried halloumi. I was fifteen years old and my family and I went to a Greek restaurant down the street to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I scoured the menu for options, and my eyes landed on “saganaki–flaming cheese.” The words “flaming cheese” were enough to pique my interest, so I decided to order a plate.
A waiter rolled a cart over to our table with a small frying pan on top. He began sauteeing the cheese in oil, but then he took a giant bottle of vodka and squirted some in top. The flames shot up into the air like a dart, and for a second, I thought they would burn the ceiling. But then he squeezed fresh lemon juice over the top, extinguishing the fire. He did it so matter-of-fact that I stared at him in awe; I pictured myself doing it, and the whole restaurant going down in flames.
I cut into the cheese slowly; I think I half-expected it to go up in flames again. The outside of the halloumi was fried crispy, golden brown and the interior was melted and gooey. I tried a small piece, and the flavors hit my palette all at once: the tangy, briny taste of the halloumi, the slightly sour lemon, the rich olive oil and the slightly sweet flavor of the vodka exploded like fireworks in my mouth. I vowed to order saganaki every time we went back to the restaurant, and looking back, I stayed true to my word.
One of my best recent discoveries was that Whole Foods sells halloumi, and so I can make a version of saganaki at home. Instead of lighting the cheese on fire, I fry it in olive oil and then put it on a salad. It’s a quick, easy meal and I always feel satisfied after eating it. Last week I found a recipe that paired the fried halloumi with a simple blueberry salad. The sweet, juicy blueberries are the perfect complement to the salty halloumi, the hazelnuts in the recipe add an extra element of texture, and the dressing incorporates lemon juice–one of halloumi’s tried-and-true pairings.
Blueberry Halloumi Salad (adapted slightly from Naturally Ella)
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces blueberries
¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (8 to 9 ounce) package halloumi, cut into 8 slices
1 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and black pepper. In a separate bowl, toss blueberries with chopped hazelnuts, pepper, 1 tablespoons mint and 1 tablespoons cilantro. Pour dressing over blueberry mixture and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add halloumi and cook until golden, 2-3 minutes per side.
Place cheese on a plate, spoon blueberries over cheese slices, and finish with remaining herbs. Serve while halloumi is still warm (although the leftovers still taste just as good).