Fried Halloumi with Lemon Caper Vinaigrette

Posted on: Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our best meals abroad take place in tiny tavernas, taperias, bistros, hole in the walls, or any kind of no frills eatery, filled with non-English speaking diners where everyone appreciates one thing: good food. In Cyprus tavernas, many locals enjoy meze dinners where friendly waiters bring out plate after plate of traditional Mediterranean dishes. They often start with a thick slice of one of Cyprus’ featured cheeses, halloumi. If you have never tried halloumi, think of the best qualities of feta and mozzarella combined into one delectable cheese. Its mild, salty taste and firm texture makes it ideal for frying or grilling. The Cypriots often enjoy it served simply grilled, drizzled with honey or topped on salad or fruit. When heated, the outside gets nice and golden and the inside is smooth. Our take on fried halloumi incorporates a citrusy caper vinaigrette. Once the cheese hit the pan, our apartment was filled with a nutty aroma. Who doesn’t love melted fried cheese?
Fried Halloumi Cheese with Lemon and Caper Vinaigrette

half the juice of a lemon
1 t Dijon mustard
1 t dried oregano
1/4 c EVOO
salt and pepper
1 T drained capers
8 oz halloumi cheese cut into 1/4-inch pieces and patted dry
Large bag of mixed greens for a base

Whisk the Dijon mustard, oregano, lemon and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the EVOO until incorporated. Add the capers and set aside.

Heat the 2 T EVOO on medium high heat in a frying pan. Add the cheese slices to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes per side until golden. Plate right away atop mixed greens, drizzled with the caper vinagrette. Serves 6 (2 slices per person).

To serve alongside the toasty halloumi, we opted to serve another Cypriot-inspired dish, stuffed peppers or yemistes. In a taverna, it’s always fun to wait in anticipation for the next meze plate. When a platter of warm-colored peppers arrive, and you remove the top of your individual gift, you are engulfed by the aroma of fresh herbs. Typically stuffed with rice, meat and tomato, we opted to use orzo in our variation served with thick chewy pita bread.

Bell Peppers Stuffed with Lamb and Orzo

6 red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers
1 chopped yellow onion
1/2 c red wine (We used a red from Cyprus’ Limassol region)
10 oz ground lamb
2 cloves minced garlic
2 c low sodium chicken stock
1 1/4 c orzo pasta
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried rosemary
2 T tomato paste
1 T lemon juice
salt and pepper throughout

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut off the tops from the peppers and scoop out the seeds and ribs. Stand the peppers straight up in an oiled dutch oven or deep baking dish. If need be, trim the bottoms of the pepper so the peppers stand straight upright.

Heat 1 T EVOO in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and soften for 3-5 minutes. Add the lamb and brown for 5-7 more minutes, breaking it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Deglaze with the wine and cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir in the garlic and orzo and toast for a minute, then add the herbs, tomato paste, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and cover. After 10 minutes the orzo will be al dente, not fully cooked, and some liquid will remain. Add the lemon and remove from the heat.

Spoon the orzo mixture evenly among the peppers then distribute the remaining cooking liquid. Return each pepper top. Cover the dish with a cover or aluminium foil and bake for 45 minutes until the peppers are tender.

We look forward to serving both items this summer in different ways. While we opted to stuff peppers, you could also fill large tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis or whatever is in season. To add another texture or flavor to the orzo mixture, you could grate in a zucchini or sweeten with dried dates. The halloumi is delicious straight off the grill atop a ripe slice of watermelon. Since our grill is covered in frost, we will enjoy both dishes in our warm, cozy apartment with a glass of wine.


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