Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I’m a sucker for a pretty picture. Especially if that picture is of food and in this particular case if that picture is of oil-dressed tomatoes piled high on top of slices of fried cheese. I have a few cookbooks that I adore that have absolutely no pictures of food, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking to name just one, but for the most part, beautiful pictures are what draw me in to a recipe, a book or an ingredient. It’s called food porn and it’s why, in addition to my obscene cookbook collection, I have subscriptions to every major food magazine.
Back to the tomatoes piled high on fried cheese. There isn’t much you can do to cheese to make it better than it already is, but frying it is certainly one way to try. Most cheeses can’t stand up to the heat, but one exception is Halloumi. Mentioned many times before on this blog, Halloumi is a Mediterranean cheese that has a very high melting point – in other words, you can pan fry it and it will keep its shape, but even more importantly something magical happens. The saltiness of the cheese is set off by the warm, melting creaminess and if you’ve left the Halloumi in the pan long enough, at a high enough heat, the crunchy crust that forms on the surface of the cheese finishes everything off with a seriously good contrast of textures. It’s cheese heaven so whenever I see a recipe that calls for it, I take note.
My latest ‘the pictures are just too pretty to pass up’ purchase is The Family Chef by Jewels and Jill Elmore. In a feeble attempt to stunt the growth of my cookbook collection, I stopped myself from buying this book the first time I saw it back in June, but after reading more about the sisters in this month’s Sunset Magazine, I knew I had to go back for a second look. I realized my first instinct was right and quickly purchased the book. It has been my bedside reading for the past week and their Halloumi Cheese with Cucumber Lentil Salad is the first recipe I made from it.
An added bonus with this recipe is that I discovered the boyfriend likes lentils! I didn’t think it was possible that such a healthy powerhouse could be on his list of, ‘please make me more of this right now,’ foods, especially after our phone conversation the day before I made the dish. He called me while I was browsing the aisles of Whole Foods and when told I was getting lentils, he responded with, “Why on earth would you be doing that? Lentils are gross.” Not encouraging, but he rarely knows what’s good for him so I picked them up anyway, made this salad and he couldn’t get enough. He even picked a lentil dish out of another cookbook for me to make the next night. I think I’m on to something here. Maybe you can be too.
Halloumi Cheese with Cucumber Lentil Salad
Adapted from The Family Chef (to make a smaller portion)
1/2 cup beluga lentils cooked according to package directions
1 medium cucumber, peeled in strips, halved lengthwise and sliced into half circles
2 ripe tomatoes (preferably one yellow and one red), cut into chunks
3 T extra-virgin olive oil + more for frying cheese
2 T chopped parsley
2 T chopped mint
2 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package of Halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
Place the first seven ingredients in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix together. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and add some olive oil (about a tablespoon or two). Add the Halloumi slices and cook each side until golden brown, 2 – 3 minutes per side. Place the Halloumi slices on a platter and top with the tomato and cucumber mixture. Serve immediately while the cheese is still warm.