A new take on grilled cheese

Whenever I grill up some cheese, I feel like a conspirator in a delightful secret.

Grilled cheese, you ask. What’s so remarkable about that?

But I’m not talking about the much-loved sandwich. Well, I am, er … sort of.

A British cookbook provided the first reference I’d ever seen to haloumi — grillable cheese. I knew right away I had to try it.

This specialty of Cyprus is a very firm, salty cheese made from sheep’s, goats’ or cows’ milk or a combination. In texture, haloumi reminds me a lot of cheese curds. And it actually holds up when placed directly on a hot grill or other cooking surface.

If you’ve ever snatched up bits of Parmesan rendered deliciously crispy after falling off your garlic bread onto the cookie sheet, then I shouldn’t have to explain why you would grill cheese. Think of that toasted nuttiness of seared Parmesan and then imagine magnifying that flavor into a browned skin covering a melting but still-firm bite of dairy fat. Mmmmm.

I doubted I would find haloumi in the Rogue Valley, but figured if it was to be had, Ashland’s Shop ‘N’ Kart was the likely place. Sure enough, in the international cheese kiosk, there was a half-pound block for around $5.

My cookbook called for haloumi atop a salad akin to Nicoise. But it was early spring, and the grocery store’s Mediterranean vegetables were pallid, so I decided to adapt my own recipe.

I topped watercress and baby spinach with grapefruit segments, toasted pine nuts, the haloumi and a raspberry vinaigrette. I used a grill pan for that first attempt but discovered I actually prefer a smooth-bottomed pan for browning the chunks of cheese.

This weekend I set my sights on a Middle-Eastern version of the grilled cheese sandwich. I cut the haloumi into strips and browned them before placing in a whole-wheat pita pocket drizzled inside with a little garlic-parsley vinaigrette. On top went a melange of Japanese eggplant, yellow zucchini and crimini mushrooms sauteed with a little thyme, sea salt and white pepper. I considered adding some halved cherry tomatoes but decided to save them for another take on haloumi salad.

Try haloumi and add your favorite preparations to this blog.

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