The Big Cheese: Halloumi tacos

For me, one of the greatest food combos ever is halloumi cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. OK, fine – this may not be particularly progressive, and the more sophisticated food connoisseur might scoff at my undress (“that is so 1979”) but that’s their loss. Sun-dried tomatoes are better than real tomatoes. Squeaky cheese is better than non-squeaky cheese. The idea of putting these two simple things together seems extremely reliable.

As with all food trends, if there wasn’t something inherently good about them in the first place, then they wouldn’t have developed such a following. There were the sun-dried tomatoes of the 80s, pesto in the 90s and so it has been with halloumi of late. I can still remember discovering halloumi (a semi-hard, unripened cheese that is best served fresh off the barbecue – it has a high melting point) and now all of a sudden it’s everywhere (cough, Nandos, cough) – last year, Waitrose and Tesco reported a doubling and tripling of halloumi cheese sales.

It’s also worth £60 million a year to Cyprus, is a unifying force between carnivores and vegetarians and Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike.

More importantly though, it’s one of my favourite snacks, appetisers and additions to many popular dishes.

So, last time, I revelled in the fact that I could put this delightfully politically correct cheese IN A TACO. And there are lots of people out there who make up recipes and then blog them. This is not the objective of my food blog, but here I am, giving it a stab – I’m a book editor, not a chef – I’d be more inclined to expertly edit a recipe than invent one. As with many of my other food-related ideas and gifts, if it’s rubbish, my husband made it.

Halloumi and sun-dried tomato tacos with tzatziki and honey-balsamic dressing – adapted from my head

Ingredients

250 grams of halloumi cheese, cubed or sliced
Sundried tomatoes

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1 cup cooked quinoa
Corn taco shells (fresh, if possible)

To garnish:

Tzatziki/greek yogurt with added mint, lemon juice and chopped cucumber
Honey-balsamic dressing : 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, 80 ml olive oil

Directions

1. Prepare your tzatziki, if not using storebought, and your dressing. Set aside.

2. Brush halloumi lightly with olive oil. Sear the cheese in a pan – it should take about 2 minutes on each side, and form a golden brown crust. Resist the urge to eat immediately.

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3. Top each taco shell with 2 tbsp quinoa, 2-3 slices of halloumi (cut in half if necessary), tomatoes, and garnish.

4. CONSUME

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So there you have it – my twist on halloumi, for better or for worse. Halloumi has a really unique taste – like mozzarella but saltier – and texture – it softens, but doesn’t melt – and you can do so many things with it. It goes really well with watermelon, butternut squash, and avocado – not all together though, that’s just greedy. Fun fact: in Cyprus the average person consumes 17 pounds of halloumi every year. Outside Cyprus, the UK consumes more halloumi than any other European country (all fun facts courtesy of this BBC article). Hopefully, you are starting to see why, and will try a halloumi recipe of your very own. Chances are, it will be successful.

Most major supermarkets stock halloumi – alternatively, make it yourself. Say cheese!

 

 

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This recipe will change your life

When I’m finished this blog, I think I might start a blog about tacos.

Tacos are my favourite thing ever. All I wanted for my wedding was mini tacos. Unfortunately, this was not an option at the beautiful converted barn in the Cotswolds where I got married. Instead, we had chorizo on toast, local smoked salmon, and grilled halloumi with rosemary, which was great too, because halloumi is also my favourite thing ever. I can’t even begin to imagine what a halloumi taco would taste like – in fact, I am surprised I’ve never tried it. Watch this space.

I did get to marry my best friend, and the love of my life. But there were no tacos.

Following on my last post based loosely around Korean BBQ, I thought I would share this recipe for KOREAN TACOS (with Asian coleslaw and sriracha sour cream) adapted from The Partial Ingredients, a pretty kick-ass cooking blog I discovered a while back.

I’ve eyeballed the measurements for this dish every time I’ve made it, and it’s turned out really well, albeit differently, every time.  You may not need to be super precise but all of the components to the recipe are key.

Use roughly the same amount of each ingredient for the marinade, using three times the amount of soy sauce for each other measure. If you have time to actually roast a whole chicken Korean style, do it – otherwise skin-on breast will do. What you want is for the marinade to cling to the chicken, so if you need a pinch of corn flour, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Ingredients

For the chicken:

Chicken breast
Soy sauce
Lemon juice
Brown sugar
Honey
Shaoxing wine (I got ID’d for this at Tesco)
Mirin
Garlic and ginger, minced
Sriracha sauce
Sesame oil
Sesame seeds

For the coleslaw:

Chinese cabbage, sliced
Red onion, finely chopped
Green onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
Garlic and ginger, minced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Fish sauce – 1 tbsp
Mirin – 2 tbsp
Sriracha – 2 tsp

For the sriracha sour cream:

1 cup sour cream
Sriracha – 2 tbsp

Corn taco shells – buy them fresh. You can use Old el Paso ones if you want but the authentic ones work best. I buy mine from Casa Morita in Brixton. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the cactus ones.

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Lime and coriander to garnish

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Directions

1. Prepare your marinade. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl – add chicken and set aside. The longer you leave it, the better.

2. Invite some friends over under the auspices that it is Halloween and you are going to carve some pumpkins and have a few drinks, even if really you just want to show off your tacos.

3. Combine the ingredients for the coleslaw in a large bowl, and set aside.

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4. Mix the sour cream with 1 tablespoon of sriracha – and, you guessed it, set aside. This is actually a great recipe for a night where you want to prep ahead, carve some pumpkins, and have some drinks, not necessarily in that order. I meant to write this blog post a while ago, clearly – I’m not carving pumpkins in January – not even I like Halloween that much.

5. Have some drinks – two’s good, three’s probably too much before standing over a hot grill pan.

6. Cook the chicken slowly in a hot grill pan, so that the marinade caramelises but doesn’t burn. Alternatively, roast a chicken.

Meanwhile, heat your tortillas in the oven. I trust you’ve bought them fresh.

7. The tacos taste best if the chicken is shredded, but this is a massive pain. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; serve in the corn tacos topped with the coleslaw, sour cream and a generous amount of coriander and lime.

I didn't say I knew how to photograph tacos.

I didn’t say I knew how to photograph tacos.

8. Enjoy with friends! You’re welcome.

Argentina/This is not a circle

The Great Empanada-making Experiment

My friend Andrea tells me that the reason why Argentinian beef is so good is that all of Argentina’s cows are stolen from Brazil. No need then for a night out at Gaucho, although Duncan says his most recent steak there was stunning.

I decided that the best way to explore Argentinian cuisine was by the grace of my own kitchen, due largely to the fact that it’s the end of the pay period and I’m eight quid in the hole until Friday. And seeing as I don’t eat red meat, my friend Harriet generously offered to come over and teach me to make cheese and chicken empanadas using a traditional South American recipe. Food stuffed with other food. She gets me.

Harriet lived in Argentina for five months, and her downstairs neighbour was actually the head chef at Gaucho. This, by proxy, makes her an expert.

THE EXPERIMENT: Make empanadas. Don’t get drunk first.

THE INGREDIENTS

Flour – 2 cups

Pork lard/butter – 1/2 cup

Eggs

Paprika

Chicken breasts (2), cooked and shredded

Onion, 1 medium

Scallion

Chicken broth, 1/2 cup

Cumin

Red chili flakes

“Mozzarella type cheese”

Nutmeg

Manchego cheese

Quince jelly

Wine

Dulce de leche

Maté

Maté is a traditional Argentinian beverage/activity that is much like tea in Britain. It’s served from a shared maté gourd with a metal straw called a bombilla, which is my new favourite word, after balcony.

I believe it is an acquired taste. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the physical act of sipping the tea through a straw out of the funky little cup, the drink itself tasted kind of like, well, the  ground. A bitter version of the ground. Maybe this is appealing to some. It almost reminded me of kava in Vanuatu,  without the intoxication factor. Harriet says that on the ferry from Argentina to Uganda (I’m almost positive she means Uruguay, but you never know) there is a sign over the toilets that says:

DON’T THROW MATE DOWN THE TOILET

This implies, of course, that lots of mate goes down the toilet.

We bought one bottle of Argentinian malbec and one bottle of Chilean cabernet sauvignon to help us along. Tescos Brixton only has one Argentinian wine, and it’s ten pounds. Chile is neighbours with Argentina, so we decided this was OK.

I must admit I’d never had manchego before, although I think I thought I had. Eaten with quince jelly, it is fecking delicious. I promised myself I would swear less in the run-up to my 30th birthday and subsequent transition into adulthood, but this combi was so good that it deserves at LEAST a half swear. FECK. YUM. Queso y dulce, or manchego and quince jelly, to the layperson, is a typical and popular dessert in Argentina. I found many recipes for quince jelly online; Harriet procured ours from Phoenicia Food Hall in Kentish Town.

You may wonder how dulce de leche fits into the equation. Actually, we intended to make alfajores (caramel cookies) for dessert but ran out of time, probably because of the wine. We ate it with a spoon instead.

DIRECTIONS

1) Open wine

2) Nibble on manchego and quince

3) Make your dough: Beat one egg with salt and paprika, and add enough water to make about 1/2 cup of liquid. Combine lard (butter) and flour, stir in liquid gradually. Mix with your hands. This is the best way. Knead until smooth and elastic. Top tip – better to add more flour to dough than to be short on liquid. Let stand for at least 3 minutes before using.

4) Make your filling: For the chicken, lightly fry 1 medium onion, add scallion, 2 level tablespoons of flour and chicken broth. Add spices to taste – we used about 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cumin, and a hefty teaspoon of chili flakes, with some parsley for good measure. Cook for one minute and add shredded chicken, adding more water as needed. For the cheese, beat two egg yolks, add 1 tbsp flour and a pinch of salt. Beat egg whites until you’ve got nice little stiff peaks, blend your cheese (we used Tesco’s pizza cheese, and it worked just fine) into the yolk mixture and then add the whites, some salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Don’t actually taste it though, because it’s raw egg. Et voila.

5) Open second bottle of wine

6) Using a rolling pin, roll out golf ball-sized pieces of dough into flat circles, about ten inches across and 1/4 cm thick. This was a step I failed to master. “This is not a circle,” I declared after every attempt. Although Harriet gave me a circle-making lesson, all I could manage were flat little pieces of dough that looked a bit like England.

7) Once the dough is rolled, fill with about a tablespoon of filling, wet the edges of the dough and fold over, pressing to seal. Make pretty. Or, don’t. It will taste the same regardless.

8) Bake until cooked. I wish I had more for you, but my oven is rubbish so it’s a bit hard to gauge.

THE VERDICT: The chicken filling was super tasty and authentic, says Harriet. I had expected the cheese to be a bit more gooey, but the nutmeg was a nice touch. The dough, unfortunately, was too floury, and I’m going to chalk it up to the butter. There is a reason that people cook with lard. It tastes good.

I actually think that the empanadas were better re-heated in the microwave the next day, but this may be because the next day I was minus two half bottles of red wine and could actually taste them.

Thanks again to Harriet for being an excellent partner in crime/dine/wine. Until next time. Olé!

DIY – Shakshuka (Olympics edition)

I know, I never said I was actually going to do any of this MYSELF. But, I figured that if I had enough technique to paint very detailed Canadian flags on my fingernails while watching 10 hours straight of highly competitive sport, and if my boyfriend can fix the dryer himself, then I could certainly try my hand at Algerian food. It’s good to have goals.

Shakshuka is a popular North African dish, consisting of eggs poached in a rich tomato sauce with vegetables. It’s also eaten in Israel, where it was originally introduced by Tunisian Jews, says Wikipedia. The first time I had shakshuka was circa 2002; a friend of mine was dating an Israeli guy, who made something which at least resembled this, using tomato ketchup instead of fresh tomatoes. He didn’t like tomatoes. Who doesn’t like tomatoes? I like to think of this cooking feat as Kraft Dinner versus Jamie Oliver macaroni cheese – I’m pretty sure I can one-up his effort.

Although traditionally a breakfast meal, I don’t have time to cook in the mornings so I made this for dinner last night. It was super easy, delicious, and made my weight watchers points calculator very happy, except for the whole 200 ml of olive oil thing, but if you don’t write that down, it doesn’t count. Try Yolam Ottolenghi’s recipe – it’s available on the guardian website, if you don’t want to buy his book, Plenty, which, by the way, you probably do.

Or do what I did – go to foodgawker and pick the recipe with the nicest picture. In this case, the medal (go Team GB go!) went to fellow London food blogger Sarah Moore, who had also opted for the Ottolenghi version.

There are a bazillion different ways you can do this, to suit your taste. I even found an Indian version; the Italians call this “Eggs in Purgatory.” If you can get over the fact that it looks a bit like barf, it is well tasty however you make it. Top tip: don’t start making this, and then run upstairs to watch Usain Bolt collect his gold medal for the men’s 100m sprint. He’s pretty awesome, but that extra minute and a half cost me my runny yolks.

The long and the short of it:

Dry fry some cumin. Add oil, onions, peppers, dark brown sugar and lots of delicious spices. Tomatoes, saffron, cayenne salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes, adding water as necessary.

Divide the mixture between a few frying pans, if you’re making a big batch – I panicked, and shoved all my eggs in one pan, which was OK, because I was only cooking for two. Make little craters, and crack an egg into each. Cover and bake for about ten minutes – don’t let it sit too long. Usain Bolt can wait. Ryan Bailey on the other hand – sigh. Dreamy.

English: Usain Bolt after 4 x 100 m final - Wo...

Usain Bolt: because I couldn’t find a free picture of Ryan Bailey.

The finished product

You can serve this with whatever you want – I imagine fresh pita would be amazing, or even naan bread. I went for a baguette, because that’s all they had left at Sainsbury’s express. Whatever you do – ‘just do it.’ Can you tell I’m in the spirit of the Games?