It's a little early in the season to fire up the grill, but if you have a grill pan, a panini press, or even just a skillet, any time is a good time to sear some halloumi and make this vegetarian main-dish salad.
Traditional to Cyprus, halloumi is a briny, squeaky sheep and/or goat's milk cheese. A high melting point makes it ideal for grilling or frying, which miraculously transforms it into a distinctive, golden-crusted cheese with a milky soft center. Although it's featured in a lot of vegetarian dishes in the UK, for some reason halloumi hasn't caught on as much in the US. However, the cheese usually be found at Whole Foods, as well as Mediterranean markets and through igourmet (and, rumor has it, Trader Joe's, though I haven't checked).
I could easily devour an entire block of grilled halloumi, dressed with a squeeze of lemon, for dinner. However, in the interest of greater nutrition, I came up with this lively salad, packed with quinoa, fresh parsley and mint, the warm grilled cheese, and a contrasting relish of spicy quick-pickled cucumbers. I recommend serving it with a glass of Hibiscus Earl Grey Iced Tea for a pleasantly light yet filling meal.
Grilled Halloumi and Quinoa Salad
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Persian cucumber or 1/2 regular cucumber, peeled and diced
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
3 cups lettuce leaves, arugula, or other salad greens
8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
In a medium bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a dash of salt and pepper. Add cucumber and scallion and toss to combine. Cover and let stand.
Place quinoa and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Add cooled quinoa, parsley, mint, and lettuce to the bowl and toss to coat.
Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium heat (no oil) and grill the halloumi until golden, about two minutes on each side. (Cheese can also be grilled in a panini press.) When done, squeeze a little lemon juice over the cheese.
Arrange quinoa salad on two plates and top with the halloumi and cucumbers (without liquid).
Can make up to a day ahead and refrigerate. For best texture, add the lettuce and grill the halloumi just before serving.
(Images: Emily Ho)