The first time I ever tasted Halloumi cheese was when friends of the family (part Cypriot) gave us some. Here in Toronto, we have a good-sized Greek community with approx. 130,000 Greeks living in the area, about fifteen churches, hundreds of associations and federations representing towns & villages from all over Greece and Cyprus and of course, the Hellenes who come from all parts of Greece and Cyprus.
I find this cross-section of Greek society to be beneficial. One gets a sense of regional customs. dishes and in this case, ingredients. Halloumi cheese comes to us from Cyprus. Although it’s produced and enjoyed in other countries in the Mid-East, it’s comes to the Greek table via Cyprus and in the end, here on my site.
Halloumi cheese is a made from goat or sheep’s milk and on occasion cow’s milk in thrown into the mix. It’s a firm cheese that holds up well to heat, ideal for frying, broiling or in this case, grilling.
Halloumi is mildly briny and upon opening a package, one gets the slight aroma and taste of mint that’s used as a flavouring. Halloumi is most often used in savory cooking but it’s also makes for a fine base for a cheese or dessert coarse.
Today I’m grilling Halloumi cheese. I’m pairing it with two other ubiquitous Greek ingredients – figs and the Greek aperitif, Ouzo. This dish can be enjoyed all year ’round as dried figs are used and as for Ouzo, it’s become so popular that with a little searching, my readers seem to find it at their local liquor stores, waiting to be purchased in the liqueur section of the store.
Ouzo is primarily flavoured by anise, so if you’re hatin’ on licorice flavours – move on. If you’re a fan of anise, fennel, licorice….stick around – this dessert’s for you.
The fig-ouzo sauce comes from the book “New Greek Cuisine”, written by Aristedes Pasparakis and my old friend, Byron Ayanoglu. Byron has written plays and numerous books (food and non-food related) and some of you might have seen him accompanying Anthony Bourdain on his visit to Crete on No Reservations.
The recipe for this sauce will more than suffice for your grilled Halloumi needs but don’t despair, this sauce will vanish when you try on some strained Greek yogurt, vanilla ice cream or a fresh goat cheese.
Halloumi holds up to heat wonderfully. Just ensure you grill is pre-heated to a medium heat and you grill each side for no more than 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Grilled Halloumi With a Fig-Ouzo Sauce
1 cup boiling water
15 dried figs (preferably Greek), cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Ouzo
+ Halloumi cheese
- Pour the boiling water over the dried figs and allow to steep for about 10 minutes (cover).
- Transfer 3-4 of theÂ soaked figs to a processor and pulse until a saucy but gritty consistency. Transfer blended figs to a saucepan along with the honey and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Now add the remaining figs and simmer for another 5 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the figs are tender.
- Add the Ouzo, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook while stirring for a couple of minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and allow to cool.
- Carefully cut two slices of Halloumi cheese (per dessert serving). Brush with olive oil and pre-heat your grill to a medium heat. Grill your Halloumi for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.
- Plate your grilled Halloumi slices and spoon over a ribbon of Fig-Ouzo sauce accross the cheese. Garnish with fresh mint and serve.
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