Smooth and firm, bricks of halloumi are known for their characteristic squeak. One bite and you might think a balloon artist has set up shop inside your ear, twisting long air-filled rubber tubes into ridiculous hats.
I used to think the sound I heard when I ate curds or cheeses like halloumi, queso fresco, paneer, or juustoa was air escaping from the inside of each piece. But what we’re hearing is the cheese’s protein network. When we bite down, these types of proteins shrink back very quickly against the slick enamel of our teeth, causing a giggly squeak with almost every bite.
I love that sound! Mix it with various textures and flavors, and halloumi’s squeak can make a meal sing.
That’s certainly the case in this recipe, from author Yasmin Khan’s latest cookbook, “Ripe Figs.” The dish is an ode to the salads she was served on her many travels through Cyprus. She calls it a Sunshine Salad because, as she writes, it tastes as bright and warm as the Mediterranean sun.
But the salad also is an homage to halloumi, which Khan tells me is “probably the national ingredient of Cyprus.”
First referenced in a 14th-century Egyptian cookbook, halloumi is popular throughout the region. Whereas those in the United States might see only one or two varieties of halloumi in their local market, every shop in Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus sells dozens of types. Halloumi is traditionally made from goat or sheeps’ milk but can be made from cow’s milk, and while it can vary in salinity and creaminess, it will always have that signature squeak.
“It’s eaten all the way through the day,” Khan says. “It might be served fried in the morning or tossed with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, shredded and kneaded into halloumi breads or halloumi ravioli, melted into sandwiches, crumbled into salads . . . cooked or uncooked, it’s everywhere.”
For this salad, sweet potato wedges get drizzled with olive oil and seasoned lightly before they’re roasted until soft. (If you’d rather not turn on your oven, slice the tubers into 1/2-inch slabs and throw them on a medium grill for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re tender and lightly charred.) Arugula leaves add a lacy texture, tomatoes offer their juices, and creamy avocado chunks offset the tangy cheese.
You could just throw the cheese into the salad raw, but Khan likes to fry it, letting chunks of the firm cheese brown on both sides. Halloumi and its squeaky cousins are reluctant to melt, so this process draws moisture out, encouraging additional squeakiness while giving the edges a bit of crunch and caramelized flavor.
It’s an ideal way to enjoy halloumi - and the fruits and vegetables of high summer.
Fried Halloumi, Arugula and Tomato Salad With Avocado and Sweet Potatoes
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes
4 to 6 servings
It’s worth seeking out halloumi for this salad, but if you can’t find it, look for paneer or queso fresco. You could also use feta, but then there’s no need to fry it.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftovers in a covered container for up to 2 days.
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 2½ pounds), peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Fine sea salt or table salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, from about ½ a lemon, preferably unwaxed
3 ounces arugula (about 2 large handfuls)
15 cherry tomatoes (about 6 ounces), halved
One large ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Small handful fresh mint leaves (about 1 ounce), finely chopped
Small handful fresh basil leaves (about 1 ounce), finely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
9 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 9 or 10 rectangles
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Slice the sweet potatoes into wedges about 1½-inches thick by 3-inches long, and place on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with ½ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until browned and tender.
Make the dressing: While the potatoes are roasting, in a small bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil, vinegar, and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the sweet potatoes are cooked, let them cool on the baking sheet until lukewarm before transferring to a serving platter or bowl. Scatter the arugula, tomatoes, avocado chunks, and herbs on top.
In a medium skillet, preferably cast iron or nonstick, over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil until it shimmers. Add the halloumi, and fry until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Add the fried halloumi to the salad, drizzle with some of the dressing and serve with extra dressing on the side.
Nutrition per serving (about 1 ½ cups of salad per person, plus a scant tablespoon of dressing), based on 6 | Calories: 494; Total Fat: 31 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 37 mg; Sodium: 685 mg; Carbohydrates: 42 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugars: 9 g; Protein: 15 g.
Recipe adapted from “Ripe Figs: Recipes and Stories from Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus” by Yasmin Khan. (Norton, 2021).