In the summer of 2006, I was in Beirut visiting my parents, when Lebanon was (once again) the victim of a bombing operation that lasted 33 days and left the southern part of the country with a carpet of 3 million unexploded cluster bombs. As an American citizen, I was afforded the luxury of escaping this inferno and, about three weeks later, after waiting twelve hours at dock, boarded an Egyptian cargo ship along with 600 other people. The ship was bound for a US base in Turkey; eighteen hours later, we finally landed in Larnaca, Cyprus. Guess what we were welcomed with? Water bottles and a most delicious and warm roll stuffed with halloum cheese! Halloum never tasted so good!
Halloum is probably amongst the top three most popular cheeses in Lebanon. Originally from Cyprus, it is now produced in Lebanon and offered in different flavors such as light,or mint, or stuffed with nigella seeds. It is a white, semi-hard, sheep’s milk (or goat) cheese, similar to mozzarella, but not bland, with a distinct flavor.I buy it at the middle-eastern grocer in the US, but have found it also at upscale supermarkets. It can be ordered online.
My brothers and I used to eat it every day after school wrapped in pita bread with tomato slices, slices of cucumber and some olives. When fried in butter it is irresistible! It captures the flavor of the butter and gets crispy from the outside and somewhat soft and chewy inside. You can serve it as an appetizer or as part of a mezze, sliced and fried or plain; you can add bits of it to a salad or put slices in buttered pita bread and toast it in the oven; the possibilities are endless.
Here is my favorite way to enjoy halloum.
- Melt some butter (or oil) in a small skillet. Place the sliced cheese in the skillet.
- Fry the slices 3 minutes, then flip and fry the other side for a few minutes until golden on both sides.
- Remove some of the butter by placing the slices on a paper towel. Eat the cheese slices with tomato and pita bread or as is as a delicious snack, any time of the day.
NOTE: A book I was glancing at today at Virgin‘s La cuisine Libanaise d’hier et d’aujourd’hui mentioned serving halloum grilled with quince jam. Just a thought!
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