Jibneh Harra (Spicy Cheese)
There are few pleasures in life comparable to that of fried cheese. Halloumi, the frying cheese of choice in our region, is near perfect simply on its own. But why not make something great even better?
Saucy and spicy, cubes of fried halloumi are coated with a fresh paste of chilis, red bell pepper, garlic, lemon and olive oil. This thickens in the pan into a meaty, bright orange sauce laced with green onions, fresh coriander and topped with toasted sesame seeds. This is the epitome of clean comfort food.
The not-so-secret sauce powering this dish is what we call red tatbileh. A somewhat obvious play on the traditional green tatbileh used most often to top hummus and foul, this is made in the exact same way but substituting green bell pepper and chilis for their red counterparts. While the green version does not hold up too well to cooking, this red cousin can really handle the heat. We’ve used it many different ways over the years, from a dipping sauce for sandwiches to a marinade for chicken.
Take care to dry your halloumi thoroughly before frying to get an even golden color. Depending on the type of cheese used, it may release some more water when added to the pan. The dryer it is, the better you will be able to fry it. Taste the cheese and get an idea of its saltiness before using, some brands are way more salty than others. Keep this in mind as you season all components of the dish to avoid over salting.
High heat is essential to avoid melting the cheese. You’re aiming to give it an even golden color on the outside, without drying out the center. Be gentle when mixing as well, so that you don’t break up any of the cubes. Some will get caught at the bottom of the pan as they brown, use a rubber spatula to gently release these in one piece if possible.
While the word spicy is in the name, you can really fine tune the balance of spice here to your liking. Feel free to increase or decrease the number of chilis used, if you do so make sure to adjust the amount of bell pepper in return so you’re left with just the right amount of sauce. I am particularly fond of the toasted sesame seeds on top, but you can add as much or as little as you like.
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