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. If it is too salty, soak the halloumi for a short while in cold water and then dry thoroughly. Keep the saltiness of the cheese in mind as you season all components 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.
This is an indulgence that must be eaten immediately. Don’t leave the cheese to cool as it will never taste as good as it did just out of the pan. Keep some extra bread on hand to sop up all the delicious sauce at the bottom of the plate.
250G Halloumi Cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
2 tablespoons green onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons coriander, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Juice of a lemon
Salt to taste
For the red tatbileh:
½ a red bell pepper, roughly chopped into chunks
2 red chilis, halved with seeds removed
½ a clove of garlic, germ removed
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Start by thoroughly drying the cubed halloumi. Set the pieces out on a plate over a paper towel. Pat dry from the top with another paper towel. Set aside.
Prepare the red tatbeileh in a blender by adding all the ingredients and pulsing into a smooth paste. This can also be done using a mortar and pestle, add the ingredients in multiple stages if so. Start with the garlic and salt, then the red pepper and chili, and finally mix in the olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the halloumi cubes to the pan and arrange in a single layer. Fry for about 4 minutes, check frequently to turn right when golden. Fry the halloumi with the other side down for another 2-3 minutes until golden on both sides.
Add the green onion and coriander to the pan. Mix gently to combine, trying not to break up any of the halloumi cubes. After about a minute, add the red tatbeileh. Mix well to coat all the halloumi in the sauce. After another minute, before the sauce has dried up, turn off the heat.
Add a squeeze of lemon and season with salt to your taste. Garnish with the toasted sesame and any remaining coriander leaves or green onions tips. Eat immediately with bread.