After what felt like days of indulgent Christmas eating but was actually only a long weekend, we were all ready for something fresh, crisp and green last night. And which didn’t involve leftovers. I foraged around in the fridge and the vegetable drawer to come up with grilled Halloumi cheese served with a composed salad of pomegranate seeds, chicory, lettuce, cucumber and celery which, because our stomachs are stretched from over-eating and needed some carbs too, I served with a couscous spiked with clementine zest and toasted pinenuts.
There’s a satisfactory mixture of textures & tastes, with lots of bitterness, astringency & zing for hammered Christmas palates.
It feeds four as a starter, two as a main course and, if serving as a starter, you could just omit the couscous completely. If serving to people other than my nearest & dearest, I would probs ramp up the presentation too.
Salad leaves can be anything you have: I’m thinking watercress would be good here too, but you do need some bitter leaves to work against the sweetness of the fruit and the saltiness of the cheese.
Halloumi is widely available in the UK but, when you can find it, it is very expensive in the US. I recently came across a packet of something called Frying Cheese for about $4 in a Manhattan Trader Joe’s, which works just as well as Halloumi. Basically, what you need is a salted cheese that holds its shape when heated and doesn’t melt. (Not paneer as it is too bland.)
Measure out ten tablespoons of fine couscous into a small bowl and pour over boiling water to just cover the couscous. Put a plate over the top. After five minutes fluff with a fork. Check to see if it has absorbed all the water and if it is cooked through. If not, pop the plate back on top for a few minutes.
Take two heads of chicory, half a head of celery and a Little Gem lettuce (or any combination of lettuce leaves). Cut the end off the chicory and divide into leaves. Chop the celery into little pieces. Tear up the lettuce. Place all the salad in a deep bowl.
Take a third of a (European) cucumber, peel it and cut into tiny cubes.
Break open a pomegranate and divide half the seeds, clear of pith, into the salad.
Put a heavy frying pan on a medium heat (preferably a ridged cast iron one). Do not add oil. Take a pack of Halloumi cheese and divide into half cm slices, and add to the pan when it’s very hot. Cook for a minute or so until browned and then turn over with tongs and cook the other side. Remove onto a plate.
Then take the hot pan in which you cooked the Halloumi, and pour in the pine nuts. Turn up the heat and shake the nuts around until they are evenly toasted (browned). (This will take less than a minute so keep an eye on them.) Tip into the warm couscous.
Take a clementine (or satsuma, small orange or tangerine), and grate the rind over the couscous on a Microplane if possible, or the smallest teeth of a grater. Add crunchy sea salt, several grinds of black pepper and mix it all together with a fork.
Divide the couscous between four plates, add salad and then place the halloumi on top of the salad. Drizzle over good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you have any nut oils to hand a teeny bit of walnut or hazelnut would be lovely, but use a light hand as they can be very over-powering.
NB I over-cooked my Halloumi so it needs to be a little less brown than in my photos.
10 tablespoons fine couscous
1 x zest of clementine
2 x tablespoons pine nuts
1 pack of Halloumi cheese
half a pomegranate (use the rest to make this)
2 heads chicory
1/2 head celery
handful chopped lettuce
a third of a (European) cucumber
Good olive oil
Balsamic vinegar (I like Belazu as it is all syrupy)
Maldon salt (for the crunch)
Black pepper in a grinder