At first glance, halloumi doesn't look like much. It's a dense, white block of cheese shrink-wrapped in plastic, AKA nothing you haven't seen before with feta or paneer. If you cut off a slice and try it, it tastes like a very salty cheese curd—squeaky between your teeth, with a rubbery texture that doesn't exactly leave you raring for more.
However, put this Cypriot cheese in contact with a heat source, like the grill, the oven, or just an ungreased skillet, and true magic happens. I am not exaggerating here. With absolutely no oil, complicated cooking methods, or breading, heated halloumi transforms into a bronzed nugget of joy: crunchy, Maillard-tastic exterior giving way to a soft, almost gooey interior that still retains a bit of cheese curd-y squeakiness. Another benefit of halloumi is that it holds its shape quite well when cooked, making it ideal fodder for sandwiches, shish kebabs, and hearty salads of all stripes (grain! root veg! bitter greens!).
In fact, when you put your mind to it, there are few savory dishes that aren't improved by halloumi. Try subbing it in for gobs of mozzarella in a baked pasta, layering thick, heated slices over hearty salads or lentils, or slipping a few pan-fried pieces into your falafel wraps (and experience firsthand the same meal that saved my life during a few late, boozy nights in London, where they are already fully converted to the cult of halloumi). Or, if you want to keep things simple, just cut the cheese into 1/2-inch slices, cover it in spices and maybe a few paper-thin pieces of lemon, and broil the bejeezus out of it until you have a sheet pan of melted cheese waiting to be paired with a torn baguette and wine.
I know, I know—halloumi is expensive. I had the pleasure of falling in love with the cheese in the U.K., where hunks of halloumi typically cost half as much as they would in the U.S. However, as halloumi's fanbase grows and it becomes more and more commonplace in restaurants and grocery stores, we can cross our fingers and pray for the price to go down. We can raise halloumi awareness.
Thankfully, halloumi's intensely savory flavor can go a long way; one block could easily stretch to several meals if you use these cheese as an edible exclamation point! instead of the main event. Or, just treat yourself—I know a recipe for halloumi fries that deserves your time and money.
Have you tried halloumi? What do you think: worth the price, or overhyped? Tell us in the comments!