Monday, October 13, 2014

Grilled Romaine, Mint Vinaigrette & Halloumi cheese

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Grilled Romaine, Mint Vinaigrette & Halloumi cheese
Serves 4
Difficulty: Easy
Grilled Romaine, Mint Vinaigrette & Halloumi cheese
Yes, you can grill lettuce! Romaine is both sturdy enough and flavorful enough to stand up to the heat and char of the grill. Something magical happens when you cook lettuce, especially when it just starts to wilt – the edges become silky smooth, the leaves become a little bit sweeter, the core a little bit crunchier and overall, it just gets a whole lot tastier. The flavor of grilled romaine is hard to describe. It is smokey and charred but still crunchy. If its pouring rain, hail, snow or whatever is keeping you indoors – you could give a go and sauté in a hot cast iron pan. One with ridges would even give the grill marks! I use bagged hearts of romaine for a few reasons. They are the perfect size with little waste, they are ready to use upon purchase and they are not slogged down with water like whole heads of lettuce usually are.

Mint, mustard and garlic for the salad

Halloumi is a Cypriot semi-hard, un-ripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep, and sometimes cow milk. It has a high melting point so can easily be fried or grilled. Its texture is similar to that of mozzarella or thick feta, except that it has a strong salty flavor absorbed from the brine preserve. Cooking the Halloumi removes its saltiness and imbues it with a creamy texture. If you’ve never had fried Halloumi, you’re in for a major treat. It’s hard to describe the taste and sensation when you bite into it. It’s slightly rubbery, but squidgy in your mouth in a uniquely pleasant way. (Not sure “squidgy” is a word, but as I mentioned, it’s hard to describe.) Traditionally mint leaves were used as a preservative. In fact, it can often be found wrapped in fragments of mint leaves on the surface of the cheese. The mint vinaigrette here becomes the perfect “sauce”. However any of your light favorite vinaigrettes would work equally well if you are fresh out of mint.
  • 6 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tb red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tb chopped fresh mint, divided
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 hearts of romaine, halved or quartered lengthwise
  • 1 red onion, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch thick rounds
  • 3 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered and lightly salted
  • 1 8.8-ounce package Halloumi cheese, cut crosswise into 8 slices
  • Additional 1 Tb olive oil if sauté cheese
Prepare barbeque (medium-high heat). Whisk oil, vinegar, 1 Tb mint, mustard, and garlic in a small bowl; season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Prepare the lettuce by peeling off any unattractive outside leaves. Cut the lettuce lengthwise, making sure to keep the stem end intact. Brush lettuce and onion slices with dressing. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill onion slices until charred in spots and softened, about 3 minutes per side. 
Cut the Romaine lengthwise
Transfer to a platter; separate rings. Toss lettuce, cut-side down, onto BBQ or grill pan. Let cook 2-3 minutes until it starts to char around the edges a little. Flip on the other side for just a minute. Remove from grill, or heat, transfer wedges dividing between 4 plates. 
Lettuce and onions on the grill
Grilled lettuce. Note slightly wilted and charred on the edges
Grill Halloumi until charred in spots and softened, about 2 minutes per side. Alternatively, for more even browning, sauté in a skillet. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tb olive oil, when hot; add cheese to pan and sauté 2-3 minutes per side without disturbing until a deep brown crust forms.
How to cut the cheese.....
Grilling the cheese
To serve, scatter grilled onion rings over lettuce. Divide tomato slices between plates. Divide Halloumi among plates. Drizzle with additional dressing; sprinkle with remaining 1 Tb mint and serve.

Bon Appetit!


Loosely adapted Bon Appetit, May 2009

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