halloumi pasta with lemon and mint


There are few things more pleasurable than biting into the
yielding flesh of a thick slab of smoky halloumi taken straight off the
barbeque, blistered brown by the heat and relinquishing all its salty wonder
with every bite. 

Society is now relatively accustomed to this firm and squeaky
cheese traditionally made with the milk from goats and sheep and originating from
Cyprus; it’s frequently used as a meat substitute in burgers and on kebab
skewers, added to salads or served with vegetables. It can be eaten straight
off the knife but is also often found grilled, fried or barbequed due to its
unique quality of form that lends itself so well to the cooking process – it’s
a cheese that doesn’t melt, it just gets a bit softer.

My father is from North Cyprus, so growing up surrounded by
the fabulous Cypriot and Turkish cuisine (as well as excellent Mauritian
cuisine from my mother’s side), I’m probably more accustomed to this cheese
than most. And I therefore know just how versatile it can be. 

As well as the
above, it is also traditionally found incorporated into bread dough and one of
my favourite ways of devouring it, with pasta. This dish is one from my
childhood – one of those where I’d get overly animated when I knew it was on
the menu for dinner. I’ve carried it through to adulthood, frequently returning
to it and sharing it with friends who have almost unanimously fallen for it at
first taste. It’s one of the simplest meals in my repertoire consisting of a
mere six ingredients, yet yields one of the biggest pleasure bounties.

Combining flavours of both fresh and dried mint, chicken stock and lemon juice
with the saltiness of the cheese, the result is a plate of pure satiety. Serving
the cheese in its grated form allows each mint laden particle to mingle with
the lemony chicken juices and coat every bit of pasta. 

To make this dish
vegetarian, simply replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Excellent
eaten either hot or cold the next day, it makes the perfect accompaniment to
some left over roast chicken taken on a picnic. We now just need to wait for
the weather to humour us.

Halloumi Pasta with Lemon and Mint

Serves 4

200g halloumi

400g whole wheat pasta

2 litres of ready made chicken stock (or three chicken stock
cubes)

2 lemons

2 tbsp dried mint

A few sprigs of fresh mint

Finely grate the cheese and mix with the dried mint. Chop a
handful of the mint leaves and set aside. In the meantime, cook the pasta in
the chicken stock. If you don’t have ready made stock, use three chicken stock
cubes in around two litres of water. The liquid should cover the pasta by an
inch or so. 

If the liquid gets too low before the pasta is cooked, add a splash
more. You want most of the liquid to have been absorbed by the end, but with some
still remaining.

Layer some of the grated cheese and mint in an empty shallow
bowl per person. 

When the pasta is al dente, ladle half a portion into the bowl
along with a little of the stock. Sprinkle another layer of the grated cheese,
top with some more pasta, and finish with the final layer of cheese. Sprinkle
with a generous amount of the fresh mint.

Squeeze the juice from ¼ to ½ a lemon over each bowl (depending on how much your guests like lemon – I like it a lot), and serve with a few more wedges should they wish for more.

Alfiyet olsun.

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