Tue Aug 5, 2014
My discovery of halloumi cheese is worthy of being called a "life changing moment." I remember it clearly—BZ Grill, a (then) new gyro shop opened up a few blocks away from where I was living in Astoria, Queens. My wife and I went for the gryos, which still rank as the best I've ever had, but upon perusing the menu, my better half opted for a halloumi sandwich.
Having never seen or heard of this hard Cypriot goat or sheep's milk cheese before, I was in awe as I watched the cook cut off slices and place them directly on the grill. The cheese not only kept its shape, but browned like a meat or veggie would over the high, direct heat. As if that weren't enough, the flavor and texture were incredible—slighty salty, a little tangy with a chew and squeak that I found really satisfying.
Ever since then, halloumi has become a regular item on my grill, but I tend to not do much with it beyond piling it into a pita or putting it in the occasional salad. Trying to think of different ways to use this grillable cheese, I came up with these halloumi and vegetable skewers, where it continued to triumph.
In my primarily Greek neighborhood, halloumi is plentiful and somewhat inexpensive. This wide availability has led me to use it in a number of recipes so far, but each time one of my recipes features this fantastic cheese, I get comments inquiring if there is a good substitution because halloumi is either too hard to find or too costly.
There really is not good substitute for halloumi, and I personally think the cost is justified for such a great and unique cheese, but understand the concern. So one thing I wanted to tackle with this particular recipe was to try and find a way to spread the use of halloumi out, so you get more with using less.
Skewers seemed like a great way to do that, and contrasting this salty cheese with fresh vegetables sounded like an apt pairing. To give the veggies more life though, I started out with a Greek-influenced "marinade" that consisted of olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, mint, salt, and pepper.
I tossed sliced zucchini, red onion, grape tomatoes, and the cubed cheese in the marinade, thoroughly coating them all. This gave a unifying bright and herbal flavor to all the different components of these skewers.
Then I skewered the lot, alternating the veggies and cheese to make attractive little sticks that had me more excited than I usually am for something veggie-based. You can see each skewer only got a couple pieces of halloumi, stretching what would have been a cheese serving for only four into a recipe that can pretty comfortably accommodate eight hungry bellies.
Over a hot, direct fire, I grilled up the skewers, cooking them until the halloumi developed a beautiful browned exterior and the vegetables softened, but still retained a little crunch. This took three to five minutes per side depending on how hot the fire was below.
These skewers worked really great on the whole. The veggies combined into a medley of fresh flavors with a little sweetness, sharpness, and freshness while having a bright acidity and herbal touch. The halloumi brought things to another level though with its salty flavor and semi-soft texture that added something that would very much be missing without it. Be warned though, the draw of the halloumi is strong. The first batch of skewers were eaten completely, but as the I grilled off the second and third batches, my guests began dissembling the kebabs, leaving the veggies and devouring the little cubes of halloumi—it really is that good.
Halloumi and Vegetable Skewers
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 30 Minutes
- 6 to 8 servings
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon, plus 1 additional lemon cut into wedges for serving
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound halloumi cheese, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 2 medium zucchini, cut into into 1/2-inch rounds
- 2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
- 1 pint grape tomatoes
- Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use
- Tzatziki, for serving (optional)
- Pita, warmed, for serving (optional)
- Whisk together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and mint in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add cheese, zucchini, onion, and tomatoes, and toss to combine.
- Alternatively thread cheese, zucchini, onion, and tomatoes on skewers.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill skewers over direct heat until cheese browns and zucchini has slightly softened, 3-5 minutes per side. Remove skewers from the grill to a serving platter. Squeeze lemon wedges over skewers and serve immediately with tzatziki and warm pita.