haloumi, ha-LOO-mee!

It may be obvious by now how I cherish great words as much as great ingredients. HALOUMI! It’s as much fun as shouting Oo-pah! though I would argue perhaps even more.

I want to talk about a few fun things today: making flavored oils, pasta, and of course: haloumi. I promise to stop tossing this word at you without further explanation. Haloumi (just in case you didn’t know), is a Greek/Middle Eastern cheese made from both goat and sheep’s milk. It has an appearance and texture similar to mozzarella, though I find it to have more mild and salty flavor. But that’s not what’s exciting about it.

What’s intriguing about haloumi is that you can grill or fry it without it melting. Here’s the reason I’m so excited to tell you about it. A testimonial, if you will. I like browning haloumi inside hollowed roasted veggies (oh boy, you saw it coming). Well, yes, good for me, but I made this for my Dad whose indifference to exotic vegetables compares only to my feelings about meat. And my Dad, who raised a curious eyebrow upon seeing these funky white squares stuffed in the red peppers on his plate, later admitted he didn’t know peppers could be that good.

A comment on my cooking abilities? Not so much. Remember the theme here: great food is something we can all produce at home. No, this was evidence that the to combination of simple, intriguing ingredients, marinated with a little roasting know-how, produces something memorable. (See Roasting post).

So let’s talk about the wonders of homemade oil. Okay, well infused oil. Fresh garlic (you know, those white bulbs that keep the vampires away?) tends to be bitter here in the States. The version we find in grocery stores tends to be more pungent than garlic found in other regions, so I find garlic most delightful when roasted, sautéed, infused into oils…

I love garlic oil best drizzled over (homemade!) pasta, but it’s also great to brown something such as, say, haloumi! I don’t have much technique when making garlic oil—the most work is just peeling the garlic.

So once you’ve got your big head of garlic (looks for bright white, with tight cloves at the store), peel the outer paper off and separate the cloves by hand or bang the head with a large knife (or bottom of a pan) to break the cloves apart. (Despite the mental picture, this need not be a violent act). There are a number of shortcuts to removing the paper from the individual cloves. You could take a large, wide knife and press firmly into the clove to crack the paper and peel it right off. Less hands-on work: 6 seconds in the microwave also does the trick.

Now just slice the cloves in half (or more pieces if you life) and place in half a cup of Olive Oil (not Extra-Virgin, too fruity). If you need a good deal of oil (or want some to use later in the week), just increase the ratio of garlic cloves to oil. I usually put about 3 crushed/sliced cloves in oil. I don’t heat it, but you can to help release the flavors–just heat gently until bubbling. (Option: Add fresh rosemary or chiles or any other flavors you want to infuse along with the garlic).

In making garlic oil, pour your mixture (cloves + oil + optional herbs) into a heatproof bowl to leave in a cool place (like a cabinet) overnight. THEN STRAIN THE OIL! Anything stored in the oil long-term can develop harmful molds. Top with a little more (plain) oil and store sealed.

Now enjoy over pasta, marinate veggies/meat to be roasted, the possibilities are endless. And if you want to incorporate haloumi into your dish—oh how brilliant of you—this is great to drizzle on haloumi with some pine nuts and maybe some herbs at the end. Broil until crispy. Yum!

Above is a typical 10-minute Lindsey-dinner (although this happens to be homemade spinach and bell-pepper pasta, which is not a project I tackle daily). I took my garlic oil, sautéed (frozen) spinach until almost brown and crispy, and then tossed my pasta into the hot pan with some parmesan. So easy it sounds silly, but with sophisticated results.

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