Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Cheese Stands Alone

Charles de Gaulle has been credited with asking, "How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" Well, I don't govern much of anything, but I can certainly relate to Mr. de Gaulle's dilemma. You see, these days I've become a bit cheese obsessed, and it doesn't help that with so many varieties out there, the possibilities for experimentation appear to be endless. I've played with it on pizza, on toast, on soup and especially in dips and sauces. But one application that I had yet to test out on cheese was grilling.

A while back I learned that you can actually grill and roast several firm cheeses like feta and haloumi. I love both applications because they impart a type of flavor that can't be achieved through other cooking methods. With grilling you get a beautiful charred smokiness and awesome color, not to mention a whole new flavor profile. Roasting always brings out the sweetness of ingredients by slowly browning and caramelizing, a perfect flavor juxtaposition with a firm, salty cheese. Despite its scary location under an overpass behind the Port Authority, the Greek import shop in my neighborhood has an excellent selection of international meats and cheeses. I'd been searching high and low for a good haloumi only to find that most cheese shops do not carry very many Greek cheese other than feta. Fortunately, this oddly placed culinary wonderland in the middle of nowhere had several types of haloumi to choose from.

I decided to take a recipe from Gourmet that combined several of my favorite flavors including garlic and lemon with a hint or salt and sugar, all combining in a lovely sweet and sour glaze. The recipe originally called for dill, but I really like the woodyness of thyme, especially when paired with lemon and a little charred flavor. The only thing missing would be the beautiful grill marks of an actual outdoor grill, which in this case was replaced with an indoor grill pan. The cheese blistered and charred just the same, holding up shockingly well to the heat from an intense flame. The original recipe also called for grilled lemons which would serve mostly as decoration but aren't particularly edible. I think next time, perhaps with a nice block of feta, I'll roast lemon halves along with the cheese and then squeeze the sweetened, browned juice over it before serving. Until then, here's what I did with the haloumi:

Grilled Haloumi with Lemon Dressing
adapted from Gourmet

2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 pound Haloumi cheese
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
4 (3/4-inch-thick) slices peasant or country-style bread
2 Tbsp dried or fresh thyme

1. Prepare a gas grill for direct-heat cooking over moderately high heat, or heat an indoor grill pan over
moderately high heat.

2. Mince garlic and mash to a paste with a pinch of salt using side of a large heavy knife, and combine in a bowl with lemon juice. Whisk in salt and sugar until dissolved, then add 1/4 cup oil, whisking until combined.

3. Halve cheese diagonally, then cut each triangle, cut side down, into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Toss cheese with dressing and brush both sides of bread with remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

4. Grill bread and cheese, covered, turning over once, until bread is toasted (2 to 3 minutes total) and grill marks appear on both sides of cheese (3 to 4 minutes total).

5. Whisk thyme into remaining dressing. Divide bread among 4 small plates and top with cheese and lemon slices. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately. Enjoy!


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