A recent visit to Nicosia and dinner with friends at a favourite restaurant introduces us to a different way of serving halloumi cheese, which I really like and want to try making myself. Attempting to replicate interesting dishes is a favourite kitchen pastime!!
Halloumi is a particular Cypriot cheese made from sheep and goat milk. It has been produced by Cypriots for many centuries and is an important part of Cypriot culture and diet. It is semi-hard with a rubbery texture and a distinct salty flavour. It is a popular choice for many dishes as an alternative to traditional cheese due to its high melting point. As mentioned, it’s quite salty and usually served fried with slices of lemon. Delicious in its own way, I am ready to try a different style of serving halloumi.
I buy fresh halloumi from a farmer in the Paphos fruit and vegetable market and am always happy with her cheese.
The Nicosian restaurant, Beba, serves halloumi in a different way: halloumi baked on a tomate base. The server told me the base was tomato marmelade; tomatoes with various ingredients reduced to a marmelade consistency.
Part of the fun of my kitchen pastime is searching the internet for suitable, approximate recipes that I play with a bit, depending on the situation. In this way, I found a tomato marmelade recipe that I modified, particularly by reducing the sugar and replacing that ingredient with stevia.
Together with the tomatoes, the following ingredients of olive oil, onion, garlic, sweet red peppers, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar all find their way into the pot. During the one hour simmering phase, I add some water so it doesn’t get too think. After cooling, this is puréed into a smooth marmelade consistency rather than a ‘chunky’ marmelade.
To replicate the baked halloumi dish we had enjoyed, I spread tomato marmelade onto a glass cooking plate and add the halloumi on top, sliced horizontally rather than the typical vertical slices.
This goes into a hot oven for 20 minutes and is served with a salad of lettuce and cucumbers. Because of the high melting point of halloumi, it retains its shape and softens rather than melting.
Choosing an appropriate wine is part of the pleasure and definitely choosing a Cypriot wine is important to me for this quintessentially Cypriot dish. Given the saltiness of the halloumi cheese, and following typical wine pairing convention, a wine with some acidity seems right and so we open a chilled bottle of Xynisteri, a white wine from Andreas Tsalapatis, a wine maker in Polemi, a village in the hills about 30 minutes from Paphos. It is a successful match with enough acidity to balance the saltiness in the halloumi but soft at the same time with flavours of citrus and stone fruit and a whisper of nuttiness at the end.
Xynisteri is the main indigenous white-wine variety of Cyprus. It is used to make light, refreshing white wines. Xynisteri wine is typically produced as a single varietal wine and for sake of comparison is similar to Sauvignon Blanc.
Applause at the dinner table is music to my ears as we enjoy the results of this kitchen experiment, inspired by the restaurant Beba in Nicosia.
References: Tomato Marmelade – myrecipes.com as inspiration
Wine: Tsalapatis Winery, Rigena 100% 12.5 VOL Xynisteri
Inspired by Restaurant: Beba Restaurant, ΜΠΕΜΠΑ, Nicosia