Eric Akis: No meat needed for halloumi cheeseburger

Eric Akis

Today’s column was influenced by an international source. My son Tyler is currently living in Stockholm with his girlfriend, Sarah, who suggested I do a column on a cheese called halloumi that is trendy all over the world.

According to the specialty cheese website, it’s a Cypriot-style, firm, brined, slightly springy cheese, traditionally made from goat and/or sheep milk but now also made with cow milk. Its texture is similar to that of firm types of mozzarella or thick feta, except that its brine gives it a pronounced salty flavour.

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Halloumi, pronounced “huh•loo•mee,” has been eaten in the Middle East for eons. Over the years, immigrants have introduced it to many other parts of the world where it eventually, and understandably, became popular.

Halloumi has a high melting point and holds its shape well when cooked through methods such as frying or grilling. Cooking the cheese further enhances its umami-rich flavour and reduces its saltiness. It also makes it a versatile, hearty ingredient that can be used in a range of dishes, such as appetizers and entrees.

Tyler said he was introduced to halloumi while travelling extensively in Europe with his hard-rocking band a few years ago. He said that some of the non-meat-eating folks that hosted him along the way would serve big plates of it alongside salads.

“It’s lovely just pan-fried with a squeeze of lemon, kind of like a (Greek) saganaki without the ouzo-flamed fire,” Tyler said.

Soon after arriving in Sweden, Tyler noticed that halloumi was also popular there, with even fast-food restaurants, such as Sweden’s Max Burgers chain, serving it. That, in turn, revealed another tasty way to enjoy the cheese, sandwiched in a bun.

I’ve never had a halloumi burger, where the cheese replaces the meat, but Tyler has many times and he guided me on creating a recipe for one. As you’ll see below, he suggested I complement the almost meaty-tasting cheese in the bun with a tangy sauce, refreshing salad greens, ripe tomato, homemade pickles and fried onions. Quite delicious!

On Vancouver Island, you’ll find halloumi for sale at Middle Eastern-style and specialty food stores, and in the deli section of some grocery stores. In my recipe, I used the easy-to-slice type of halloumi formed in a brick.

Deluxe Halloumi Cheeseburgers

In this deluxe cheeseburger, umami-rich halloumi cheese replaces the meat.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 11 minutes

Makes: two servings

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 tsp olive oil

6 (about 3-inch long, 1 1/2-inch wide, half-inch thick) slices halloumi cheese (about 175 to 200 grams)

2 hamburger buns, split and warmed

4 thin, ripe tomato slices

• Eric’s burger sauce, to taste (see recipe below)

• baby salad greens or baby arugula, to taste

• zucchini pickles, to taste (see recipe below and Eric’s options)

Heat oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender and lightly caramelized, about seven minutes. Remove from heat.

Set a large, good quality (not-scratched) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (see Eric’s options). When hot, carefully set the halloumi into the dry pan. Cook until deep golden-brown, about two minutes per side. While halloumi cooks, set onions back on the heat to warm.

When halloumi is cooked, remove skillet from the heat. To build the burgers, spread the cut sides of each bun with burger sauce. Set salad greens (or arugula) and onions on each bottom bun. Now divide and set the hot slices of halloumi on each bottom bun. Top the cheese with the tomato slices, zucchini pickles and top buns, and serve.

Eric’s options: If desired, the zucchini pickles could be replaced with store-bought pickles, such as yum yum or sweet mixed pickles. If you don’t have a good quality non-stick skillet, add a bit of olive oil to the pan before cooking the cheese to prevent sticking.

Zucchini Pickles

These sweet-and-sour-tasting, no-canning-required pickles can be enjoyed a few hours after making them.

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

1 2/3 cups sliced zucchini (see Note)

2 Tbsp finely diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp dried dill

1 Tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard

Layer zucchini and bell pepper in a 500 mL jar. Place vinegar, sugar, salt and dill in a small pot and set over medium heat. Heat and stir this brine just until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove pot from the heat and stir in the mustard.

Pour the hot brine over the zucchini, firmly pushing down on the slices to ensure they are at least partially submerged. Let zucchini cool to room temperature, then push down on the slices again to ensure they are submerged.

Seal the jar and refrigerate zucchini pickles for at least two hours, or until needed for the halloumi burgers. Any leftovers zucchini pickles will keep refrigerated for up to two weeks. Enjoy them with anything you normally serve pickles with.

Note: I cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick slices. One medium zucchini should yield the amount needed here. Not overly wide zucchini are best for this recipe. The one I used was about 1 1/2 inches wide.

Eric’s Burger Sauce

Here’s my version of the “special” sauce used as a condiment for burgers in restaurants. It will keep in the refrigerator at least two weeks. Recipe could be doubled, if desired.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: about 1/2 cup

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp ketchup

2 Tbsp sweet green relish

1 1/2 tsp yellow mustard

1/8 tsp onion powder

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp smoked paprika

• tiny pinch ground cayenne pepper

Combine ingredients in a jar. Seal and refrigerate until needed for the burgers.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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