26 September 2023

Halloumi Saganaki

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By Christine Salins.


A childhood holiday in Turkey was Yasmin Khan’s first introduction to the Eastern Mediterranean and it’s fair to say she was smitten. Then living in an industrial city in the West Midlands of England, the images of shimmering seas, sun-drenched islands and mezze-laden tables never left her.

But in choosing to journey through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus for Ripe Figs, her third book, there’s a more serious side to the story than merely delicious food and stunning locations. A human rights campaigner for a decade before becoming a food and travel writer, Khan not surprisingly has watched in horror at the refugee crisis unfolding in the region.

An estimated five million refugees have come through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus in the last five years, the biggest movement of people Europe has seen since the Second World War. Working alongside a refugee at a community centre on the Greek island of Lesvos, Khan learns how the kitchen is an escape from the misery of a camp where 19,000 people are crammed into a space set up for 3,000.

The Eastern Mediterranean has long stood as a meeting point between Europe and the Middle East, a place where cultures and cuisines come together. As Khan travels throughout the region, she traces recipes that have spread from the time of Ottoman rule, to the influence of these more recent refugee communities.

Her recipes unite around zesty citrus and tahini, bunches of dill and oregano, sweet dates and cardamom. Healthy, seasonal dishes abound, many of them vegetable focused. Think zucchini and feta fritters, candied pumpkin with tahini and date syrup, Greek vegetable medley, and charred cabbage with hazelnuts and chilli butter.

Then there are the beautiful fruits of the region in dishes such as pomegranate and sumac chicken, fig and peach tart, sour cherry cheesecake, and a scrumptious pear, apricot and rose water pudding.

The recipe here, Halloumi saganaki drizzled with a warm, thyme-infused honey and topped with crunchy pomegranate, is the perfect appetiser in Khan’s view: sweet, salty, crunchy, fried. It was inspired by a dish she enjoyed in Cyprus and is one of the most popular mezze dishes she makes for friends at home.

Halloumi saganaki

Serves 4 as part of a mezze

300g halloumi cheese

1 medium egg

4 tablespoons fine semolina or polenta

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 tablespoons runny honey

1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves

couple of handfuls of rocket leaves

4 to 5 fresh figs, quartered (optional)

3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Cut the halloumi into 8 thick slices.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and lay the semolina or polenta out on a plate. Dip the halloumi slices in the beaten egg, then roll them in the semolina or polenta so they have a crust around them.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan until it is hot, then fry the halloumi pieces for a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Place on some kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil.

Meanwhile, heat the honey in a small saucepan with the thyme.

Now assemble the dish. Place the rocket on a serving plate and arrange the halloumi on top, nestling the figs around, if using. Drizzle a little of the hot honey over each slice of halloumi. Finish with a smattering of pomegranate seeds and grind over some black pepper.

From: Ripe Figs, by Yasmin Khan, published by Bloomsbury, $45.

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