I’ve asked this question before – let me ask it again: who the heck is Valentine’s Day meant to please? Single people feel depressed at being left out of all the saccharine togetherness; and people in relationships feel depressed because their relationships don’t measure up to the fantasy portrayed by the media – or resentful because they are expected to eat underwhelming food in overpriced restaurants masquerading as special Valentine’s menus. The only people getting any joy are the Hallmark Cards shareholders!
So a couple of years ago I decided to start a new Valentine’s tradition – instead of waiting for flowers or chocolates, I decided to stay home and invite a bunch of friends round for lunch or dinner. That way nobody gets to sit home alone on Valentine’s Day, and nobody has to waste a ton of money on overpriced meals while packed into restaurants with the world and its uncle. Needless to say, the quality of my Valentine’s meals has improved vastly since I made this decision!
This year, we kept the theme vaguely middle-Eastern/north-African and started with this delightful dish from my friend Beth of Dirty Kitchen Secrets (one of the organisers of Food Blogger Connect 2010 – remember to register now to hear me speak at FBC10 in June!). There is nothing I don’t love about this dish – it’s quick to make, it’s packed with fabulous flavours, it’s pretty to look at and not too rich.
Zaa’tar is a Middle-Eastern spice blend prepared using ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt, though other spices might also be added.
GRILLED HALLOUMI CHEESE WITH ZAA’TAR & ROASTED PEPPER COULIS (serves 6)
750g halloumi cheese, sliced lengthwise into 12 slices
6 red bell peppers
1.5 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons zaa’tar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pita bread, cut into small triangles
Halve and seed the bell peppers and place them skin side up under a hot grill until they start to char and blacken. Once they are fairly evenly charred, remove from the oven and place them in a ziplock bag and seal tightly. Set aside for about 5 minutes to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice into strips.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C. Place the bell pepper strips, garlic, lemon juice and cayenne pepper in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth puree. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Place the pita triangles on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or till crispy. In the mean time, mix the zaa’tar well with olive oil till it is well incorporated.
Heat a heavy bottomed pan and lightly wipe the base with some olive oil. Place the halloumi cheese slices in the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, then over and repeat on the other side.
To assemble, plate the hot halloumi cheese on the bell pepper coulis, drizzle liberally with the zaa’tar mixture and then top with the crispy pita crisps. Use any leftover coulis to decorate the plate or store it in the fridge to use as on pizzas or pasta.