Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grilled halloumi and aubergine platter

Photos like this one make me wish I could eat with my eyes! Not only is it beautiful, it's also simple, fresh, healthy and uber easy to put together in a hurry.

Cheese, eggplant a.k.a. aubergine and tomato - only three simple ingredients go into this gorgeous platter. Because it's such a pretty little composition, you can make it as both a side dish and a center piece (see what I did there? "Side", "center", get it?). It's actually inspired by a caprese salad I had at a local resto a while back. Since I couldn't find any fresh mozzarella that's halal or kosher, I decided to use my other favourite cheese - halloumi.

I first tasted halloumi while working in a Lebanese restaurant as a student in Brisbane, Australia. The halloumi is usually sold in small, vacuum-packed miniature bricks to customers but behind the counter, us workers would grill slices of it for our salads or our kebab lunches. Pretty soon I was getting my own regular supply of halloumi to experiment with at home. I was in love with the rigid but tofu-like texture and the subtle buttery flavour. Pan-fried at high heat, it'll form a nutty outer crust that's the perfect crunchy protein substitute in a salad.

You can probably find halloumi in most Indian or Middle-Eastern supermarkets today. I don't have an exact recipe for this platter since it's something I whipped up on a whim. Slicing the ingredients is probably the largest part of the recipe, so don't be intimidated. Here's a general description of what I did:

Tomatoes - get large, ripe ones. Cut into 1/4" slices.
Halloumi - cut into 1/4" slices. Preheat pan to medium high high heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the pan. Place halloumi slices in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown crust forms.
Aubergine - I used Italian eggplants of about 3" in diameter. Cut into 1/4" slices, sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander for 5-10 minutes. Water will start to draw out of the slices. Pat dry with paper towels. Brush lightly with olive oil, pan fry or grill on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.
Assembly - alternate tomato, aubergine and halloumi slices on a platter. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (if you want), rip up a bunch of cilantro and sprinkle from on high so that they fall like delicate petals onto the grilled halloumi, aubergine and tomato.

And that's all there is to it! My family was impressed when I placed the platter on our dining table but, really, I barely broke a sweat. I think it's a pretty good deal for such an amazing-looking assemble!

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