My birthday was September 30, and I received the most delightful birthday gift from my son, Brian. He called to wish me Happy Birthday and asked if I had received a delivery. I went to my front porch, and there sat two Whole Foods bags with ingredients for a recipe he made us when we visited him in Ireland—Quinoa Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Fried Halloumi Cheese.
Brian and his family moved to Ireland in August of 2020, so we hadn’t seen him for about a year. We traveled to Ireland in July of 2021 just as it reopened from Covid shutdowns. We had a wonderful time touring the country and visiting with Brian and his family. I particularly enjoyed it when my son cooked for us. Until Brian served this quinoa salad, I had never eaten halloumi cheese. It was amazing, so I am sharing my unusual and delicious birthday gift with all of you.
My son emailed me the recipe he uses for Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, saying he uses it in a variety of ways—he adds it to pasta, pizza, bruschetta, quinoa, and paninis. It makes a lovely appetizer and is a savory addition to charcutier trays. As a busy father, it meets his most important criteria—it is super simple to make. Brian normally uses pine nuts when he makes this; but as so often happens these days, pine nuts were out of stock, so he substituted pistachios—which just happen to be my favorite nut.
Brian gave me verbal instructions on making his quinoa salad, saying, “I’ll be interested to see what you do with it.” He knows I always add my personal touch to any recipe I make, so the diced red onion, chopped pistachios (since they’re my favorite nut, and Brian sent more than was needed for the pesto recipe), and minced chives are my contribution. If you want to make it like Brian, leave those ingredients out.
Since I have never cooked with halloumi cheese, I did some research. It is a semi-firm cheese from Cyprus and has a texture much like mozzarella; but halloumi is brined, which gives it a salty taste and delicious flavor. Yes, you can grill or pan fry halloumi, and it won’t melt and become gooey like Brie. When cooked, halloumi slices retain their shape. Heating softens this squeaky cheese and mellows its saltiness. As I further investigated this cheese, I was amazed to learn that it makes a great meat-free sandwich and is a popular ingredient in skewers. We are going to be eating more halloumi in our house.
As a mother, I tried to expand my children’s pallets so that they would learn to love good food and not be fussy eaters. Now my children are expanding my pallet. What new foods have your children introduced you to?
Brian’s Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Makes about 2 cups
1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil 1 cup basil leaves, tightly-packed ½ cup Parmesan cheese ¼ cup pistachios, chopped 3 teaspoons minced garlic ½ teaspoon kosher salt ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a high-speed blender or food processor, place sun-dried tomatoes, basil, Parmesan, pistachios, garlic, and salt and process until blended. While the blender or food processor is running, slowly add olive oil until it emulsifies. If you desire a thinner consistency, add additional olive oil. Tips on storing: When placed in an airtight container and refrigerated, this recipe will keep up to 1 week.
Tips on shopping for basil: Choose evenly colored leaves that show no sign of wilting or yellowing. Tips on storing basil: Wrap the leaves in damp paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Here is what pan-fried halloumi cheese looks like, so you will know how long to cook it.
Brian’s Quinoa Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Fried Halloumi Cheese a la Carol Ann: Serves 8
1 cup quinoa 1 teaspoon kosher salt Sun-dried tomato pesto, to taste 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters 1 cup English cucumber, sliced into rounds and cut into quarters ½ cup red onion, diced ¼ cup pistachios, chopped 2 tablespoons chives, minced 1 ½ (8-ounce) packages halloumi cheese Olive oil for brushing 1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped Kosher salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste In a medium saucepan, place 2 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add quinoa and 1 teaspoon salt, lower the heat, and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until the grains are tender and open (they will have little curly tails). Drain, place in a bowl, and cool. Fluff quinoa with a fork and add sun-dried tomato pesto to taste. (I used about half.) Mix well. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, pistachios, and chives. Set aside. Using a sharp knife, slice halloumi into ½ to ¾ inch slices. Place a nonstick frying pan over high heat. Dry both sides of cheese slices by blotting them with a paper towel. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of cheese slices with olive oil to coat thoroughly. Sear cheese slices in the hot pan until each slice develops a golden-brown crust, about 2 minutes per side. Place browned cheese slices on a cutting board and cut into cubes. To the tomato mixture, add quinoa and mix well. Add avocado and cheese and mix gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature. Tips on cooking with halloumi cheese: Halloumi will smoke as you cook it. Be sure to turn on the vent or open a window. Tips on shopping for cherry tomatoes: Select firm and plump tomatoes. Do not buy pale, spotted, or mushy specimens. Avoid tomatoes with blemishes or cracks. Color is a good indicator of freshness. Pick brightly colored tomatoes. Tips on shopping for cucumbers: Look for cucumbers that are firm and well-shaped with deep green color. Do not buy yellowing, puffy, or shriveled cucumbers. Check for soft spots or soft ends, which is an indication of spoilage. The flesh of cucumbers should be pale green. Yellow flesh indicates they have started to decay.
Tips on shopping for Italian red onions: Examine the sprout end of Italian red onions. It is often sunken. This is the first place spoilage will begin. Do not buy an Italian red onion if it has a soft, deeply sunken yellow top. Tips on shopping for chives: Select chives with a uniform, green color and no signs of wilting or yellowing.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates