The first time I tried halloumi was at Eat & Two Veg in London, England. In fact, this was my very first vegetarian restaurant experience. There was no researching of the restaurant; my brother, sister, dad, and I serendipitously stumbled upon it because we were in the Marylebone area that afternoon. (A few years later, I was back in the same location, this time with just my dad, and we were crushed to see that the restaurant was gone. It’s awful when you’re anticipating a certain meal and then being denied the experience.)
That day at Eat & Two Veg, my brother and I ordered their Caesar salad, which looked rather simple on paper, but there was something on top that looked like seared chicken.
I asked, “what is that?” Receiving a swift response from the server, “Halloumi.” This didn’t help me at all. But, once I took a bite, I knew I’d found something special.
Halloumi is a bit of a curious cheese as it doesn’t melt when it hits the heat like most do, making it the perfect pan-seared or grilled topper to just about anything. It’s briny and substantial, so a little goes a long way. Here, it’s paired with roasted fennel, vinegar-spiked lentils, and creamy sweet potato, all working harmoniously to create a dish that turned into one of the best things I’ve dreamt up in a long time.
This recipe is universally inspired, much like the city of London itself.
Warm Lentils with Fennel, Sweet Potatoes, and Halloumi Recipe
This warm lentil salad recipe combines green lentils, fennel, sweet potatoes, and balsamic vinegar, all paired with griddled halloumi. Elegant enough for entertaining and easy enough for a weeknight. The combinations of textures and tastes makes this dish a crowd-pleaser.
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side
1 cup green lentils or Du Puy lentils
1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced; fronds finely chopped and set aside
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp sea
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (approx. 250g) package halloumi, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slabs
- Roast the vegetables, preheat oven to 400ºF. To a large rimmed baking sheet, add fennel (not reserved fronds), onion, sweet potato, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss to combine. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Meanwhile, prepare the lentils.
- To cook the lentils, place lentils in a large pot; cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cooking for 25 to 30 minutes until tender. Drain and rinse. Add to a large bowl along with chopped fennel fronds, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and 1 tbsp olive oil. Follow with the roasted vegetables; toss to combine all ingredients.
- To pan-fry the halloumi, heat a large non-stick skillet, over medium-high. Add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil until shimmering, followed by halloumi, cooking for about 1 to 2 minutes per side, until deep golden brown. If your pan is small, fry halloumi in two batches.
- To serve, to a large platter or individual dishes, add lentils and vegetables, top with pan-fried halloumi, and serve. Can be eaten warm, room temperature, or chilled.