Spring is officially here, and that means something other than kale at the farmers’ market. I’m kind of getting to the point where I literally can’t with kale anymore. Same goes for chard and collard greens. It’s time for something new. Time for crisp lettuces, bitter greens, peppery radishes, and sweet strawberries. While I’m used to seeing strawberries pop up in late April, they are already arriving here on the West Coast, so naturally, I’ve been buying them by the flat and adding them to everything. Like this Strawberry and Halloumi Salad with Mint, Sumac and Pine Nuts. Yes, I basically just Arab-ed up a strawberry salad. It works. And it’s darn tasty.
Arab-ed up ingredient #1: Halloumi. Halloumi is salty semi-hard white cheese and, due to its high melting point, can be fried or grilled. In my opinion, the best halloumi is made from sheep’s milk and has been slightly aged. It should taste great uncooked and even better fried in olive oil. Like a crisp, buttery cloud.
Arab-ed up ingredient #2: Sumac. I’ve seen sumac go from an obscure ingredient you can only find in Middle Eastern markets to one that is easily found in well stocked grocery stores. It’s a purple-hued spice with citrusy, berry-ish notes. Essential to Arabic salads, Musakhan (a Palestinian roasted chicken dish with TONS of onions and sumac), and used to garnish kabobs and dips (think hummus, baba ghanoush, labneh, fūl, etc). It’s awesome stuff that I predict will be in more and more kitchens as people give it a try. It’s a fun spice to experiment with and I’ve already convinced a few of my friends to regularly stock it.
Arab-ed up ingredient #3: Pine nuts. Pine nuts are very good and very expensive. Luckily, you don’t need a ton to get great flavor. I find the best value for my pine nuts at Middle Eastern markets. They typically go through the nuts faster and therefore you get a fresher product. I would advise against buying pine nuts from bulk bins if possible. They are easily destroyed and due to their high oil content, prone to rancidity if not stored properly. I’ve seen it, it’s sad. Like halloumi, great pine nuts are good uncooked, but transform into buttery deliciousness when toasted. Store any unused pine nuts (as if) in the freezer.
In my opinion, no salad would be complete without a bitter component. Here I used treviso radicchio, also called red chicory. I blame my fascination with all things bitter on Jennifer McLagan’s most recent cookbook, the aptly named Bitter. I recommend embracing bitter foods, because without the bitter there can be no sweet, err.. whatever. Feel free to leave it out, but just so you know, it’s good for you.
This salad pairs well with simple grilled or roasted meats and fish. Or, if you are feeling a bit vegetarian, serve it as is.
Strawberry and Halloumi Salad with Mint, Sumac, and Pine Nuts
- 2 tablespoon fruity olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Cabernet wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 tablespoon grated garlic, from 1 very small clove
- 1/2 tablespoon saltfresh cracked black pepper
- Whisk together all of vinaigrette ingredients. Taste and adjust as needed. Keep in mind that the halloumi is salty. Set aside dressing.
- In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, treviso radicchio, strawberries, and mint.
- Heat a dry skillet over high heat. Add pine nuts and stir constantly. The nuts should toast quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on them to avoid burning. Set aside.
- Wipe out the skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat, and add halloumi cubes. Let cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, then flip and let another side get golden brown for an additional minute. No need to brown all sides.
- To assemble salad, drizzle dressing over salad and toss well. Add to serving bowls and sprinkle with cheese cubes and pine nuts.
- 1 large head of butter lettuce, torn
- 2 cups of roughly shredded treviso radicchio (optional)
- 2 cups of strawberries hulled and sliced into fourths or eighths depending on size
- 1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts (find some here)
- 8oz of halloumi cheese chopped into cubes (find some here)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil