Along with a solid cohort who have become full-blown vegetarians, a lot of my friends have mentioned to me over the past year that they are making a concerted effort to eat less meat during the course of the week. I am also in this group, and although I doubt I will ever become vegetarian, I do find I enjoy meat more the less frequently I eat it. Also, I’d rather spend twice the price and eat meat – higher welfare meat that is – half as often as to do the reverse. Plus, I absolutely love vegetables (bar okra, sweet potatoes & kohlrabi, obviously), and particularly enjoy putting them front and centre in my dishes over the summer months when so many varieties are at the top of their season, just asking to be used.
What that means in practice is a couple of nights each week where we either just omit meat completely and have something with a really punchy flavour like spaghetti with squashed tomatoes or where we sub in another kind of protein like pulses, eggs or a cheese like halloumi, feta or mozzarella in place of meat.
Either way it’s no hardship, and to be honest when you have a cheese like halloumi which is deeply savoury and benefits beautifully from the caramelising effects of frying [the famous Maillard reaction that makes cooked meat so tantalising to to us humans], it covers off most of the same qualities as meat and is tremendously satisfying. What’s more, almost everyone loves it (almost – a very small minority of people are too freaked out by its squeak to enjoy it) and it grills really well, making it perfect for ensuring vegetarians don’t feel left out at barbecues.
Because it’s such a handy addition to meat-free meals, I’ve been trying out a few new ways of cooking it lately. In my experience, halloumi’s richly savoury flavour notes are heightened & enhanced by pairing it with a slightly acidic counterpart, so I’ve included a bright lemony dressing for this salad – which I should say is a total knock-out. I’m planning to make it again tonight.
HALLOUMI & GREEN BEAN SALAD
If I was to be unusually prescriptive, I would urge you to serve this dish with just plain boiled brown rice, as it is a combination that falls squarely under the heading of ‘more than the sum of its parts’, is bizarrely comforting and will be loved by all comers.
1 block of halloumi
2 large handfuls of green beans
12 kalamata olives & 1 tablespoon of olive brine
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Zest & juice of half a lemon, plus more zest to garnish
1 tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic, peeled & finely diced
Handful of fresh dill & parsley, chopped
Either 100g dried green peas OR 1 undrained can of chickpeas, cannellini beans or butter beans (The peas will take approx. 40 minutes to boil & will make this salad more of a complete dinner. If you want a lighter, speedier option, the canned chickpeas, cannellini beans or butter beans will work fine either)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Tiny pinch of caster sugar
Salt & black pepper
If you’re using dried green peas, bring them to the boil in lots of unsalted water and cook over a high heat for 10 minutes, then lower the heat and cook at a simmer for a further half an hour, or until tender but not yet mushy. Once cooked, season & drain. If you’re not using the peas, tip the entire contents of tin of chickpeas or beans into a saucepan and heat until warmed through then season lightly, drain & set aside.
In a separate saucepan, simmer the green beans in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes until tender then blanch & leave them in ice cold water to keep their colour vivid.
Place the diced garlic in a large bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar, olives, olive brine, lemon juice & zest, a tiny pinch of caster sugar & salt and lots of black pepper, then stir in the drained cooked peas or tinned beans/chickpeas. Drain the green beans, add them to the bowl & stir well to combine. Transfer the lot to a serving dish and garnish with more herbs, lemon zest black pepper and add the sliced spring onion.
Cut the halloumi into four thick ‘steaks’ by slicing lengthways, ie cutting across the block rather than downwards. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the slices for about 2 minutes on each side, or until crisp & golden, working in batches if necessary. Place the slices on top of the salad & serve immediately. Also good cold. Or reheated. Or made again, over and over as part of your weekly meat-free recipe repertoire.
Note 1: In the interests of fairness, I should probably acknowledge that my mother has been enforcing a fairly strict ‘Vegetarian Thursdays’ regime in our house since I was tiny, so it’s not just the millennials that are at this ‘meat-free’ business.
Note 2: If you’re looking more veggie inspiration, vegetarian blogging duo David Frenkiel & Luise Vindahl of Green Kitchen Stories provide lots of great inspiration & ideas for making vegetables the centre of meals at their website, greenkitchenstories.com. After following their blog for years, I went to an amusingly honest talk by them a couple of weeks ago, and left feeling completely determined to make my cooking a lot more vegetable centric