Monday, June 28, 2010

The Tropics Meet The Mediterranean – Papaya, Sesame Seed, and Za’atar Grilled Halloumi Salad

Battle 9: Sesame Seeds and Tropical Fruit (Papaya, Guava or Starfruit)

I entered the latest Foodie Fight and began thinking about a dish using sesame seeds and one of three tropical fruits. Not knowing much about papaya I purchased the large Mexican variety and the smaller Hawaiian fruit too.   I liked them both but they are different. The first thing I noticed was the variation in the color of the fruit and the seeds too. I thought the smaller one was sweeter and the Mexican variety was a little firmer. The papaya from Hawaii would have been prefect for the tart I had in mind. But the morning brought the warm weather we’ve been longing for here in Northern California and my kitchen was too darn hot for baking. So I turned off the oven and started thinking about lunch.

Not too long ago I purchased a small package of za’atar and I’ve been looking for a way to use it. Za’atar is spice mix used primarily in Middle Eastern cooking and sesame seeds are among the ingredients.  That was enough to get me started. With a little salt, olive oil and lemon I thought the Mexican papaya could easily go in a salad with a Middle Eastern flavor.  Grilled za’atar and sesame seed coated Halloumi would round out the dish.  Halloumi is a firm salty Greek cheese that holds up well when grilled. The cheese gets a nice crust, which only improves the flavor. The herbs, spices, and seeds in the za’atar benefit too when they get a little toasty. This cheese is popular in the Middle East and often combined with fruit.

The salad made for a delicious lunch. This amount could serve 6 to 8 as a starter salad but I would still like to see everyone get two pieces of cheese and would increase Halloumi accordingly. This should work just as well with the Hawaiian papaya.

The Tropics Meet The Middle East – Papaya, Sesame Seed, and Za’atar Grilled Halloumi Salad
Serves: 4

2 cups diced papaya (large dice)
1 Tbs. lemon juice
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. olive oil

8 oz. Halloumi cheese cut cross-wise into 8 slices
2 Tbs. sesame seeds
3 tsp. za’atar
Olive oil

8 cups, loosely packed, butter and red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp. sesame seeds

Combine the papaya, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

Mix the sesame seeds and za’atar together in a pie tin or on a dinner plate. Warm a splash or two of olive oil in a medium size non-stick pan. Coat each side of the cheese with the sesame seed mix; lightly press it into the cheese. (Any remaining can be added to the dressing.) Place the cheese in the hot pan and fry for one minute. Turn the cheese and cook for another minute until the cheese is browned and crisp. 

Meanwhile, gently toss the lettuce with 8 teaspoons of dressing (recipe below) and divide between four dinner plates.

Place 2 slices of cheese and ½ cup of the papaya on each bed of greens. Garnish each salad with ½ teaspoon of sesame seeds. Pass the remaining dressing, if desired.

2 Tbs. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. za’atar
1/3 cup olive oil

Mix together the lemon juice, salt, pepper and za’atar. Whisk in the olive oil.

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