With Basil Cannellini Hummus
I’ve never really liked coming up with titles for my meals. On the one hand, you want your title to really communicate what’s going on in the dish. On the other hand, you want it to be short and pithy (not to mention search engine friendly). And sometimes you just feel like you’re faking it a little bit – like right now. This is SUPPOSED to be grilled halloumi, and it is… in a sense. I started grilling it on a MUCH too hot barbecue, then freaked right out as my halloumi started sticking and (horror of horrors) melting into the barbecue. After some serious scraping and some even more serious cursing, I salvaged it, brought it inside, and finished it off in a frying pan. So in this case I suppose the name reflects my best intentions.
Regardless of whether your grill or fry halloumi, it’s delicious. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a firm, brined sheep’s milk cheese that hails from Cyprus and has become rather popular throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. It has an exceptionally high melting point (which I somehow managed to overcome), making it ideal for grilling or frying. Halloumi makes a wonderful meze dish (a small-plate, akin to tapas or shared appetizers), especially alongside hummus and bread.
As for the hummus – well, I kind of felt like I was cheating on the title there too. I didn’t really picture this as ‘hummus’ to begin with, but the more I looked at the words “cannellini puree” the deeper my frown grew. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Of course this isn’t a conventional hummus; it doesn’t use chickpeas and it has no tahini. But diversity is the spice of life, right? Or… the spread of life…. In any case I adore cannellini (aka white kidney beans) and I really like the addition of the basil, especially alongside the savoury-salty cheese and the sharp-yet-rich acidity of the grilled lemons.
Regardless of my insecurities around nomenclature, this is a great dish to make. It’s delicious of course, but it’s also one of those simple, eye-opening preparations. You start out with simple, uncomplicated ingredients, and you end up with a perfectly sophisticated sharing plate. And as you make it, you get to experience those transformative ‘ah-hah’ moments that are so delightful to have in the kitchen. You know the type I mean – thoughts like wow, I’m actually just grilling/frying a piece of cheese and it’s working or man, why do I buy hummus when it’s so easy to make? I love those moments because they change they way you think about food and cooking. I still think about the first time I made pasta from scratch. Watching the perfect little sheets come out of the pasta roller, all I could think was “That’s it? I did it? With so few ingredients, and now it’s just done and delicious and perfect?” Honestly I think it’s those moments that really get you hooked on cooking. Best of all, you get to eat your ah-hah moment – and it will taste better than you can imagine.
One quick note about the serving size – this is a great appetizer for a party, or part of a meze alongside other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes. But it also makes a wonderful light lunch, breakfast, or even dinner. The leftovers keep quite well, so don’t be shy about making a big batch, even if you’re not serving it to 10 or 20 people. If you’re looking to reduce the serving size, I’d personally recommend making less cheese while keeping the hummus the same. You can always use extra hummus.
I’ve already covered the halloumi a little bit in the section above, but it’s worth mentioning a few notes that will help you succeed in making this a memorable dish.
If you don’t have a grill, or you don’t want to grill this, halloumi cooks very nicely in a pan too. As I mentioned above, the pictures show halloumi that was finished in a frying pan (mainly because I had some grill issues and I needed to get food on the table). Simply heat a little olive oil in a medium pan and add the halloumi. Cook until golden brown, then flip and repeat with the other side. The lemons can be cooked in a pan in a similar fashion.
Halloumi can be tricky to find at your average big-box grocery store, but you could try looking at Greek or Middle Eastern grocers as well. Greek saganaki cheese would work quite nicely in it’s place too. For an even simpler variation, you could use a good quality crumbled feta along with the hummus and grilled lemons.
Making the Hummus
I want to point out something important here before anyone starts experimenting or adapting – this hummus has been tweaked and adapted to match and balance the saltiness of the cheese and the acidity of the lemon. If you have leftovers or you want to eat it on its own, you’ll probably want to add a little extra salt and/or some fresh lemon juice. You may even want to add a little tahini (sesame paste) if you’re looking for a more ‘classic’ hummus taste. With that being said, I really do like the simplicity of this hummus and the way the basil shines through. It makes a mild but flavourful base for the bold flavours of the cheese and the lemon.
Cannellini beans are pretty easy to find at most grocery stores. If you have the time and the know-how, you prepare your own beans from dried ones. The flavour will probably be even better. If you can’t find cannellini, you could use navy beans, or even chickpeas. If you do use a different bean, you might find that you need more or less olive oil in order to get the mixture to the right consistency.
For another variation (and a classic halloumi pairing), replace the basil with fresh mint.
The grilled lemons are an absolute must here. If you’ve never grilled a lemon, get ready for a weird treat. The juice is amazing (and thicker than regular lemon juice), with an acidic yet somewhat savoury tanginess. Plus they look cool, so there’s that. When you do serve, you can either keep lemon slices handy and squeeze the juice over individual servings, or just squeeze a whole bunch of slices over all of the hummus and be done with it. Your choice will probably depend on how you’re serving this, how DIY you want it to be for your diners, and how fancy you want things to look.
Aside from the lemons, you can play with the presentation and serving accompaniments pretty easily here. I like to dust the hummus with some good sweet paprika and pour a little olive oil on top, but that’s totally optional. The fresh oregano leaves (and flowers) are a tasty and subtle addition, but I had access to that in my garden so it was easy. Substitute a little fresh mint, some basil, or even a little parsley. The flavours will all vary obviously, but the effect is similar. As for the foundation for your meal, I used a very nice baguette, but and good bread would work wonderfully. If you’re looking to skip out on the carbs, you could also use slices of cucumber, or even just dip sticks of halloumi into the hummus. Do your thing.
NOTE: Because this can be an appetizer or a simple meal, the nutritional information will vary. The information shown is for a 1/10th portion of the total recipe, and includes bread (the square image on the white plate above gives you an approximate idea). Adjust accordingly.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
*Note: the hummus, cheese and lemons are gluten free. Obviously if you want to use bread, it will have to be gluten-free. See serving notes above.
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