Halloumi Burgers! With Tzatziki!

Halloumi is one of my favourite foods. It’s a hard, salty cheese with a high melting point, so it is excellent for cooking with. It’s thick and holds its shape, which makes it a good meat substitute.  You can grill it or fry it. I’ve had it on pasta, on tacos, and of course on burgers. I haven’t actually said this yet on also honey, but I don’t eat beef or pork, and I can’t stand tofu or mushrooms or veggie patties, which are the usual suspects for meat-free burgers. Halloumi is by far the best option.

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In Cyprus, where halloumi is from, I had it as an appetiser, grilled and sandwiched in warm pita with a slice of tomato, one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Cyprus is an interesting place. It’s an island in the Mediterranean with a long and fascinating history: the earliest human settlements on the island are from the neolithic period, about the 8th millennium BCE. Today, the south and west of the island is under control of the Republic of Cyprus, which is internationally recognised and a member of the EU. The Republic of Cyprus has nominal control over the north of the island, but that territory is actually controlled by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not internationally recognised. It’s a very long and complicated subject, but that’s the short and easy version.

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Cyprus, no matter what part you’re in, is a beautiful island. I dug through two or three years of photos to find something from our trip there, and the picture above is from the ruins of Salamis, an ancient city that stretches back before the ancient Greeks. It’s a massive site in the northern part of the island, but sadly there is no infrastructure to support the preservation of the ruins. You can just climb all over them and take pieces home if you want. (Don’t do that, please).

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Burger layer one and two: tzatziki and halloumi on a lightly toasted brioche bun. Waiting to be added are tomatoes, fig chutney, avocado, and sautéed onions.

Let’s talk about burgers. Halloumi is obviously the main ingredient, but we also need buns and all the rest. I used brioche buns in the pictures, and they were amazing and look amazing, but you can use whatever buns you prefer. I like this particular burger with tzatziki, the Greek yogurt/cucumber sauce. I have made tzatziki before but it’s one of those things that’s not really worth it unless you have the time. The store-bought kind is just as good as anything I made. I just spread it on the bottom bun like any other sauce.

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Next layer added: sautéed onions.

I would suggest setting up all of your fillings ahead of time, because halloumi cooks fast. I sliced the avocado and tomato, spooned out the chutney, and then started on the onions. They take longer than halloumi, and I like them very thin, so you have to keep an eye on them. If you’ve never sautéed onions, it’s easy. Just chop them up and toss them in a pan with some oil. Keep them turning just enough that they don’t catch, until they’re a nice golden brown.

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Tomato slices are next. Try to place so it doesn’t fall out when you bite into it.

When you’re done with the onions, toast the buns for a few seconds (maybe half a minute? I didn’t time it) on the pan. Take the buns off, spread the bottom with tzatziki, and the top with butter or even mustard, if you want. Then add a bit more oil to the pan and slices of halloumi. The secret to cooking halloumi is hot and fast – but not so hot and fast that they burn. Flip them halfway through to get colour on both sides. You’ll be able to tell they’re done when they’re soft, which sounds confusing, but the difference between raw and cooked halloumi really is that it goes soft. It shouldn’t be melted – I’ve never seen it melted. It just needs to be soft, almost squishy. I know that sounds terrible, you just have to try it and trust me.

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Last two layers: avocado and fig chutney. You’re ready to eat!

The halloumi will take maybe a minute or two to cook. Once it’s done, pop it on the bun, and start loading up your toppings. I sometimes add pickles, because I love pickles. I should also note that not everyone loves the fig chutney (you can find the recipe here) because it’s so sweet. Fair enough. I like to use it because I love the taste and because it’s another thing to use chutney for.

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For some reason I only ended up with pictures from one angle of this burger, but I can assure you it was equally beautiful from all angles.

I first ate halloumi burgers at a place called Meat Liquor when we lived in Brighton. They had a lunch deal that was perfect for jobless millennials who desperately needed to leave the flat and spend the only money they had. Meat Liquor does a halloumi and mushroom burger for which I will suffer mushrooms. It’s amazing, but I’m happy with my spin on the idea. Give it your own spin if you want, but at some point in your life, try a halloumi burger, and let me know how you feel about it.

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