Cooking over wood or coals imparts the same enticing smokiness to veg and cheese as it does to meat. Here a marinade of harissa and lime turns grilled halloumi up a notch, while homemade lovage oil conjures a verdant summer from charred courgettes and moz
No longer the domain of Saturday afternoon barbecues, cooking over wood and coals – intentionally charring and burning – has become quite a trend. Bearded men in waxed aprons fill every Nordic restaurant worth its salt and the technique has been celebrated at restaurants such as the wonderful Kitty Fisher’s and Black Axe Mangal. Though the grill masters of London’s Turkish ocakbasi restaurants will tell you it’s nothing new.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that this cavemanesque cooking is all about meat, but in fact vegetables sit centre stage at most of these kitchens. At home, we’ve overlooked how much a bit of char and smoke can compliment a beloved vegetable or boost a neutral cheese, such as halloumi or feta. An aubergine is an obvious pairing with a bit of smoke – babaganoush is a friendly blend of vegetables and smoke, as is a halved aubergine grilled and basted in white miso on every turn. Onions too, work well grilled slowly and tossed through plump pearl barley grains. Even halved little gems are transformed when quickly charred and simply dressed in oil, vinegar and chopped herbs.
This charring is, of course, possible on a griddle pan or even a good heavy-based frying pan, but its natural habitat is on the barbecue. The resolution to cook outside to me seems most welcome on a weeknight, when taking the kitchen outside brings a holiday feeling to an otherwise normal Tuesday or Wednesday. These have been the char-edged suppers we’ve cooked quickly this summer.
Harissa and lime halloumi with flatbreads
Halloumi is a real crowd-pleaser when it comes to barbecues. It does need some help on the flavour front; a quick marinade will boost your squeaky cheese out of its simple milky profile. It pairs well with a hit of hot chilli and a little bit of sweetness.
Here, it has a quick dip in a harissa, lime and rose marinade, which is backed up by a grilled relish that combines smoke from charred red onions, some piquancy from a good drizzle of pomegranate molasses, sweetness from red peppers and a salty olive kick. It’s also great in flatbreads, burgers and toasted sandwiches. The cooling yoghurt dampens down the chilli as well as providing a pleasing temperature contrast between the fridge-cold yoghurt and the grill-hot halloumi.
If you can find it, use rose harissa. If not, normal harissa will do fine. If you like, you could stir a few crushed dried rose petals into your harissa to make it rosy. By all means, use jarred roasted red peppers to speed things up.
2 x 250g pack of halloumi, cut into
2cm slices Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp harissa
A handful of dried crushed rose petals (optional)
For the relish
2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 red peppers
A handful of pitted green olives
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
Salt and black pepper, to taste