If I were given clues such as fruity, salty, savory, grilled and summery, my immediate guess would be that those were descriptors of barbecue sauce. Salad would be furthest from my mind — that is, until I tasted this one.
All those flavors come to life here, sumptuously. Sweet fresh figs and salty halloumi cheese are grilled until they have yielded to the heat and are pleasantly charred. They are married near a mound of peppery arugula and crisp fennel tossed with olive oil and salt. A sprinkle of toasted walnuts adds a savory crunch, and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar ties all the elements together and adorns the plate.
How do you know whether you have a truly aged vinegar? It tends to be on the more expensive side (at least $20 a bottle), with a syrupy texture and a sweet-tart flavor that is not very acidic. If you don’t have one, it’s worth picking up, because it lasts indefinitely and is delicious drizzled on fruit and cheese, in general.
But you can also simmer a thinner, more acidic balsamic vinegar with a little honey until the mixture approximates the consistency of maple syrup; then, let it come to room temperature, to achieve a something close to the real deal.
The sweet-tart, deeply flavorful balsamic is a defining element of this salad, which, come to think of it, would be an ideal side dish for just about any barbecue sauce-slathered grilled protein.
Grilled halloumi salad with figs and balsamic
This is a unique and flavorful summer salad that would be an ideal accompaniment for just about any barbecue sauce-slathered grilled protein.
You can cook the fruit and cheese on an outdoor grill as well. The balsamic vinegar you use here should be an aged, thick, sweet-tart one.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 fresh figs, stemmed and halved lengthwise
2 ¼-inch thick slabs halloumi cheese (3 ounces total), patted dry
3 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar (see headnote)
2 packed cups baby arugula
1 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel (from 1 medium bulb)
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup walnut pieces, toasted (see note)
Freshly ground black pepper
Use a tablespoon of the oil to brush both sides of the figs and the slabs of cheese, then use 1 teaspoon of the balsamic vinegar to brush all the figs.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the cheese and figs; cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until the fruit is caramelized and tender and the cheese is warmed and grill marks have formed.
Transfer the cheese to a cutting board; cut each slab into 4 triangular pieces, so you have 8 pieces total.
Toss the arugula and fennel in a medium bowl with the remaining tablespoon of oil and the salt.
To serve, divide the greens among individual salad plates. Top each with 2 fig halves, 2 cheese triangles and some walnuts. Drizzle each salad with a ½ teaspoon of the remaining balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle each lightly with pepper.
Note: Toast the walnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan as needed to prevent scorching. Cool completely before using.
Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving: 230 calories, 7 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 270 milligrams sodium, 3 gram dietary fiber, 10 grams sugar, 15 milligrams cholesterol.