Well…I figured out something quick to fry for the first night of Chanukah: slices of panela cheese, a white rubbery fresh cheese that’s almost exactly like halloumi. Only it’s Mexican rather than Greek, so it’s a locally abundant variety (along with queso fresco) and about half the price per pound here in Pasadena.
I decided to do something a little different with it though. While the spoonful of olive oil was heating in the nonstick (very important) pan, I pressed the slices of panela into about a tablespoon mixture (not shown in above photograph; we ate these too quickly to take a picture of any worth) of pre-toasted sesame seeds, crumbled oregano, sumac, a pinch of ground caraway, and Aleppo pepper–essentially za’atar mix, only without added salt. It didn’t stick incredibly well to the cheese but I was able to press it in on both sides long enough to get it into the pan.
When I started frying the cheese, some of the whey immediately bubbled out into the oil, but although the slices softened up and started melting a little, they mostly kept their shape and I was able to flip them with a wide spatula to fry the other side. Halloumi firms up again as it cools–a little flatter, but pretty tasty, especially with the za’atar mix I improvised. I served it on top of our salad, but in restaurants it goes by itself, with its own bed of greens, maybe a bit of chopped tomato and onion, or with bread and olive oil. It’s only a few minutes of work for something unusual and delicious.