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Say Cheese: Crisp and spicy

Nabulsi cheese. (Domenica Marchetti)

Could it possibly be too hot to eat cheese?

In short, no -- although I admit that my appetite for rich, dense cheddars and unctuous runny cheeses has diminished in proportion to the rising temperatures.

Instead, I’ve been enjoying tender, milky mozzarella and burrata, and a host of other fresh cheeses from the Mediterranean and Middle East. I’ve written about some of these cheeses before, including Greek manouri and Armenian string cheese. Others, such as feta and halloumi (the famous ‘cheese that grills’ from Cyprus) are familiar and widely available.

On a recent trip to Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe in Alexandria, I picked up a couple of types I hadn’t tried before: a compact wheel of fresh Syrian cheese and a slab of Nabulsi.

The Syrian cheese is similar in texture and flavor to queso blanco, firm and springy. It also reminds me of a low-moisture mozzarella, though it is considerably saltier. It’s a great cheese to shred over pizza, melt in a quesadilla, toss into a frittata, or simply slice and serve with fresh summer tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil.

As much as I enjoyed the Syrian cheese, I liked the Nabulsi, a brined cheese that is a staple in Jordan, even better. The slab I bought came pre-cut into small rectangles. Like Armenian string cheese, Nabulsi is salty, and studded with tiny black nigella seeds (also known as black caraway or black cumin), which give the cheese a slightly spicy, peppery taste.

At the suggestion of Sleiman Kysia, Mediterranean Bakery’s owner, I decided to try the Nabulsi fried. (Readers of this blog know about my fondness for fried cheese.)

I pan-fried a few of the rectangles in a skillet lightly filmed with vegetable oil and placed over medium-high heat, turning them once after about a minute. They were delicious, with a crusty exterior and a soft, chewy center.

Recipe Included

I diced the remaining rectangles and added them to a chickpea salad that I seasoned with olive oil, lemon, garlic, basil and mint. The cheese was right at home among the legumes, sliced red onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. Chilled for a short while in the refrigerator, the chickpea and cheese salad was a perfect antidote to the heat wave.

-- Domenica Marchetti (Follow me on Twitter.)

(Domenica Marchetti)

Chickpea Salad With Nabulsi Cheese
6 side-dish servings

This summer salad features bright colors and equally bright flavors. It also welcomes improvisation. Add diced bell peppers or kalamata olives you like.

15 to 16 ounces (1 can) chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
1 medium ripe tomato, cored then cut into chunks
1 small Middle Eastern cucumber, cut in half, seeded and cut crosswise into thin slices (peeled or unpeeled; 1/2 cup)
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 ounces Nabulsi cheese, cut into 1/2-inch dice (may substitute halloumi, Syrian cheese or queso blanco; see headnote)
1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 to 1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, garlic, cheese and red onion in a bowl. Add the oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, salt and the pepper to taste; toss gently but thoroughly.
Let the salad sit for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mingle.

Per serving: 190 calories, 7 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  July 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese  
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