Friday, 6 September 2013

Roasted Vegetables and Halloumi with Cous Cous - Best Meal Ever?

Today, I learned the importance of getting the little things right. I had all the ingredients I needed, all the kitchen equipment on-hand, and the recipe was a tried and tested one I've been making for years. It should have been so easy. But then disaster struck - our trusty tin opener failed! Now I should have seen this coming. This tin opener came with the flat and so I don't know where it was bought or how much it cost. But if anyone actually paid anything for it, I would now say they were ripped off.

We don't ask much of the humble tin opener, do we? Its sole purpose in life is to - you guessed it - open tins. Nowadays, so many tins come with ring pulls, that actually, we ask even less of the tin opener - it only has to open the occasional tin. The rest of the time, it can lay back and relax in the cutlery drawer. But when we take it out, we expect it to work! That is all we ask! But no, today that was just too much for our tin opener, it seems. I spent a good (well, bad, actually) ten minutes wrestling with the thing, hacking away at my can of baby carrots, wondering just how much I needed them. I took a sharp knife to the tin. I tried prising the half of the lid that was open away from the tin using a fish slice. I swore at the tin opener for being so stupid. Finally, with a bit of hacking, stabbing and prising (the swearing didn't help, but it did make me feel better), I managed - just - to coax the contents out of the tin. Wow. And this was supposed to be an easy dinner!

You will be glad to know that all that effort will definitely be worth it, as I was making one of my favourite meals to take to my friend's birthday buffet tonight. It has halloumi cheese in it, which has to be my very favourite ingredient. And cous cous - which I am also a huge fan of, partly for its sheer simplicity. The recipe is loosely based on one my mum found in a cookbook years ago for vegetable kebabs. Sadly, I can't remember the name of the book, or I would give it the credit it is due, but basically we loved the idea but didn't really love the whole kebab element, so did away with the skewers, mixed up the vegetables to include any we liked, and voila! Roasted Vegetables with Halloumi and Cous Cous was born.

The best thing about this recipe is you can play about with it as much as you like and it's still great. I probably never make it the same way twice, actually. The picture above gives some ideas of what you could put in the dish, but really, as long as the halloumi is there, you can't go wrong. Today I put the following in along with the halloumi: baby carrots (yes, those of the tin that would not open), baby button mushrooms, courgette chunks, white onion chunks, and red onion slices. You could also add aubergine, sweetcorn, parsnip (best to parboil it first though), baby corn cobs, chunks of salad fact, probably just about any vegetable. Some would have to be parboiled first in order for them to cook through properly, but other than that, just throw them in and experiment! The main thing, I think, is the colour - try to get this dish as colourful as you can, and it will taste great (that's also a good way of ensuring you're getting a wide variety of nutrients, apparently). I eat this with plain cous cous. But you could change that too. My mum loves it with harissa paste through the cous cous, or you could make your cous cous with vegetable stock instead of water for a bit more flavour.

But just to get you started, I'll give you the basic recipe. I would say this should serve two (but see my disclaimer, below!)

1 yellow onion
1 red onion
1 courgette
1/2 tin of baby carrots
150 g baby button mushrooms
250 g halloumi cheese
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
a pinch of salt and pepper
200 g cous cous
200 ml boiling water

Chop all the vegetables and cheese into bite-sized chunks. With the onions, I like to cut one into chunks and slice the other, just for the visual appeal. Place into a baking dish in a single layer. If necessary, spread over two baking dishes in order not to over-crowd the dish. (If you roast the vegetables piled on top of each other, they'll steam rather than roast, and that's not what we're going for here!)

Now mix the olive oil and lemon juice well in a jug. Crush the garlic and add it along with the salt and pepper to the oil and lemon juice mixture. Mix again.

Drizzle the oil mixture over the vegetables. You don't want to drown them, so if you feel that you have more oil than you need, stop pouring once you feel you've drizzled enough. Take a spoon and mix the vegetables around a bit, ensuring that they all get a slight coating of the oil mixture.

Put in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the halloumi looks golden brown and the vegetables are cooked to your liking.

To prepare the cous cous, put it in a heat-proof bowl, cover with the boiling water, and leave it to absorb the water. When it has done so (after about five minutes), take a fork through the cous cous to separate the grains.

Serve the roasted vegetables and halloumi on a bed of warm cous cous.

This is possibly my favourite meal ever. There is just something so moreish about it! The slight hint of garlic really makes it stand out, flavour-wise, and I just love how the halloumi goes crunchy on the outside, and soft and 'squeaky' on the inside (did I mention it's one of my favourite ingredients?!). I find it hard to say  how many the above quantities should serve, as I am a greedy guts with this meal, and could eat the whole lot myself. I have guessed and said it should serve two though, and hopefully that is somewhere close to the truth.

As I write, in fact, I am struggling not to eat the whole thing to myself - not only is this supposed to be taken to my friend's, as I said earlier, so I shouldn't be eating any of it, but also I'm on antibiotics at the moment, and I have to take them on an empty stomach (and not eat immediately after taking them). I have to take them 4 times a day, so I'm having to constantly force myself not to snack, not to sneak a wee taste of what I'm cooking, etc. It's hard! So I am going to have to be really disciplined with this particular batch of Roasted Vegetables and Halloumi, if it is to make it to my friend's party, and if I'm to have any chance of taking the next dose of my medicine correctly.

I will let you know how it goes down with the other guests. In the meantime, do you have any favourite dishes that have stood the test of time that you'd like to share? (And any tips for reliable tin openers are now also gratefully received. Think I'll be heading to Ikea sometime soon - there are some things you just know Ikea will get right where others have got it so wrong, don't you find?)


  1. I remember you introducing me to this in Berlin! I always cook this recipe when I'm ill for all the garlicky/lemony vegetables. Mmmm

  2. Yes, it has definitely stood the test of time - I must have been cooking it regularly for the past 10 years now. I can just imagine how great this is as a pick-me-up when you're ill, will have to remember to make it next time I'm not feeling well. I also remember your veggie take on zerish pollo (sp?) - if you can remember it, I'd love it if you could share it with me again, as it was delicious!


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