Wednesday Dinner: Pita with Za’atar Chicken, Harissa and Halloumi

Goatfest 2015 was more than just an agritourism event. It was more than just a chance for The Kid to feed goats. It was more than just a chance for me to visit a part of Onondaga County that I’ve never visited. No, it was a chance to discover halloumi.

You don’t typically find halloumi on the menu at your local hamburger-making establishment. This cheese, native to Cyprus, is popular in the Eastern Mediterranean but does not appear on the menus of my local Middle Eastern restaurants. So, I consider Goatfest a breakthrough food moment for me, as I was able to get my hands on a brick from the local cheesemaker 2 Kids Goats Farm.

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It’s a goat’s milk cheese (sometimes it’s found as a blend of goat, sheep, and/or cow) that is similar in texture and flavor to mozzarella but with a denser construct that allows it to be grilled or seared quickly without the worry of it liquefying and creating holy hell on your grill grates.

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Thus, it was the perfect cheese to use in my Mediterranean-inspired dinner. This also marked the Al Dente debut of harissa, a North African chili paste made with coriander, cumin, garlic lemon and other goodness. Combined with the za’atar, there were a lot of flavors going on here, but they were complementary and duplicative rather than just contrasting.

And The Wife seemed to like it, so all the better.

WHAT WORKED: I’ve decided that I could just eat halloumi with a little harissa for dinner.

WHAT DIDN’T: I used a little too much oil in my za’atar paste, which I have corrected in the recipe below.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Medium.

BEST FOR: A slightly complex mid-week dinner if grilling is still in season.

SERVE WITH: Plenty of pita, hummus and olives.

Wednesday Dinner: Pita with Za’atar Chicken, Harissa and Halloumi
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp. za'atar seasoning (Jared's Note: I use Penzey's blend, though you could easily make your own.)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 8 oz. halloumi
  • 4 to 6 pieces of pita
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup prepared harissa

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and za'atar until thoroughly combined. Add the chicken and use your hands to coat each piece in the marinade. Rub the blend into the meat, then let it stand for 15 to 30 minutes.

Preheat your grill so that all burners reach 600 to 700 degrees. Lower the heat on half of the burners and add the chicken to this side. Grill about 5 minutes, then turn. Add the halloumi to the grill's cooking surface. Wrap the pita in foil and set on the bun warmer and brush the chicken pieces with harissa. Cook 5 more minutes, checking the cheese to make sure it doesn't stick and flipping the pita over. Cook another minute or two, then remove everything from the grill.

Cut the halloumi into pieces and serve with the hot chicken and pita.

By Jared Paventi

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