Grilled tomato, halloumi + cucumber salad

About a year ago, I had a book crisis. As a life-long avid reader — I spent many a teenage night cowering under my blankets after reading a chapter of Salem’s ‘Lot far too late in the evening to shake off the image of vampires scratching on the bedroom window — and having spent the vast majority of my professional life in the publishing industry (on both sides of the fence, author and publisher), I had accumulated a lot of books. Tons of books. Walls lined with books, bookcases in every room. Books on the floor. Books on dining room chairs. On the nightstand. Under the nightstand. Wedged between microwave and wall.

It was oppressive, overwhelming. Looking at them made me feel anxious and claustrophobic.

And I realize that statement just made many of you gasp. Books = oppressive? No way!

Without getting all psycho-analysis-y here, this turn of emotions was probably fallout from my mother’s death. If you’ve ever been charged with clearing out the home of a loved one who’s passed, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Moving a household is a total piece of cake compared to liquidating one: pulling everything out, deciding what to keep, what to discard, and what to donate. Reliving all the memories that come with uncovering 85 years of possessions. You’re never prepared.

But whatever the cause, the book collection had to go. It wasn’t reading that was the problem — I still love to read — it was the shelf after shelf of impossibly heavy, exhausting-to-dust books. I kept about 200 of my very favorite tomes; the rest, out (and lest you think I’ve committed some sort of print book betrayal, 200 is still a lot of books, people).

I had already stopped purchasing new printed books years before The Toss of 2011 — Kindle was my new best reading friend — but I was still accumulating cookbooks, many of which were used once and set aside. It had to stop. And, iPad in hand, I was ready.

The first Kindle version of a cookbook I bought was The Flavor Bible. (Not exactly a cookbook — more of a reference book — but I use it every day in recipe development.) Its printed version had made the it’s-a-keeper cut, so I could easily compare the two.

Conclusion: this book on Kindle was a revelation.

I think about recipes all. the. time. Everywhere, any time. To have my favorite food book at my fingertips — I always have a device with me, even if it’s just my phone — was like a 24/7 lifeline to my cooking passion. I couldn’t have envisioned what this would mean to me (although I probably had a similar reaction when I started storing my recipes and notes in an online service, accessible from any device).

The next Kindle cookbook I purchased was Food in Jars. And here’s where the limitations reveal themselves: a digital book will probably never be as pretty as the printed version. Textured background colors, flourishes, and exacting layouts are very difficult to reproduce in an e-book. The photography is intact — and depending on your device, stunning. But the pretty touches, the ones that make a book a precious thing to hold, are absent.

For me, this matters only during the first glance through, and then never again. I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case, but it’s true: I just want the photographs, the narrative, and the recipes. Not the flourishes and the background textures.

And so the decision to forego print in favor of digital has worked well for me, for both of my reading loves, fiction and cookbooks.

The biggest test of digital cookbooks to date came in the form of Ripe by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I hovered over the add to cart button on Amazon for a long time, indecisive about print or Kindle. Digital won out, but only because I’m impatient and wanted it now. And I’m glad it did. I positively lived with this book this past weekend, opening it constantly on desktop, phone, or iPad – swiping, browsing, searching, drooling. Couldn’t put it down.

Pushing a cart through the grocery store:  Does she have recipes for broccoli? Yes! Not one, but four.

Filling the gas tank:  How about anything with blood oranges, for the tree I’m growing? Yes! With amaretto (squee!).

Ripe might become one of the books where I must have both print and digital (people, this book is gorgeous … just gorgeous), but I’m happy I started with digital. I wanted to share this in case you, too, were considering going digital on cookbooks. (Neither Kindle nor Ms. Rule have any idea who I am, and I did not receive any manner of compensation for saying nice things about them.)

Some further thoughts about print vs. digital cookbooks:

Pros:

  • Price (sometimes you get a price break over print editions)
  • Doesn’t add to household clutter
  • Convenience (access is just an internet-connected device away)
  • Discarding an old book is as simple as deleting it from your device (no Farenheit 451 guilt)
  • Size + Portability — I have over 50 digital books in the pocket of my handbag right now
  • Some reader devices are extremely comfortable to hold and read for long periods
  • Easy to manage on the counter. Can be propped up for viewing in a surprisingly diverse number of ways.
  • If you use a service to purchase your titles, you’ll never lose them, as the service assumes the risk for backing them up
  • If photos are important to the content, digital versions on hi-res devices, such as the iPad, are downright stunning

Cons:

  • Lack of the holding-a-book, smell-the-pages experience
  • Heavily visual, well-photographed books are not laid-out as attractively in digital as in print
  • Printed books on a bookshelf makes for lovely decor; digital, not so much
  • A discharged battery with no charging unit handy can be cause for despair
  • Use in the kitchen can lead to electronics disasters — spilled liquids, falls to the floor, etc.
  • Downloaded e-books can be lost to the ether if you don’t use a service (like Kindle) and you don’t back up your electronic files
  • Compatibility with future, not-yet-invented devices is unknown — your entire collection could be rendered useless (but we’re kind of used to that – Hello, VHS)

In my case, the pros vastly outweigh the cons — in the fact, the only con in this list that applies to me is the first one (I still love books, just not in the thousands).

But now, to the matter at hand, I’d like to show you one of the recipes I adapted from Ripe. I added a few touches here and there to (1) incorporate my beloved Black Cherry tomatoes, (2) take it outside to the grill (halloumi on a wood-smoky grill — swoon), and (3) to differentiate the recipe here from the original just enough so that it’s still worth your time and money to purchase the book (digital or print). Ms. Rule’s original recipe will be a standard at Casa SoupAddict long after the tomatoes have stopped producing and blizzardy snow obscures the grill.

Oh, and the tarragon. The tarragon. So lovely and addictive here. It’s dishes like this that remind me why it’s worth growing in the garden.

Here’s to the love of cookbooks!

Karen xo

Grilled tomato, halloumi + cucumber salad with tarragon

adapted from Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Roasting the tomatoes every so lightly on a smoky grill brings out rich, sweet flavors without turning the tomatoes to mush as a full-on oven treatment would do. The textures in this salad are amazing — crunchy cucumbers, chewy-melty halloumi, soft, seed-bursty tomatoes, draped in a dreamy blanket of tarragon and sherry. And if you’ve never tried halloumi — a grillable, salty-as-the-sea Greek cheese — this is a wonderful dish to try it out.

Ingredients:
for the salad
1 medium cucumber (or 2 pickling cucumbers or 1 English cucumber)
1 heaping cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (about 16 two-bite-sized tomatoes, like the Black Cherry variety)
8 ounce block of halloumi, sliced thickly, lengthwise
2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted lightly
2 heaping tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground

for the dressing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 small clove of garlic, minced and smashed with a bit of salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions:
1. Preheat your grill to medium high and set up for direct grilling. Clean and oil the grill grate when hot.

2. Slice the cucumber(s) in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and then cut into 1/4″ half moons.

3. Lightly oil a vegetable pan for the grill, and arrange the halved tomatoes inside, skin side down.

4. Lay the halloumi slices directly on the grate, alongside the vegetable pan containing the tomatoes. The tomatoes will need only a few minutes (do not flip) – you want them to be lightly roasted and beginning to soften, but not shriveled or with deeply blackened skin. Remove the pan from the grill when the tomatoes are ready, and let cool.

5. Flip the halloumi slices when the undersides have browned, about 3-4 minutes (grill masters: halloumi will easily take on the cross-hatched grill marks that we love), and brown the second side. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool.

6. Whisk together the dressing ingredients until well blended.

7. Place the cucumber slices and tomato halves in a medium serving bowl. Drizzle with part of the dressing, and add the tarragon and fennel seeds. Season lightly with salt and pepper, to taste.

8. Tear or slice the halloumi into small, bite-sized chunks and add to the salad bowl. Pour in the remaining dressing and lightly toss the ingredients. Serve immediately, or allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to blend the flavors.

Tips:
- A quick method for deseeding a cucumber: Remove the ends of the cucumber. Slice the cuke in half lengthwise (then, if the cucumber is long, slice in half across the center of each spear). Using a long paring knife, cut a “V” down into the center of the cucumber flesh, and lift out the seed cluster. In the photos above, you can see the “V” cuts in my cuke slices. This is much easier – and neater – than scraping seeds out with the tip of a spoon, seeds flying in every direction other than the one you want.

- Toast the fennel seeds briefly in a dry pan on the stove top, or, wrap them in a foil packet and toast them on the grill, shaking the foil packet every few seconds (don’t grill for more than a minute – they’ll burn very quickly). To release more of the toasty fennel flavor, lightly crush the cooled seeds with a mortar and pestle before adding to the salad.

Prep Time: 15 minutes       Cook time: 10 minutes       Yield: 4-6 generous servings
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Comments

  1. I didn’t even know what halloumi was, but it sounds great.

    Digital books have made things so much easier and there are still plenty of paperbacks on my shelf in case the world ends or the electricity goes out. I haven’t tried a cookbook yet since my reader is just text, but I may try one since you recommend it. Thanks, as always.

    • Mmmm …. halloumi is a salty Greek cheese (kind of like salty aged mozzarella, in flavor) that can be heated on stove top or grill without breaking down and melting. It holds its shape, but gets all soft and gooey. Here, it can be hard to find, but “bread cheese” is very similar. Good stuff. :)

  2. I have become completely addicted to cookbooks on my Ipad. I love that you always have them with you, in the grocery, at the farmer’s market, in the bathtub (just kidding). One book I recently downloaded and actually wish I hadn’t was “Tender”. It is a great book, but the navigation is really screwed up. I am ordering the hard copy…

    • Me, too! (And magazine apps for the iPad, which is a whole different kettle of fish than e-books – gorgeous! I plan on killing my sub to Whole Living in favor of their digital version).

      One of the downsides of the e-book industry is that the barrier to entry is fairly low – any tech-brave person can learn how to do it. The print industry – publishing houses – however, employs professional graphic designers who pour over every single page, sweating out the tiniest details – every book is a labor of love. That’s why print always looks so great.

      E-books, on the other hand, are often afterthoughts to the print version, and even top publishers can hook up with so-so e-book creators, simply because there are so many of ‘em out there. Some will sweat over the tiniest details and make a great e-book; some just want to get the project done (and some have tried to automate the process without doing sufficient error-checking). Right now, it’s a toss up as to what you get. You’d think “Tender” would be beautiful, but, they apparently left it to the wrong person….

  3. It took me a very long time to embrace the concept of e-books. There is something so – solid – about holding a book in your hand. From the look and heft and smell – it’s kind of magical.
    That being said, I have fallen in love with my Kindle and have converted all of my leisure reading – I haven’t worked up the nerves to try out cookbooks yet; so it is interesting to hear some perspective on that. (I have switched my Bon Apetit and Cooks Illustrated subscription over though and so far, so good…)

    • Yeah, if I wasn’t such a gadget geek, it would’ve taken me a lot longer to jump on the bandwagon. I almost hate to say it, but I doubt I’ll ever buy another fiction print book again. It’s just a better reading experience, on the Kindle (for me). Cookbooks will always be a mix – both formats have their good and not-so-good traits. But mostly, I like having my living room wall back. :)

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