The first time I had halloumi tikka masala was in England, the land responsible for the majority of bastardized-yet-addictive Indian food. It was in a pub and the halloumi was beer-battered and draped in a spicy, buttery tikka sauce. Too many subsequent pints led to a brief forgetting of this delightful meal until many months later, when I stumbled on a recipe for paneer tikka masala and remembered the joy brought to me by the halloumi version. Having tried both types of cheese within this recipe I can vouch for either option, but will still always harbor a soft spot for halloumi or any salty cheese that is whimsical enough to squeak when eaten.
Halloumi Tikka Masala
Adapted from Tieghan Gerard (Half-Baked Harvest)
3 tbsp coconut oil, divided
2 250-gr blocks of halloumi cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 14-oz can coconut milk + extra for thinning (so basically buy 2 cans)
¾ cup roasted, unsalted cashews
1 6-oz can tomato paste
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 small yellow onion, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp finely grated ginger root (peeled)
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Thai red curry paste (literally everywhere sells this)
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
Rice and naan, for serving
Cilantro leaves, for garnishing
Heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet set over medium heat. While the pan gets hot, dry the halloumi as best you can between 2 paper towels. Cook the halloumi in batches (I found I needed to do 4 batches), flipping until brown and crispy on all sides. Sometimes the halloumi sticks, sometimes it doesn’t; I find the pan is more of the variable in that equation. Either way, it doesn’t matter, just make sure you scrape off any stuck bits from the pan between batches to avoid burning. After the first 2 batches are fried, add another 1 tbsp coconut oil to the pan. Set the fried halloumi cubes on a paper towel-lined rack or plate.
Place the coconut milk and cashews in a food processor or high-powered blender. Blend on high until completely smooth and silky, at least 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, yogurt, and ½ cup water. Blend for another minute. Set aside.
Wipe out the halloumi skillet (assuming you didn’t scorch it or anything) and heat the remaining 1 tbsp coconut oil over medium. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, cooking for 5-8 minutes, or until things are getting lightly caramelized and very fragrant. Season the aromatics with a good pinch of salt. Add the curry powder, red curry paste, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne, and salt (yes yes yes, more salt, move on). Cook for 1 minute, just to let the spices get all fragrant and enticing, then stir in the reserved cashew-coconut sauce. Bring the sauce to a hearty simmer, turning it down if things get too splattery. If the sauce seems too thick, thin it out with extra coconut milk. I find that I usually use nearly an entire can of coconut milk to reach the consistency that I like. Cook the sauce for at least 10 minutes to let everything meld together, then keep cooking down until your desired consistency is reached. As the sauce cooks, continue scraping the bottom and edges of the skillet to avoid sticking and scorching. Once you like the thickness of the sauce, stir in the halloumi and warm through.
Serve the tikka ladled over a mountain of perfectly fluffy basmati rice, with a thick fold of naan tucked around it. Garnish with a showy scattering of plucked cilantro leaves. Forget to invite anyone over and relish your increasingly better-with-time leftovers for days to come.