Dinner Rush! Grilled Shrimp and Greek Bread Cheese

So there I am, minding my own business, scanning over the hundred-and-some-odd cheeses that populate my favorite local market’s cold case. The usual suspects are there in force: cheddar varieties for days, countless Camemberts, some funky monkey “pistachio-infused” wedge in coordinating green. And then I spot bread cheese.

What, what? Bread cheese? I mean, I’ve done bread + cheese, but ne’er without the two entering into our engagement as initially separate entities. Rick, the archetypal cheese man in his cute tweed derby cap, likens it to a grilling cheese. “The flavor is pretty mild,” he tells me, “like a halloumi but not as salty. People buy it up like crazy and eat it for breakfast and dessert. I guess you could use it as a savory snack, too. That would be good.” In the basket it goes.

Juustoleipa, as the Finnish call their native creation, translates to “cheese bread.” The idea is that this cheese is made and then baked, giving it a beautiful signature golden-brown surface appearance. To serve it, the Finnish recommend warming it in a microwave or an oven to soften the center. They’re wicked fancy and traditionally make theirs with reindeer milk, but we mostly get cow’s milk varieties in the U.S. Echoing Rick’s comment, it’s usually served as a breakfast or dessert item smothered in preserves or honey and nuts, but I’ve got other plans.

Combining some Greek salad-inspired flavors of tomato, olive, cucumber and oregano, this surprisingly filling meal offers a fun bit of something different from the typical pasta/rice/polenta portion of dinner. It’s got a great chewy (some say “squeaky”) texture that’s just as satisfying as any traditional carbohydrate. Give it a whirl, and leave me a comment below or on Facebook and let me know what you did with it!

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pint cherry tomatoes or Campari tomatoes, halved
2 Kirby cucumbers or 4 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 cup assorted pitted olives

2 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 lemon, divided
1 (10- to 12-ounce) block bread cheese, sliced into four pieces

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Lay 8 wooden skewers in a baking dish and cover with cold water; soak for 15 minutes (you can skip this step if using metal skewers).

Thread 4 shrimp onto two skewers for each serving. Season the shrimp with the dried oregano, some salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Grill the shrimp, turning occasionally, until pink in color and cooked through, about 5 minutes total.

While the shrimp are on the grill, in a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, olive oil, juice of half the lemon, and some salt and pepper. Let the salad marinate for 5 minutes. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges

Once the shrimp come off the grill, brush both sides of the bread cheese slices with the remaining vegetable oil and grill just until softened, about 20 seconds per side.

Serve the bread cheese while still warm with the vegetable salad, grilled shrimp, wedges of lemon and a few drizzles of extra virgin olive oil.

NOTE: If your market or local cheese shop doesn’t have bread cheese, you can easily use a block of halloumi to make this meal. Taste it before using any salt, though, as halloumi is brined and can vary in saltiness from brand to brand.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at  @patrickwdecker  or visiting his website at  patrickwdecker.com .

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