Ready in 15 min
The growth of wild asparagus marks the arrival of spring in Europe and other northern hemisphere regions. These little spears of distinct flavour and goodness (low in calories and packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) which grow for just a few months (March-May), are used in many culinary creations around the globe. In Greece, they are popular in salads but also work very well with eggs and tarts at brunches like in this incredible salmon and asparagus tart of mine.
Manouri is an extremely tasty semi-soft white cheese from Northern Greece (where my origins are), that hasn’t got the attention it deserves in the world of gastronomy. At least outside Greek borders. Those who are from Northern Greece or travelled and savoured Northern Greek food know precisely what I’m talking about. Manouri cheese has been overshadowed by feta, the Greek celebrity cheese. However, it is a completely different story: less salty and tangy than feta, without sharpness and lacking harsh goaty or sheepy flavours, making it perfect for those who despise intensely flavoured cheeses. In fact, Manouri is on the sweeter side, it's mellower (creamier), and sometimes hints notes of citrus. It is low in salt and also claims to be low in cholesterol, making it the perfect substitute for feta on several culinary occasions.
In my childhood, we consumed it in sandwiches or grilled in salads topped with a honey drizzle. In restaurants, it is usually served with some honey or sweet sauce as a small ‘mezze’ plate or appetiser. Inspired by all this, in this recipe, I have paired it with jam, preferably tomato which is absolutely Mediterranean, but goes really well with chilli jam or other sweet chutneys too.
Fortunately for us ex-pats in the UK and for those who want to try an alternative Greek taste, there is Greek Manouri cheese in Waitrose (as well as in local Greek or Middle Eastern delis)! Explicit advisory: it’s highly addictive!
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Ingredients (Serves 2)
300g mixed leaves salad, washed and dried
A bunch of fresh asparagus (around 200g), woody ends trimmed
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
150 Manouri Cheese (or substitute with Halloumi)
2 tbsp Tomato Jam or Tomato chutney (or Chilli jam for a spicier note)
1/2 lemon (or lime), juiced and zested
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vinegar
Black sesame or nigella seeds and (optionally) capers for serving
How to cook asparagus like a pro: bring around 100ml of water to a boil in a large frying (ideally griddle) pan. Add the asparagus with some salt and cook for 4-5 mins (until al dente), tossing them with a silicone-tipped spatula (or thongs).
While the asparagus are boiling, wash and pat dry your salad (or use a spinner for convenience). Drain the water off the pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and fry the asparagus for another 2 mins. Set the cooked spears aside.
Make a delicious dressing: Top up the same pan with the rest of the olive oil and heat it up (medium heat). At this point, you can fry a couple of sliced garlic cloves to infuse the oil for 1 min. Discard the cloves and toss the tomato jam (or chilli jam), vinegar and lemon juice and zest. Stir until everything is blended and empty in a food container (ideally with a spout) until serving time.
Cook the cheese: Return the pan to medium-high heat and fry the Manouri disc (or halloumi slices) for about 1 min each side until golden.
Assemble the salad: divide the mixed leaves between plates, scatter the halved tomatoes and asparagus and top them up with the grilled cheese slices. Add seeds and capers (optionally) and pour the dressing.
Enjoy with warm bread!