I wish I could go away and come back to news like this every single time. So Wales was FUN – as soon as the days ahead give me some time back, I’ll scribe up our experiences of rolling, verdant hills and stunning landscapes. Anyhow, we were in Wales when I got some exciting news. Remember food52? I’ve talked about them often enough, about their weekly recipe contests with the winning entries going in a cookbook.
So well, so good, so long have I hankered heart and soul to be a finalist. Each week, I would start on the top of the curve, fired up, all excited with the development of a new recipe, many of which have not been posted on this blog. By Thursday, my spirits would fall a bit because I hadn’t made it to the finals. Well, that was till a few weeks ago, when I was away and didn’t do my religious ‘Thursday check for the finalists’. Till the Friday when I logged on to my email and saw a note……from the editors, calling me out, to the final, for an adaptation of my suya recipe. My winning entry was a ‘suya swordfish recipe‘ and after by the end of the public polls, I emerged winner.
The prize: a bounty of goods from this OXO, and not OXO cubes (for my British comrades!). Plus I get a $100 gift card from Wholefoods and a copy of last year’s food52 cookbook and I’m also int he running to win the Wholefoods grand prize of $1000. And the satisfaction that my recipes have some merit, especially when they have ethnic flavours from Nigeria. I tell you, I’m a happy woman even if sadly absent from this blog for a whole week, yes I’m counting. Absent due to Summer cleaning – an extension of Spring cleaning because it didn’t happen in April and tidying my cookbooks (even if they’re not 360 cookbooks), a daughter’s birthday, work, work, work, being home alone with the kids with husband away over the weekend and just basking in life, still taking countless photos 🙂 and still eating and exercising, just in case you’d forgotten that once upon a time, I committed to better living.
And as you know me well, I’m never happier when I’m talking about comfort food and strangely winter, summer, autumn and spring, yogurt does it for me. With jam, or jam, or jam. And this time, strained, drained and flavoured in little balls.
I was actually triggered by a pot of yogurt, which gorgeous as the container was….had contents that tasted nothing like my regular Turkish yogurt. Rather than let it go to waste, I took the easy way out and researched this balls, common to Middle Eastern cuisine and part of the exciting mezze.
Excitingly, essentially and easily, Labneh is drained/strained yogurt. simply defined. And yes, Greek and Turkish yogurts are strained, Labneh is super strained yogurt, traditionally ‘hung’ in a sieve, muslin or cheesecloth for anything between a few hours and a day. The aim – to rid the yogurt of its whey, that light yellow liquid which tinges our yogurt with a faint golden hue. Very faint albeit. The result: white, soft ‘cheese’ with the texture of Philadelphia, the calories and tartness of yogurt and a versatility that begs for it to be made and served morning, noon and night. Think of it as yogurt at the Oscars, all doled up.
And best of all, you don’t need a recipe – use it as you would cream cheese. Some have whisked it up and smothered it over the top of cakes and others have filled cakes with it, others have loving served it up in bowls. Even more have gone further and rolled out tiny balls and those who want to keep it forever, smother the very spheres of creamy deliciousness in oil, lots of oil.
Choose you path, but whatever you do – make your own Labneh. Buy a pot of Greek yogurt or Turkish you don’t like. Be enamored with the yogurt cup and then proceed to make your own the day before your guests come, or when you’re home…all alone. And take my notes below as a mere guide. Improve. Improvise. Invent.
Ingredients, makes about 10 walnut sized balls
Suya mix – dry ground peanuts with a mixture of paprika, chilli, ginger powder, onion powder, garlic powder and salt Greek herb mix – a dried blend of oregano, basil, thyme, mint and parsley Almond mix – toasted, crushed flaked almonds with chopped fresh mint
How to make Labneh
Prepare the yogurt: stir the yogurt well and season with a pinch of salt. The salt helps draw out the whey (think of cucumbers& aubergines where the salt drains them of their natural liquids). Because you may want to use this in a ‘sweet’ recipe, temper how much salt you add.
Bag and hang: place the yogurt in the centre of a muslin/cheesecloth folded 4 times (or line a sieve with coffee filters). Gather up the ends of the cloth and tie up tight, gently gathering up the yogurt to form a ball. You’ll notice the whey begin to drip, drip, drip as soon as you begin. Keep it in the fridge, the whey that is and stir into your breakfast cereal, or back into yogurt or find out a myriad other ways to use it – it is rich in protein, and remember Little Miss Muffet? . Moving on, pass a skewer through the tie/knot and hang over a deep bowl. Because the weather was really hot and I didn’t want any hygiene issues, I placed my yogurt ball over a bowl, in the fridge overnight. The next morning, much of the whey had drained out, leaving a very creamy residue which was firm on the outside and somewhat soft and creamy on the inside.
If you like, you can serve it now, gently stirred together and topped with anything from olives and tomatoes to herbs and spice mixes. Me however, I was far from content with just leaving it plain so I forged ahead.
Make your labneh balls: with my spice mixes all prepared, I pinched off chunks of cheese, dunked them in the spices, then gently rolled them to form balls. This reduced the amount of cheese that got stuck to my fingers, though note that a bowl of water close by is very handy. The suya and Greek herb mix were easy and ready in no time.
For the Almond mix, I gently mixed in some chopped fresh mint, using the tips of my fingers and minimising again, the stickiness and loss associated with wet foods. Then I pinched off more cheese chunks and rolled them in the crushed almonds. Off to the fridge they went, no oil soak as I knew they would form breakfast for the whole some part of the week.
I loved them – the suya version was incredibly spicy, cutting through the richness of the cheese. The Greek herb version was very fragrant and reminded me of marinated feta chunks, only softer but by far my favourite was the almond and fresh mint, which I served with a drizzle of acacia honey to accompany my mugs of mint tea and my oven-baked pita chips.
If you want to enjoy Labneh in authentic surroundings, then you just might be able to do so with Beth of Dirty Kitchen Secrets who is organising a ‘Taste Lebanon Culinary Tour‘ from September 23rd to the 1st of October. If I could go I would but I can’t for many reasons and so I’m asking you, can you go? Know someone who can? Spread the word please, there are only a few places left. And if you can’t of course, bring Lebanon to your dining table by making your own Labneh.
Check out this terrific recipes from other comrades in foodie armsLabneh balls by Fig Jam & Lime Chutney
Roquerfort & Labneh mousse by Taste of Beirut Labneh on Anissa’s blog, with a lovely photo of a traditional Labneh hanging bag Labneh with chilli and anchovy by Helen of Food Stories
Have you tried Labneh before? Any delicious recipes to share – I’ll be making it again very soon so please let me know. Thanks.