Home-made Labneh

I only recently discovered Labneh, and now I want it every day – classic with salad at lunch-time in the summer. It is very easy to make as well. It is a dish from the Levant (think of the countries south of Turkey, like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine) – east of the Mediterranean. 

There are recipes everywhere once you start looking; this one is from Jerusalem

INGREDIENTS: 

  • Two tubs of thick plain yoghurt, around 500g each, could be greek style yoghurt, goats’ milk yoghurt
  • 3/4 tsp salt

METHOD:

  • Pour the yogurt into a large bowl. Stir in salt.
  • Line another large bowl with a linen or muslin towel (or several layers of cheesecloth.) Pour the yogurt mixture into the towel. Pick up the edges of the towel and tie at the top. Hang from a kitchen sink faucet to drain for 24 to 48 hours. Alternatively, set a large sieve, lined with linen towel over a deep bowl. Add the yogurt mixture. Cover gently with the overhang of the linen towel, or another linen towel. Set aside on the counter, or in the fridge, to drain for 24-48 hours. I actually used a muslin intended for coping with babies, still new. I tied the tops over the yoghurt, and rigged up a thing with string and a wooden spoon over a deep bowl. You may need to empty the bowl at the bottom half-way. Also, it takes up a bit of space in the fridge. 

To serve, spread labneh in a bowl and top with extra virgin olive oilza’atar spice (or chopped fresh herbs like mint or parsley). Add fresh pitta, or other warm bread, on the side. Sliced vegetables, such as tomatoes, radishes, olives, are a good addition. 

I have been storing the labneh in a plastic container in the fridge, and allegedly it will keep for a couple of weeks.

Yoghurt and Barley Soup

I had a guest staying last week, and as well as being very busy at work, I also ended up trying to cook new dishes. I would add, she is a good cook and a fantastic guest who took her turn at cooking too. I will see if I can pinch one of her recipes. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 200g pearl barley
  • 1.6 litres of water
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • a handful of mint, finely chopped
  • 60g butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 500g yoghurt
  • 3 Spring onions and mint or other fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used a little lovage)

METHOD:

  • Soak the barley in the cold water overnight. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook for around 20 minutes, until the barley is tender. 
  • Meanwhile, saute the onion and the mint in butter until very soft, around 15 minutes. Add the mixture to the barley and water. 
  • Whisk the eggs into the yoghurt. Add in a large spoonful of the soup, and keep whisking, adding soup until the yoghurt and egg mixture is hot. Add the mixture back into the soup, whisking it in. 
  • Reheat, but do not boil the soup. 

Garnish with sliced spring onions and herbs. I had to experiment – the first version was a bit odd, with the barley a bit al dente – the soaking is important. 

 

Aubergine and Yoghurt Dip

This is a very easy Persian version of a common middle-eastern dip. Be prepared to get a bit messy for the best results. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 tbsp very good quality olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 200ml plain full-fat greek yoghurt
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

METHOD:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C. Rinse the aubergines and prick them with a fork in a few places. Put them in the centre of the oven on a rack with a baking tray underneath. Bake for one hour. 
  • Remove the aubergines from the oven, let them cool until you can handle them. Peel off the skin and chop the flesh. 
  • Put all the chopped aubergine into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. I used my bare hands to squish the aubergine well, before beating with a fork. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  • Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with saffron water, a tablespoonful of plain yoghurt and mint leaves. 
  • This recipe is best made 24 hours in advance, and stored in the fridge. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before serving. This is good served with bread. 

Yoghurt and Cucumber Salad

Some of you will know that I spent some time living in Teheran when I was a child. Zara used to work for our family as a housekeeper, and she used to cook wonderful Persian home-cooking for us. Our favourite was a dish called Loubia Pollow, made with rice, beans, tomatoes and lamb. We also used to eat the most delicious barbari bread and thick plain yoghurt sold in blue earthenware bowls. 

I have sought to recreate the flavours of the food we ate there, and have never managed to get it quite right. Persian food is very complex and sophisticated, from ancient civilisations, combining the herbs and spices of east and west. 

There are a few sites online where you can look up Persian recipes, but the flavours and end-results are unfamiliar to most. I have one recipe book, A Taste of Persia which is aimed at the US market, and has all the ingredients in cups. I’ve been working my way through the recipes and re-jigging them to suit local ingredients and UK directions. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 500g tub of full-fat plain Greek Yoghurt
  • A bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill or fennel leaf, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • Garnish of fresh mint, rose petals, dill leaf, chive flowers, chopped walnuts, chopped radishes etcetera

METHOD:

  • Combine all the ingredients, mix well and adjust the seasoning. 
  • Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to four hours before serving. Take out of the fridge ten minutes before serving and garnish.