For much of December I found myself being entertained rather than entertaining. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend two weeks but I find myself – even now that we’re well into the New Year – looking for a way to make someone else feel special and cared for. After some recipe rummaging, I had my answer: Labneh.
Soup might comfort, jelly might wibble-wobble, but Labneh delights. This Middle Eastern thickened yogurt appetizer seems oh so fancy but is really a set-it-and-forget-it kind of affair – exactly what I need to pay it forward during a busy time of year. It’s mild and tangy – but if you use full fat yogurt, very creamy and indulgent in a… healthy way (it’s made with yogurt, after all).
Does your mind ever wander when you cook? Mine does.
- As the yogurt strained in the cool, dark refrigerator I considered the people who came in my life for no more than a season – perhaps a brilliant season, perhaps a painful one. I reminded myself that letting them go is a gift. Ahhhh, what a gift for my heart.
- As I spooned the thick yogurt into a shallow bowl, forming ridges and valleys with my spatula, I thought of my oldest brother who gave my family a tour of the small beach town during our visit to Cape Charles, VA – the landscape undulating in its own way. I sent him a smile – thanking him for opening his world to us during Christmas.
- As I drizzled on the olive oil, I thought of my sister who took time to sketch with me over the holidays. We’d giggled at the kitchen table, pencils in hand as we sketched fluidly. What a memory. I sent her a hug.
- As I released a fluttering of parsley and spice over the bowl, I thought of our cousin’s New Year’s Eve wedding and the sparklers that guarded her procession through the darkness to her love. I sent her warm well-wishes.
Now… if I could just travel back to where they are and share this labneh with our whole family!
Vacation went by way too fast (doesn’t it always?).
Three ways to share labneh:
1. Set a shallow bowl of labneh out and serve with flatbread and vegetable sticks.
2. Cover your palms with olive oil and roll the labneh into balls. The oil will help prevent sticking. Store in olive oil. And/or finish them off by rolling in chopped herbs, za’atar or ground sumac. Spread on toast or flatbread.
3. If you can’t use it all up here’s another idea – cook it!
Yogurt strained through muslin is a traditional food in the Levant, Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, where it is often used in cooking (as it is high enough in fat content to avoid curdling at higher temperatures). (Wikipedia)
As far as easy entertaining and impressive edible gifts go, labneh ranks up there among the a) most impressive b) simplest c) best edible gifts.
Just be sure to set some yogurt to strain a day or two before you need it (things will go quicker if you start with Greek yogurt, as I have done).
Makes about 3 cups labneh
1 quart Greek yogurt, preferably whole
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Toppings (use as desired):
up to 3 Tbsp ground sumac or za’atar
handful fresh parsley and/or tarragon, torn
olive oil for drizzling
Handful minced chives
up to 1/4 cup ground sumac
1 -2 cups olive oil, for storing
small glass jars (for gifts)
We’re going to the Middle East.
There may be camels.
Set a strainer over a bowl and line with cheesecloth. Spoon in the yogurt and let drain 1-2 days, depending on desired thickness.
Meanwhile, take a stroll through the countryside.
Stir thickened yogurt together with salt and lemon juice to taste.
a) Spoon into shallow bowl and top with fresh herbs.
b) Roll into balls with oiled hands. Store in olive oil or roll balls in fresh herbs, sumac, or za’atar. Keep refrigerated.
TIP: If you place the herbs in a small cup or bowl, you can just shake them around. They’ll get coated and become rounder in the process.