Labeneh – It’s not as Hard as it Looks

One of my personal triumphs of this year so far is mastering labeneh. If I am being truly honest, it was more a realisation that things are not always as hard as they seem than an actual triumph. In reality, labeneh is embarrassingly easy to make.

I should explain: labeneh is strained salted yoghurt that you hang in a cheesecloth overnight rendering a thick, creamy and totally delicious dip, eaten alone or alongside cooked or raw vegetables, with cool watermelon or strawberries in the summer, on crackers or toast, in a sandwich……in fact with everything. I eat it with salad and eggs for breakfast, with grilled vegetables and fish or my favourite way as a little snack with some lavosh crackers or radishes. And, being a dish originating from the Middle East, there are as many varieties as there are regions.

labeneh

ready for the overnight hang

Assuming it was too much of a faff to make at home and finding the shop bought version generally disappointing, labeneh was relegated to that special place in my culinary heart as consumed only on holidays in the Med or Israel or at any of my favourite Middle Eastern hangouts now on my doorstep in London. But in this year of overcoming fears and challenging myself, I accepted the task of tackling what turns out to be an extremely simple delicacy to execute. The result: labeneh is now an unexpected and greatly appreciated notch on my cooking belt, and a fridge staple.

labeneh

the great unveiling

I should add here, the testing process was quite extensive. After gathering many opinions from those I know, and asking those I don’t know on Instagram for their favourite labeneh recipe, I made versions with Greek yoghurt, plain yoghurt, goat’s milk yoghurt and sheep’s milk yoghurt, and with combinations of up to two at a time trying to achieve the ultimate condiment of my dreams. Each variety has a slightly different flavour and consistency, but the sheep’s milk version won my vote overall as it has a milder flavour and the perfect texture.

Give it a try. It’s really not as hard as it looks.

labeneh

 

Labeneh

While sheep’s milk yoghurt is my favourite base for labeneh, a 50/50 goats milk Greek yoghurt mix is a close second place, but feel free to make this with your favourite yoghurt of choice. Just make sure it is not set or low fat.

500g sheep’s milk yoghurt (or any other yoghurt of choice)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Stir together all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
Drape a large (approximately 40cm/16inch) square of doubled cheesecloth or muslin over a sieve in the sink and pour the yoghurt mixture into the middle.
Bring together the sides of the cloth and tie together to make a cute bundle.
Hang the bundle overnight. I hang mine from my kitchen tap and let it drain into the sink, but you can hang it by tying it over the handle of a wooden spoon balanced over a mixing bowl.
I leave the mixture out overnight and then transfer to a colander sitting over a bowl and place in the fridge for another few hours to chill. I like to give it 24 hours hanging time total.
Some people hang theirs in the fridge for the full 24 hours. Either works, although I prefer the flavour when left out overnight before going in the fridge.
If you like a dip (my personal favourite), open up the cloth after 24 hours and scrape the thickened mixture either in to an airtight container and leave in the fridge ready to use any time for up to a week.
You can leave it hanging for a few days in the fridge, giving you a stiffer mixture perfect for rolling into balls for a salad or a buffet selection.
Alternatively, transfer to a shallow bowl or plate, drizzle with a good slug of olive oil and any toping of your choice, and dip or spread away.

Optional toppings:
good drizzle of olive oil
zatar
nigella seeds
chilli flakes
fresh herbs – chopped dill, coriander, parsley
pickled shallots

pomegranate seeds

labeneh

lavosh crackers – the pefect dipping tool. photo: Jeremy Coleman

Enjoy!

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Kohlrabi, Fennel and Asparagus Salad – A Summer Staple

Kohlrabi is one of those vegetables that for many years I really had no idea how to use. I knew I loved it in salads, or just thinly sliced with a little salt and lemon juice (ideal for a solo lunch or snack), but I could never find quite the right way to serve it for a crowd.

And then I started paying much closer attention to the salad selections on our last few trips to Israel, where kohlrabi is considered king vegetable and provides the secret bonus crunch to the raw medleys available at those to die for breakfast spreads. So on our return from the latest family trip, the experiments began.

Kohlrabi salad

Chopped Israeli salad inspiration. My holiday breakfast of champions

There were many failures before success.  Grating rendered mush, slicing in advance without lemon juice or dressing left dry yet soft mouthfuls, half moon slices were unwieldy among salad leaves, and then I finally reverted to a take on the classic chopped Israeli salad, and cubed them.

 

Thankfully this was the turning point and the salad started to come together nicely. With a little thinly sliced fennel (I use a mandolin), a few radishes for colour, some pea shoots and asparagus as a seasonal favourite, some treviso or endive (because I absolutely love both the bitter taste and colour) and a buttermilk herb dressing making this a killer summer salad. Delicious alongside the sweetness of tomatoes and bbq’d fish or on its own for lunch with a healthy slice of sourdough, this will feature regularly at our table this season.

Now that we have reveled in a weekend of sunshine, let the summer begin.

 

Kohlrabi, Fennel and Asparagus Salad

I like to let the kohlrabi, fennel and radish crisp up in a bowl of ice water for at least 15 minutes before draining and adding the rest of the ingredients and the dressing.  It is not necessary, but it does retain the crunch.  If you are making this in advance, you could leave the chopped and sliced vegetables in the ice water for an hour or so before draining well and assembling just before serving.  Sliced radishes also work really well, and I replace them when asparagus is not in season.

If you are buttermilk averse and  prefer a dairy free dressing option, olive oil and lemon juice with a good pinch of salt and pepper would also compliment the vegetable crunch.  Just don’t leave out the sprinkling of sumac at the end for colour and authenticity.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

1 bunch (approx 400g) of asparagus spears (optional when in season)
1 medium sized kohlrabi – make sure it is firm and has tight looking skin
5-6 radishes
1 large fennel
80ml buttermilk
1tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
good pinch of salt and pepper
1 tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 tsp chives finely chopped
1 tbsp mint, finely shredded
50g pea shoots (or you can use watercress or rocket)
2 treviso or red endive sliced lengthways to keep the shape of the leaves
pinch of sumac

Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the ends at their natural break and steaming them until just cooked in a pan of boiling salted water.  Drain and allow to cool.
If you are making this salad a little in advance, fill a large bowl with ice water.
Peel the kohlrabi and cut into cubes the size of small dice.   Put the dice in the bowl of ice water (if using), or into a large mixing bowl.
Thinly slice the fennel and the radishes (I do this on a mandolin) and add to the kohlrabi (in the ice water or mixing bowl depending on what you are using).
If the vegetables are soaking, leave them for anywhere between 15 minutes or an hour to crisp up.
In the meantime, make the dressing.
In a small bowl mix together the buttermilk, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.  I sometimes do this in a jam jar and just shake them together until they are fully mixed.
When you are ready to assemble the salad, drain the vegetables if they are soaking and lightly dry with a kitchen towel so that they are not holding any more water.
Cut the asparagus into bite size pieces – approximately 2cm lengths (I like to cut them on the diagonal)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the kohlrabi, fennel, radish, pea shoots (or other green leaves of choice), and the treviso or endive.
Pour over the dressing and mix with your hands until the leaves are fully coated with the dressing but be careful not to overdress.
I like to transfer this to a large plate or platter to serve so make sure the dressing does not pool in the bottom of the bowl.
Sprinkle with sumac and serve.

This recipe first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

This salad also featured on the menu at our first Supper Club last month.

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BF Bites May Roundup

BF Bites 5.17

salted caramels from Candy Is Magic by Jami Curl

 

May was a little bit of an insane month, and I just realised that while I have a backlog of recipes ready to post, I have not managed to put even one of them up.  Rest assured, they are coming, but in the meantime, here are my current favourites:

 

Soom Tahini

BF Bites 5.17There are many aspects of the digital age that clearly make our lives easier than the generation before us. Without a shadow of a doubt ecommerce is top of that list. I mean, I never ever really have to leave my house, even for the odd local item. I can get JUST ABOUT ANYTHING FROM ANYWHERE delivered straight to my door in record time. Including this tahini. Which happens to be American, from Philadelphia in fact. And I agree with Michael Solomonov (of Zahav fame) that this rivals the best of the traditional Middle Eastern varieties available at my local specialty shops. So much so that regular shipments from Amazon arrive on my doorstep, allowing me to whisk up our most loved tahini sauce to accompany just about anything we eat.

 

Candy is Magic

BF Bites 5.17

I try to lead a healthy, balanced life. Which means sometimes starting my day with smoothies, green juices, overnight oats or seed clusters. Followed by a healthy dose of sugar from about 4pm onwards. See? Balanced. This book has upped my candy game. We now have a constant supply of caramels available for afternoon and evening noshing, and I am about to move on to marshmallows for summer smores madness. If you have a sweet tooth, or if you like to give home made treats as gifts, this book is a must. Jami Curl demystifies any fear of sugar or sweet making with her simple steps, explanations and visual aids. Some of the recipes even include fresh fruit. Winner winner.

 

The Cloth Shop

BF Bites 5.17

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I am happy to share secrets. In fact I love to share. Recipes, jokes, books, but most of all those little gems that I find on my travels – the solutions to all your needs (even the ones you did not know you needed). So here is today’s little nugget of knowledge for anyone who is not already in the know. The Cloth Shop at the top of Portobello Road (near enough to be dangerous, but far enough that I don’t bother walking there) is a treasure trove of fabric heaven. 18 colours of reasonably priced extra wide linen (ideal for full length curtains or table cloths), vintage cloths and fabrics, jars, blankets, rugs old and new, tea towels, cushions, jars and bottles, ribbon……you name it, they have what you are looking for. Be warned. It is dangerous. But the solution to all your home styling “needs”……..

 

Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker

BF Bites 5.17

Something happens to me as soon the heating in the house gets turned off for the season. I become ice cream obsessed. Each year there is a flavour of choice that I deem to perfect (this year it’s halva) and I churn away leaving my freezer stocked with ice creams and sorbets for any occasion or event. Baking decreases dramatically, and my grandmother’s special bowls and spoons for just this occasion get a regular airing.  All this ice cream is a result of the genius ice cream maker attachment to my KitchenAid – my most loved kitchen appliance next to my Vitamix.  If you are lucky enough to have a KitchenAid this maker attachment is a must.  If you don’t, invest in small ice cream maker.  Nothing beats a home churn.

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