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31
Jan

When I did my recent post on labneh, I knew that it was well on its way to becoming a global ingredient. What I I didn’t expect was the level of interest the post would generate. It wasn’t so much the comments rather than the questions that I got from various people, including from my new best friend,  young Mehran Gharleghi, a very talented young architect. Mehran was curious about labneh. He wanted to learn how to make it, and how to make the ‘bride’ which I had described in my post. So, I proposed a deal: I’d teach him how to make the ‘bride’ if he’d take the pictures for a post. He liked the deal and we arranged a time for him to come over. And as you will see from his photographs, he is also a talented photographer.

So, here is, in pictures, how to make your very own labneh ‘bride’.

First the mise en place. You will need markouk bread, labneh, very good olive oil (mine comes from Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm and it is fabulous), sea salt, nice olives (I like to use both green & black which I buy from my favourite Lebanese shop, Zen), and fresh mint; as well as trimmed spring onion and Persian cucumbers to serve with the ‘bride’.

'aruss-ingredients

The first step is to open up the bread and fold it in half. It is too thin to use in one layer.

'aruss-folding bread 'aruss-folding bread 4

Then, put 3-4 tablespoons labneh in the middle of the bread. Season it with salt, drizzle a little olive oil and mix well — like my mother, I use a piece of bread from the thick edge to do this.

'aruss-labneh on bread 'aruss-salt on labneh

'aruss-oil on labneh

Then, spread the labneh all over the bread.

'aruss-spreading labneh 5 'aruss-spreading labneh

'aruss-spreading labneh 4 'aruss-spreading labneh 2

Quickly pit the olives (you can also do this beforehand) and arrange them in a single or double line down the middle — single line if you want your ‘bride’  thin, or double line if you like it wide and flat. À chacun son goût as they say. I normally do a double line for more olives and I arrange the mint leaves in between.

'aruss-pitting olives 'aruss-lining olives

'aruss-olives 'aruss-olives & mint

Now you are ready to roll your ‘bride’. My mother rolled it without folding the ends, leaving it to me to make sure that I didn’t let any labneh or olives slip out of the bottom. I prefer to fold a little of the bread both at the top and bottom over the olives to encase them. I also cut off and discard any thick edges on the sides — the markouk I buy in London is not as uniformly thin as the markouk I get in Beirut. Then, pick up one side of the bread and flap it over the olives and mint and roll the ‘bride’.

'aruss-folding 'aruss-rolling

Cut in two halves, on the slant, for a nice presentation, and transfer onto a plate. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint and a couple of trimmed spring onion. Et voila, your very own labneh ‘bride’ which you can vary on by replacing the labneh with an olive oil potato mash flavoured with chopped basil or onion, or feta cheese and mint or whatever takes your fancy.

'aruss-on the plate

'aruss-finished 3

And as you can see, Mehran is very happy with his ‘bride’. I sent him off with a packet of markouk, olives and mint to make his own back home but he didn’t think his was up to scratch. He hadn’t made his own labneh with goat’s yoghurt, and he didn’t have any of Mary’s oil. Now he has both.

'aruss-mehran likes this copy


16
Jan

labneh


Posted by in , with 22 comments

labneh-copy

As I walked through the Ferry Plaza building last time I was in SF, I spotted an ice cream shop selling an intriguing flavour: Lebanese mountain yoghurt. Sounded exciting, and incongruous. I had to have a taste. Sadly, it was just like any other yoghurt ice cream, and not a very good one at that. So, I asked the young girl serving me why Lebanese mountain yoghurt and not simply yoghurt. She hesitated, then she said it was imported from Lebanon and then, as if remembering an important detail, she said that it was actually labneh.

Now, as many of you know, I am fairly familiar with Lebanon and its food and labneh is nothing more than strained yoghurt. It is made in the mountains,  and it is made in the city, at home and commercially. My grandmother made it. My mother made it, and there are still plenty of mountain folk who make it, often from sheep’s or goat’s milk while city folk often use powdered milk to make their yoghurt before straining it to make labneh. However, there is nothing stopping anyone, anywhere in the world, making labneh provided they have yoghurt. In fact, I make my own in London, using St Helen’s Farm goat’s yoghurt.

Those people making the ice cream in SF certainly don’t need to import their labneh from Lebanon, especially not to make such an indifferent ice cream. I walked away thinking that labneh was well on its way to becoming a global ingredient, the way hommus is now a global dip.

We only use it as a savoury ingredient and I remember how my mother used to make us labneh wraps (called bride or ‘aruss in Arabic), as soon as we came back from school using markouk bread (very thin and very large round loaves cooked over a saj, which is like an inverted wok). She mixed the labneh with olive oil seasoning it with a little salt, then spread it over the bread. She arranged a few pitted green olives and fresh mint leaves  in a line down the middle before rolling the bread to make the sandwich. One of my favourites.

Here is how to make your own labneh. Line a colander with a double layer of cheese cloth (or get a cotton sack like the one in the picture above, which I snapped outside a tiny and incredibly primitive beehive house near Palmyra in Syria). Tip 1 kg of the best yoghurt you can buy into the lined colander. Tie the corners  to make a pouch. Hang your pouch over a tap and let drain overnight. Et voila, the next day you will have 1/2 kg of lovely thick labneh which you can use to make ice cream or one of the two dips below. Or you can serve it plain, drizzled with excellent extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with fleur de sel and Aleppo pepper. Labneh is a staple of the Lebanese and Syrian breakfast table.

Labneh bil-Za’tar

Serves 4

300 g labneh

3 tablespoons za’tar (a blend of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds unless it is the red Aleppo za’tar in which case it also has fennel, coriander and anise seeds, black sunflower seeds, toasted chickpeas and peanuts (although these are not recommended) and cumin)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish

fine sea salt

toasted sesame seeds for garnish

 

Mix the labneh, za’tar and oil in a mixing bowl. Taste and add salt if necessary – some za’tar mixes can be very salty. Spoon into a serving bowl, making grooves here and there. Drizzle a little olive oil in the grooves. Sprinkle a little toasted sesame seeds all over. Serve with crudités, or pita bread, or pita chips.

@Anissa Helou from Modern Mezze

Kishkeh

This is a classic Syrian dip which you can make with fresh or dried mint. Use the same amount of labneh as in the recipe above but instead of za’tar, use 2 tablespoons fine burghul and 2-3 tablespoons dried mint or a handful of finely chopped fresh mint leaves. Add salt to taste. Mix well. Then transfer to a serving dish, garnish and serve as with the labneh with za’tar.

@Anissa Helou