This week I am highlighting a few of my FAVORITE Lebanese/ Mediterranean dishes. I think it is only fitting that we start with a Homemade Labneh recipe. Growing up, while my parents were at work I would spend a few of my days with my Sitto (Grandmother in Arabic). She was a great cook and loved cooking for others. Her recipes landed in three categories. Lebanese, Mexican, or Great Depression… I knew I could always find anise cookies in the cupboard, beans on the stove, and green jello in the refrigerator. My grandfather and mother kept her recipes in their repertoire through the years. When I was old enough to step in and help, my love for these dishes grew.
My Sitto was the best teacher around, she was endlessly patient, and a very organized cook. She would meticulously sift thought dried beans to make sure each one was up to her standard. I can picture her sitting at her kitchen table with her perfectly set up production line of ingredients. She prepped her ingredients for her night’s dinner in the early afternoon and at night she would have her breakfast measured out and on the stove ready to cook the next morning.
When I was a little girl I had my own tub of flour that I would play with while she was cooking. Under her feet I would dump it out on the floor, and make piles. I felt like I was cooking along with her. Can you imagine giving your kid a pile of flour to rub all over the floor? That’s how patient she was. I never felt like I was making a mess. I felt like I was doing my “work” and she respected that. When I was done we would sweep it up together and move on with our day.
When I was a bit older I remember my Sitto showing me how to properly roll grape leaves. The exact method and desired finished size is a big debate in the middle eastern community, or at least between me and my in-laws … will we ever find the truth?
I’m lucky enough to have married into a Lebanese family who are also amazing cooks. I hold their family’s recipes close to my heart. The night I found out I was in love was Sunday at family dinner. My future in-laws had made a full spread of Lebanese food! “I DO!” All you need to woo me is a bowl full of homemade hummus, REAL Syrian bread, grape leaves, kibbeh, and Labneh…DON’T forget the Homemade Labneh.
Labneh is the middle eastern form of ranch dressing or ketchup for Americans. We use the bread for wrapping, and labneh is for dipping, spreading and smothering. I have noticed it’s popularity creeping into our local food scene. Some restaurants and even my local grocer will have it occasionally. Ok. Now that we have a basic understanding of my food habits lets get on with it.
Labneh is a soft cheese made from strained yogurt. Bedouin tribes used Labeh as an important source of protein in their diets. The Bedouins were a nomadic tribe in the middle east.
Homemade Labneh has terrific health benefits, aside from being high in protein, it also has probiotics that are good for gut health.
The best part about Labneh is how versatile it can be. You can enjoy it plain, I usually do! Or you can spice it up by adding a drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt, dried mint, or zaatar, a middle eastern blend of spices.
Mezze is the Middle Eastern form of a charcuterie board. A compilation of small plates meant to be shared. At my in- laws when mezze is on the table life is good. During long stays together you’ll find 20 of us scattered about our Nana and Jiddos house. There are always 5-8 people gathered around the mezze having a good conversation.
Labneh is almost always on a mezze board. You might find one or two different types (one with zaatar and one with olive oil or mint.) Fresh veggies and flatbread fills the mezze board for dipping.
A tip for flat bread- If you want authentic flat bread you must go to a middle eastern market. I have yet to find propper bread at the markets. It is worth it I promise. If you are a Utahn I make the drive to Shahrazad Market & Restaurant they have some of the best flat bread around.
Confession… up until about a month ago I have been buying labneh… I will never go back. I often hear my husband’s Nana say “have you ever made your own?” and I never had a good reason as to why I hadn’t. Perhaps, I was intimidated? The thought of making my own cheese, that sounds hard! Well joke’s on me, it took me 5 minutes to make and the outcome was amazing! AND being the ingredient weirdo that I am I can choose a high quality yogurt and enjoy knowing my family and I are reaping the benefits.
All this talk of labneh reminds me I’m out I better hop over to the kitchen and whip up a batch. Will you join me?
- muslin cloth or cheese cloth
- Yogurt I use the brand White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt
- There are a couple ways you can do this.The first way is to put a strainer over a bowl. Lay cheese cloth over the strainer, and pour in the amount of yogurt you like. Leave out on your counter over night. In the morning squeeze out the remaining liquid, transfer to a Tupperware, and keep in the fridge until ready to enjoy. My Sitto hung hers from the faucet in the kitchen sink over night. I use a wooden spoon hung over a bowl with cheese cloth wrapped around. Any way will work as long as your yogurt is suspended above the strained liquid. If you're nervous about leaving yogurt on your counter all night, this can all be done in the fridge if you'd prefer.