Monday, February 13, 2017

Homemade labneh (strained yoghurt cheese) and 5 serving suggestions

A couple of weeks ago, I made feta. Feta! Can you believe it? I couldn’t. I never thought it was possible to make feta at home and that was one of the few times I was happy to be wrong. For a feta-fiend like me, this was perhaps my greatest accomplishment in the kitchen.

Granted, I didn’t go all the way, meaning that I didn’t put the feta in brine for at least two weeks to mature and develop its characteristic tangy and salty flavor so, technically, it wasn’t feta, but the promise of feta was there and I can’t wait to give it another try. I will need to do some more research first on the brining part so I don’t mess it up and hopefully I will eventually be able to share with you too the results of my feta adventures along with the recipe.

In the meantime, let’s talk about a different cheese, let’s talk about labneh, or yoghurt cheese as some call it. It’s one of the easiest and most stress-free cheeses one can make, even easier than the chèvre I’ve shared with you previously on this blog, and it’s utterly satisfying and delicious to eat.

Labneh is a fresh cheese made from strained yoghurt and it couldn’t be simpler to make. You just take strained yoghurt and you strain it some more until you get a thick and rich consistency like cream cheese. That’s it. You can add salt if you’re going to use it in savory dishes, or sugar if you plan on using it for desserts, or you can serve it as is instead of yoghurt or cream cheese.

It has a rounded, creamy flavor and it is tangier than cream cheese since it is made entirely with yoghurt, but because the yoghurt used is full-fat, the butterfat softens that tanginess.

I strain the yoghurt for no less than 24 hours in order to get the labneh consistency I want, which is thick and firm enough to be able to form it into small balls that hold together well, but at the same time soft enough to be spreadable, ultra smooth and creamy.

I make it fairly often as I am a complete and utter cheese and yoghurt addict, and I do lots of variations when I serve it, which is mainly with bread, flatbread or crackers of any kind. As you can see here, I top it with grated tomato and Greek wild dried oregano, with garlic, sliced fresh green chillies, garlic and dill, with za’atar, rolled into balls and covered completely with Greek wild dried oregano or sprinkled with sumac and fresh marjoram and of course drizzled with lots of olive oil.

Hope you give it a try and would love to know how you liked it.

Homemade labneh (strained yoghurt cheese) and 5 serving suggestions

Please don’t attempt to make labneh with anything other than full-fat yoghurt because 1) fat equals flavor and creaminess and 2) low-fat yoghurt has a higher water content so you will end up with far less labneh. Furthermore, it is best if you use Greek or Turkish yoghurt, not the plain yoghurts you find in stores. Greek and Turkish yoghurts are already strained and thick, so in turn they will give you a thicker and creamier labneh.

Keep in mind before you start that the yoghurt needs to be strained for 24 hours in order to achieve a thick yet creamy and smooth consistency. If you prefer your labneh on the softer side, strain for 12 hours. It will be looser and very creamy. I prefer the thicker one as it is more versatile and can be used in many ways.

Yield: 550-600 g labneh

1 kg Greek or Turkish yoghurt, full-fat (at least 10% fat)
½ tsp sea salt

Special equipment: large fine sieve, muslin or cheesecloth, butcher’s twine

Stir the yoghurt in its pot well. Line a large, fine sieve with a piece of cheesecloth or a muslin cloth and set it over a large bowl. Make sure there is ample distance between the base of the sieve and the bottom of the bowl.
Empty the yoghurt into the cheesecloth and tie the cheesecloth well with butcher’s twine so the yoghurt is pressed. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and leave the yoghurt to drain for 24 hours.
Every few hours, give it a squeeze to help it along. I usually do it every 4 hours.

When ready, remove the drained yogurt from the cheesecloth into a large bowl, add the salt and stir it well to mix with the creamier center.

Note: If you want to add more salt in order to use it in a savory dish, or sugar if you want to use it in a sweet dish, you can do so now.

Cover tightly with plastic warp, or place labneh in an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use.

It keeps for 4 days in the fridge.

Rolled into balls and kept in a sterilized jar filled with olive oil, it keeps for a month.

5 serving suggestions:

1. Scoop labneh into a bowl. Top with grated fresh tomato (or you can use only the jelly and seeds part of the tomato by scooping them out from the tomato) and a good sprinkling of Greek wild dried oregano. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve straight away.

2. Mix some labneh with 1 grated garlic clove. Place into a bowl, top with fine slices of green chilli (it can be either hot or mild depending on your taste) and some finely chopped dill leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve straight away.

3. Scoop labneh into a bowl. Sprinkle with a good amount of za’atar (or dukkah, you can see my recipe here) and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve straight away.

4. To make balls: scoop labneh (cold, straight from the fridge) using a teaspoon or tablespoon, depending on the size you want them to be, and roll them between your hands. Roll them onto Greek wild dried oregano to coat them completely. Serve straight away, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You can preserve them in olive oil in a jar if you wish to keep them for longer.

5. To make balls: scoop labneh (cold, straight from the fridge) using a teaspoon or tablespoon, depending on the size you want them to be, and roll them between your hands. Sprinkle them with sumac and serve straight away, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a few fresh marjoram leaves. You can preserve them in olive oil in a jar if you wish to keep them for longer.

You can serve all of these with fresh bread, pitta bread, crackers or vegetables of any kind.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Smoked salmon linguine with crème fraîche and lime

My first post of 2017 is coming a bit too late since we are already in February (!), but I will say this anyway. Happy New Year! Happy 2017! May it bring to you all that you hope and wish for, and more.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions or make lists of things I want to accomplish or do in the new year, never have been. What I always want, however, is to continue to stay true and honest to myself, and be the best partner, daughter, friend, colleague, woman, human being that I can be.

Oh and a better cook, baker, sharer of food. Because food, my friends, is a major part of my life, in more ways than one. I may not have a lot of time to cook, but I fantasize about food all the time. It’s in my nature to do that. Imagine recipes and dishes, stage them in my mind, take a mental snap of them, feel their texture in my mouth and their flavor on my tongue. Food is and will always be a source of inspiration and creativity to me.

And so I begin the new year here on this little blog of mine with a recipe that I love and crave. A simple recipe. A recipe for pasta —linguine to be exact that I generally favor over simple spaghetti— with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and lime.

It’s a filling yet delicate dish with a nice balance of flavors. The creaminess and mild sweetness of the smoked salmon is counterbalanced by the floral acidity of the lime and the smooth tanginess of the crème fraîche, while the grassy brightness of the chives and the piquantness of the black pepper impart even more flavor to it.

Hope you enjoy!

Smoked salmon linguine with crème fraîche and lime

If you can’t find crème fraîche, use sour cream or fresh cream (full-fat). I wouldn’t substitute with yoghurt because it splits when added to hot dishes/sauces.

Yield: 2 generous portions for 2 hungry people

300 g dried linguine pasta
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion (about 50 g net weight), thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
125 g crème fraîche, full-fat (or sour cream or cream)
1½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste, but be careful because the salmon is adequately salty already
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
100 g smoked salmon, cut into thick strips

Special equipment: colander

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the linguine. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. You will need to add pasta water to it so keep that in mind.

In a wide sauté pan (one that will fit the pasta as well), add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the sliced onion and sauté until it softens, but don’t let it brown. A minute before it’s done, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being careful not to burn it. Add the crème fraîche, the lime juice and zest, a little salt and black pepper and mix well. Turn heat down to low and add some of the water that the pasta is boiling in, stirring with a wooden spoon, in order to loosen the sauce (especially if you’re using crème fraîche because regular cream and sour cream are thinner) and to make it very smooth and creamy.

By now the linguine should be cooked. Using tongs, add the pasta to the sauté pan. You don’t need to strain the pasta because the pasta water is valuable and will help you adjust the consistency of the sauce, so it’s best if you add the pasta straight from the pot. Add half of the chives, a good sprinkling of black pepper and mix. Then add the salmon and mix gently with tongs so you don’t break the pasta or squash the salmon. Add more pasta water if needed, enough to achieve a creamy sauce. It should not be cloggy or clump together, but have a silky smooth consistency. Taste and add salt if needed. The salmon provides saltiness so most probably you won’t need it, but you never know.

Serve immediately in individual plates topped with more chives and another grinding of black pepper.