Inspired by the happy coincidence of my friend Ms Melba’s recent gift of her incredibly good homemade labneh – that creamy, unbelievably smooth yoghurt cheese – and Miss J’s birthday gift of the gorgeous Saha: A chef’s Journey through Lebanon & Syria by Greg & Lucy Malouf, I decided on the weekend to have a stab at making some labneh myself.
Oh, and the third inspiration was driving past a humungous and ghastly Spotlight outlet, whereupon I could dive in and grab myself a thousand metres of muslin (I later sent some of that Ms Melba’s way, and she said that while she longed to drape it about her person for running through damp fields towards Pemberley, she promised to use it for cheese-related purposes).
Anyway, after tasting Melba’s labneh and gobbling it all in a week, I asked for her recipe, and then compared it with Greg Malouf’s in Saha which, by the way, is the most beautiful book. (I have just lent it to the Empress, who – prepare to bite out your own veins with envy – is planning a culinary trip through various Middle Eastern countries including Syria. Argh. We can only hope she comes back with some fine recipes to share, but I may find it difficult to speak to her for a while…)
Labneh, it turns out, is so easy peasy to make that I am never again buying that gorgeously silky Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Fetta in the black tin, because my labneh (while texturally probably quite different and probably-not-even-remotely-comparable-because-it-isn’t-feta), turns out to be just as delicious. And costs very little. The amazing thing about this stuff is the texture – so silky and creamy, but with excellent body and, depending on your marinade, a lovely soft and herby tang.
Greg Malouf’s recipe is here, and it’s the one I used, except I followed Melba’s lead and formed it into the little balls rather than just spreading over a plate topped with oil as he’s done. Anyway it’s hardly a recipe at all really – take a kilo of natural yoghurt, hang it for 48-72 hours, and then do as you wish with it. Melba hangs hers for anything from three hours to overnight, and it’s beautifully light. I did as GM says though, and hung it for 48 hours. The longer you hang it, the firmer it gets, and lots of whey comes out of it. Here’s what I did.
1. Take a good half-metre of clean muslin and line a colander with it over a bowl. A fine cotton tea towel would probably do just as well, but perhaps take longer.
2. Mix up a kilo of full-cream natural Greek-style yoghurt with a good teaspoon of salt and pour it into the muslin.
3. Tie up the corners of the muslin any old how, and find a way to hang it. Easiest for us was get a large deep saucepan, tie the muslin bag to a long wooden spoon and rest the spoon over the top of the pot. Do tie it tight and hang as high as possible, as it does hang lower over the hours and ours eventually touched the bottom of the pot, necessitating re-tying half-way through. No big deal though and gave us a chance to drain the whey out halfway through.
5. Remove and form into balls, keeping your hands moistened with olive oil – stops the labneh sticking to your hands and the balls to each other.
6. Lay the balls in a jar or container, cover with oil and add some dried chilli flakes, dried thyme, fresh rosemary and a clove of garlic. Any dried herbs or spices you fancy would do, I reckon.
Use it spread on biccies as a dip; on toast or a sandwich instead of butter; plonk a ball in your spicy veg soup (that’s where almost all of M’s batch went – thicker and more delicious than a yoghurt dollop); toss on to steamed green vegetables, or just use anywhere you would sling a blob of yoghurt, I reckon.
This amount made three full medium-sized deli takeaway containers’ worth. The oil is obviously the costly bit of this, but given that one would never chuck away such lovely herby olive oil, instead keeping it for pasta sauces, salad dressings or whatever, I reckon this recipe is a contender for the frugal food post as well as just being a beautiful thing. And great to take to a friend’s when you’re turning up for dinner – they will be tres impressed with your domestic goddessness as well as gobbling it up in a flash like I did.