Archive for the ‘dips & snacks’ Category

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In love with labneh

August 31, 2009

labna2Inspired 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…)

Anyhoo.

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.

labna14. Bung it in the fridge for anything from three hours to 72 hours. We did 48 and it resulted in easy-to-form, nice firm labneh.

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.

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A Persian excursion

July 31, 2009

persianstuffOne of the best reasons for having a proper food writer as a friend is joining them for the spontaneous suburban sojourn in search of a particular dish or ingredient. The Empress took me the other day to Auburn in the mid-west of Sydney, where all things Persian, Afghan, Turkish & Lebanese can be found (and where the Gallipoli Mosque is a feature).

As DrDi wrote recently, it’s very cool for we postcode-centric Sydneysiders to take a trip along the discovery highway to an unvisited suburb – and the Empress is the gal to do it with. Our trip was a short sharp operation but chock full of discoveries for me. First stop was a great restaurant for lunch, where among the delights was an an eggplant dip to die for called Kashk-e bademjan; I devoured the lot and got an extra tub for takeaway.

After that we popped into a Persian supermarket where we filled our shopping bags with these goodies: green raisins, dried sour cherries, barberries and slivered pistachios. The shop guys and we managed to cross the language barrier with the aid of some friendly other customers, which was a very nice part of the encounter.

I haven’t used any of these staples of Persian cooking yet, and have never seen those ruby-red barberries or the chewy black and very tart sour cherries before, but plan to have a go very soon at a polow – a Persian pilaf, basically, which apparently has a lovely crusty bottom.

I’ve checked out some polow recipes with barberries here and with sour cherries here and here and here.

But I’m also thinking that both of these would be delicious chucked into any tagine or, as I found after taking this photograph, just eaten as a little dried-fruit mix from a bowl.

Years ago when making the divine mast-o khiar – a yoghurt & cucumber dip with walnuts, green raisins & rose petals (and another recipe here)  I had the devil’s own job finding green raisins, and now I know they’re everywhere in any Middle-Eastern suburb I feel a bit of a dill for buying them from these elegant and expensive packagers (although their stuff is top quality, so if you can’t get near a Persian supermarket, they are worth a shot online).

And as for my plans for the pistachios, well obviously the list is endless. But apart from Karen Martini’s quite incredible baked lemon and goat’s curd cheesecake with pistachios (from Where the Heart Is, but Stonesoup has an adaptation here – scroll down to find it), I have just come across this delicious-sounding pistachio dukkah which sounds a very fine idea.

Now, off to Culburra for the weekend with a bunch of food-crazy friends. Will return fatter and more recipe-laden than ever next week…

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Becoming broad-minded…

July 9, 2009

driedbroadbeansHaving got my dried bean anxieties off my chest, I am happy to report that I am now running my fingers through those slippery little beauties at every opportunity (thankyou Steph for the advice to get over myself …)

Once I remember to do the soaking – pretty easy, you must admit – the course is set, and it forces me to actually make the thing I had planned. And everything I’ve done – okay, two things (a repeat of the cassoulet, but with dried beans, and this one) – are tres simple and delicious (even without a pressure-cooker, Empress…)

A couple of years ago we stayed a fortnight in a rented house in Puglia, in the south of Italy, with some educated friends who knew that although Puglia was in the daggy, bogan bit of Italia, it also had the most spectacular coastline, beautiful towns and THE most incredible food. Anything we bought at the supermarket was astoundingly good quality, from chooks to calamari, and if we bought at an actual market market, even better.

Anyway, there are two things I remember very clearly from the menu of one restaurant we went to in the elegant town of Lecce (earlier researched by Italophile Jane, who speaks the language beautifully and knows her food): a rich, tender dark casserole of horse meat, which was meltingly delicious* and a smooth, delicate but complex broad bean puree for dipping stuff into – ditto.

So I was very pleased recently to see this recipe for Pugliese broad bean puree with chicory in Gourmet Traveller’s Italian edition, and made it today. It is the simplest thing in the world (and note to the confused, i.e. me, broad beans are fava beans, apparently) but creamy and delicately layered in flavour and silky in the mouth. I haven’t yet done the chicory and garlic oil bit, but plan to in the next day or two.

Go ahead, make it – basically it’s a broad bean version of hoummus. Lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, whizzed up with the beans which are earlier cooked in chicken stock. Really good. And aren’t dried broad beans so beautiful to look at, apart from anything else?

*Before anyone freaks out about eating horse, I see no problem with it if, like me, you also eat pork, lamb, etc etc. Morally it’s entirely equivalent – which, I admit, means it is deeply complicated and basically indefensible. But the separating of some animals from others for purely cultural culinary reasons is ridiculous. Same with dogs, crickets, rat, whatever.  If you eat a clever, sensitive animal like a pig, you can’t judge anyone for eating a dog or a horse. And if you feel fine about eating animals of lower ‘intelligence’, why is that? Okay, lecture finished…. sigh. Enjoy the beans.