Posts Tagged ‘labneh’

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The (pro) Biotic Woman

July 3, 2012

 The fermentation bug

Many moons again my friend M introduced me to the pleasures of making labneh – an incredibly easy thing to do.

But till now I only made labneh with shop-bought yoghurt – I  had never considered actually making my own yoghurt, assuming it would be a tricky process, involving special equipment, millisecond-accuracy with timing and temperatures and whatnot.

Then the lovely Fouad appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Good Living section a couple of weeks ago, evangelising about homemade yoghurt. His instructions seemed too good to be true – simply bringing full cream milk to a temperature of 83 degrees C, then cooling it to 46 degrees, stirring in a couple of spoonsful of (live culture) yoghurt and leaving it in a warm place overnight.

After chatting with him and the charming Lili from Pikelet & Pie about this on Twitter, I decided to give it a shot. Lili advised using a thermos to try to keep the temperature warm enough overnight, but as our crappy old thermos only holds about 500ml, I went for a split method. Half went into the warmed thermos and the other half into a Pyrex dish with a plastic lid, which I then sat on top of our gas heater for the evening. Once we went to bed and the heater was off, both batches just sat on the bench overnight.

Next morning, lo and behold – yoghurt! A little runny, I admit – but definitely yoghurt. There seemed to be no real discernible difference between the thermos and the dish batches either. I had a poke around online to see what folks had to say about thickening yoghurt and there are many methods, but the simplest to me seems to be just straining it through muslin a la labneh (but now just by lining a sieve with the muslin and leaving it over a bowl in the fridge). In fact Fouad, henceforth known as my Yoghurt Yogi, informs me that as soon as you strain yoghurt it’s called labneh. But whatever it’s called, with even just half an hour to an hour’s straining, my yoghurt / labneh was beautifully creamy, rich and utterly delicious.

That’s it, pictured above (drizzled with our beloved pomegranate honey, which I first learned about here at Kale for Sale via Nourish Me, and have been doing my own evangelising about ever since).

Now, that first batch was actually a little too delicious, in a way, for it tasted very much like clotted cream. I wanted more of the sourness and acidity that makes yoghurt yoghurt, which meant I needed to leave it sitting longer than just overnight. For my next batch, I left it a full 24 hours before straining and refrigerating and it was perfectly acidic. I was starting to get the hang of this!

Batch number three got me worried – through inattention I took the temperature too high and then completely forgot about it until a couple of hours later when it had cooled too much. Not sure how much this would affect things, I just started again, re-scalding the same milk and cooling to the right temp. And you know what? It was completely fine!

I so love a process that seems almost unstuffupable – and I’m hooked now. A friend asked me yesterday why I thought my yoghurt was better than good organic Greek-style from the shop. The answer is it’s not – or at least, not that I can taste. But it’s fun, for starters, and by playing around with the straining and setting times you can adjust the level of acidity and the thickness to get it exactly how you like it. I also love that there’s no packaging involved (though I guess there is the milk carton, so maybe that advantage cancels itself out…) and that at a few dollars for a litre of organic milk it’s less than half the price of the nicest organic yoghurt we buy regularly. My single litre of milk yields about half a litre of yoghurt, give or take a bit for straining.

I toyed briefly with the idea of buying a yoghurt maker, which would keep the temperature steady for the whole time – but then realised that another thing I love about this process is its simplicity. No gadgets, no special equipment other than what was already in the house. That said, I would really recommend a thermometer for this – although plenty of people do seem to judge the temperature just by touch (it’s ready when you can hold your finger in the hot milk ‘without it hurting’, according to one commenter here!). And methods vary a great deal – all kinds of warming / temperature regulation tips are to be found in online discussions, from leaving the yoghurt wrapped in blankets, in the oven with just the oven light on, on top of the fridge at the back near the motor, in a slow cooker … it’s endless! But so far so good for us just leaving it in the living room until we go to bed.

Next batch I’m even going to try thermos-free, and see what happens. As I said … I am the proBiotic Woman. I’m hooked!

What about you – any of you had the fermentation bug?

PS: By the way, lucky winner of the beautiful Fuchsia Dunlop book, judged by Senor, is hatarimouse by a hair’s breadth. Thanks for playing all …

PPS: This fermentation process is so easy it brings pleasure … unlike my repeated failures at wild yeast sourdough starter (another story)…

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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.