I love the transformation a simple ingredient can make, even without the application of heat. Take labneh - a cream cheese made from hung yogurt. Simple but amazing. And versatile. Stir some sugar in for a sweet alternative to cream cheese, roll into balls and finish with a crust of herbs or nuts for another. I've even made a smoked version, lined small spice bowls with vine leaves, filled them with labneh and then smoked gently over a combination of jasmine tea leaves, brown rice and sugar.
- Makes 10 - 12 balls
350 g Turkish or Greek (set) yogurt
Salt, to taste
Greek herb mix – a dried blend of oregano, basil, thyme, mint and parsley
Nut mix – like Dukkah, Za'atar or crushed nuts like (flaked almonds) with chopped fresh mint, coriander
Suya mix – ground peanuts with a mixture of paprika, chilli, ginger powder, onion powder, garlic powder and salt
To serve, pita chips, acacia honey (great with the nutty version), mugs of mint tea
- PREPARE THE YOGURT: stir the yogurt well and season with salt. The salt helps draw out the whey (think of cucumbers& aubergines where the salt drains them of their natural liquids). If you want to use this in a ‘sweet’ recipe, temper how much salt you add.
- BAG AND HANG: place the yogurt in the centre of a muslin/cheesecloth folded 4 times (or line a sieve with coffee filters). Gather up the ends of the cloth and tie up tight, gently gathering up the yogurt to form a ball. You’ll notice the whey begin to drip as soon as you begin. (Keep the whey in the fridge stir into your breakfast cereal, or back into yogurt, in pancake mixes...or find out a myriad other ways to use it – it is rich in protein, and remember Little Miss Muffet?)
- Moving on, pass a skewer through the tie/knot and hang over a deep bowl. Some people leave it to hang at room temperature but for hygiene issues, I place my yogurt over a bowl, in the fridge overnight. The next morning, much of the whey will have drained out, leaving a creamy residue - firm on the outside andsoft and creamy on the inside.
- If you like, you can serve it now, gently stirred together and topped with anything from olives and tomatoes to herbs and spice mixes.
- MAKE LABNEH BALLS: put your spice mixes in bowls. The amount you need will vary according to preferences. Pinch off chunks of cheese, dunk them in the spices, then gently roll them to form balls. This will reduce the amount of cheese that sticks to your fingers, though note that a bowl of water close by is very handy.
- For the Almond mix, gently mix some chopped fresh mint in the labneh, using the tips of your fingers and minimising the stickiness and loss associated with wet foods. Pinch off cheese chunks and roll them in the crushed almonds or dukkah mix.