My most natural form of cooking has considerable Middle Eastern influence, something I give thanks to my grandma for. As a child I’d watch her busy away in her relatively small Cypriot kitchen, rolling dolma, making lahmajun and fasoulia, or time and time again making the most perfect pilaf I have ever tasted. I’d sit there for hours and observe attentively, snacking on cucumber sliced lengthways and sprinkled with salt.
She always used the biggest knife in the kitchen, even for peeling the smallest of vegetables, and funnily enough I do the same. When she was first diagnosed she did continue to cook, but it wasn’t long before she couldn’t remember how. Not long after she forgot how to speak altogether, and around that same time she forgot who we were and how to walk or do just about anything. I was 12 when we found out she had aggressive Alzheimer’s disease, and 20 when she passed away. Her collection of recipes were never written down, stored only in her mind and lost forever with her.
Luckily those early memories of being in the kitchen with her have stuck with me and I have been able to piece together our family recipes on that basis alone. My dad provides great input through being the official taster, “not quite right, not enough cumin” is what he’ll usually decide. More often than not the recipe is never quite right, but I know that I’m on the right track.
When I saw this post about homemade labneh I felt huge pangs of nostalgia and remembered being in my grandma’s kitchen eating stuffed marrow and pilaf with a dollop of that thick, cheese-like yoghurt on the side. Heaven.
I don’t often have the time to make the dolma that she did, but labneh goes incredibly well with just about anything. This recipe is for a really quick lentil salad that’s perfect for a working lunch and beckons for the slight sourness of labneh, which happens to be very easy to make – all you need to do is plan a day ahead.
On a side note, I’m sure any regulars here will notice the change in layout. It’s a work in progress and there are a few design tweaks needed, but I’d love to know what you think!
Za’atar Spiced Lentils with Homemade Labneh
Makes 400g labneh, lentils serves 2
For the labneh
Adapted from Highgate Hill Kitchen’s Homemade Labneh
500g full fat Greek-style plain yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon Maldon smoked salt, or regular salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Crush the cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle and add to the yoghurt along with the smoked salt. Mix well.
Place a sieve over a large bowl and line with a cheesecloth or a thin cloth napkin if like me you don’t own a cheesecloth. Bring the corners of the cloth together and tie tightly with string or an elastic band. Suspend over a large bowl and refrigerate overnight or for at least 12 hours. For the consistency pictured above leave the yoghurt to drain for 24 hours, and when you’re ready to use it just give the ball a squeeze from the top where it’s tied to let out any excess liquid before using.
If serving as a dip, top with olive oil and za’atar. To store keep refrigerated in an airtight container, stays good for the best part of a week.
For the rest
250g lentils, either Puy of Beluga, the latter I used for this dish
2 teaspoons za’atar
6-8 roasted beets, cut into quarters
A couple of springs of fresh mint
Seeds of half a pomegranate*
Cook the lentils according to packet instructions. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the za’atar and sliced beets and season to taste. Serve with a dollop of your homemade labneh, fresh mint and pomegranate seeds.
NB: this is also great mixed with spinach leaves and topped with a poached egg if you’re looking for something a tad heartier.
*cut in half, submerge in water and the seeds will come out easily
Also, while I still have your attention, it would mean the absolute world to me if you’d take 2 minutes to nominate me under the category of best food blog for the Cosmo Blog Awards 2014 by clicking on the image below. I don’t usually enter competitions like this, but I kinda thought why the hell not?! THANK YOU! x