Exactly half way through the school holidays and both the pink and blue have been blighted by chicken pox. In spite of their discomfort I rather sadistically am happy to have ticked that box in the knowledge that we can now never be ‘poxed’ again. To be honest beyond the unsightly aspect of it, all it really boiled down to were 2 very sleepless nights per child and a lot of writhing and wriggling. 48 hours after the spots had appeared everyone seemed to have moved on, next activity please Mummy! Having fled the city we have been going feral in the country. I am pleased to report that the ‘blue ones’ broody hen has proudly produced 2 chicks. One egg never did the distance but the other 2 cracked open, 21 days on the nose, none of this day late or day early nonsense. The black little chicks have been cheeping away ever since and have been blessed with the slightly obscure names of, ‘Super-hero chick Walter’ and ‘Super-hero chick Amalfi’. Genius! In a bid to flee the nursery the cockerel has now taken up residence on the edge of the water trough, right outside the kitchen much to the amusement of the pink, blue and myself.
Summer holidays do not provide much scope for spending quality time in the kitchen. Lots of food is consumed, so cooking does take place, and plenty of clearing up for that matter, but the creative cook in me is rather restrained and dare I say, frustrated. Every now and again something catches my eye and I start playing, carving out a window, desperate to complete it before I get called upon for a treasure hunt or to transform into the tickle monster! This is exactly what happened last saturday when a recipe for ‘Labaneh’ pricked my attention. I have made ‘labaneh’ before but it was light years ago and I kind of needed to remind myself what it was all about. Making ‘labaneh’ in terms of preparation time takes precisely 5 minutes, ignoring the 25 I had spent looking for a muslin, it then needs about a day to drain and then it is ready to use. All in all perfect for time poor cooks in summer.
‘Labaneh’, ‘labneh’ and ‘labnah’ is very simply ‘strained yogurt’. Surprisingly this creates a rather interesting tangy, creamy cheese commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Allegedly it originates from Lebanon and has to be the easiest fresh cheese one could ever make. Inexpensive, healthy, spreadable even the ‘little people’ could make it! The strained cheese is made by mixing lemon juice with a little oil and salt with the yogurt and placing the mix in a muslin (or jelly bag for want of finding a muslin) over a bowl to catch the whey. The longer you leave it the more whey drips out leaving a more ‘rollable’ cheese. I let mine initially drip for 12 hours and then used it in a tomato salad. It was like a cross between extremely fresh ricotta and goats cheese, it tasted sublime and complemented the salad in a rather seductive way. I then left the rest of the yogurt for another day or so and ended up with a crumbly goats cheese consistency that I rolled in toasted almonds and herbs and ate greedily with smashed broad beans and mint.
Labaneh (recipe adapted from the fabulous book ‘Honey & Co’ Food from the Middle East’ Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich
350g plain yogurt ( I actually used Greek Yogurt and it worked really well)
1tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Mix everything together and then place the mix into a muslin or a jelly bag over a bowl. I stretched mine over a pyrex with an elastic band holding the bag above the bottom of the bowl. I let it drip away in the fridge mainly because of our rather warm summer, but I believe leaving it at room temperature is quite normal. I let it drip away for 12 hours and used a batch and then left the rest for another day or so when it really did turn very cheese like!
Heritage Tomato Salad with Labaneh, parsley, capers and almond crumbs
Labaneh – as above
Mixed heritage tomatoes, using green, yellow, red, cherry etc -if you can find them Isle of Wight tomatoes are fantastic at this time of year
1 tablespoon of rinsed capers
1 handful of flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon of roasted almonds chopped finely
2 tablespoon of olive oil toasted crumbs (ideally made with good bread, brushetta, ciabatta or sourdough) Mix with the almonds.
Olive oil, white balsamic, salt and pepper
This salad is a wonder. It’s a kind of ‘throw it together’ number which works assuming you have fabulous tomatoes, good olive oil and of course your delicious labaneh. I added the crumbs just to ‘jazz’ it up and what with the addition of the toasted almonds it really had the desired effect. All you have to do is cut your tomatoes, scatter your capers and parsley, grind a little pepper and salt, splash some olive oil and balsamic, dot teaspoonfuls of the labaneh over the tomatoes and add your crumbs.