Homemade labne and za’atar with pita crisps
Labne is common in middle eastern cuisines and easy to make at home. It is made by straining the liquids out of the yogurt over a couple of days, thickening it in the process and what’s left is a soft cheese with texture similar to goat cheese. Labne’s lemony flavour goes well with the tart sumac in the za’atar and fruitiness of olive oil. In the middle east you often buy it in small round balls marinated in olive oil and herbs.
To strain the yogurt you will need a mash strainer and cheesecloth. You can purchase specialized yogurt strainers but unless you make a lot of it it’s one more gadget that sits in your cupboards unused. I make labne infrequently so the cheesecloth works perfect for me.
Za’atar is a middle eastern spice mixture that includes dried herbs (oregano, thyme), sesame seeds, sumac and salt but varies from country to country and cook to cook. It’s sold in bulk in open air markets and each cook has her favourite supplier of good za’atar. When I travel to Israel I bring back za’atar and keep it in the freezer but it is also easy to make yourself (see below). This highly aromatic spice mixture with a wonderfully tangy flavour is excellent with so many things. In the middle east it is traditionally sprinkled over man’oush flatbread or served in a bowl alongside bread and olive oil, inviting you to dip the bread in olive oil and then in the za’atar. Some sources for buying za’atar online: Ottolenghi Lebanese za’atar.
Some ideas on how to use labne:
- as a dip or a spread alongside breads and vegetables.
- spread on tartines (open face sandwich) (top with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, poached egg, sauteed mushrooms, steamed kale etc.)
- add a couple of small balls to a salad
- sweeten with honey and and use as you would cream cheese
Some ideas how to use za’atar:
- as a topping for flatbreads and pizza
- add to salad dressing and slads
- sprinkle on roasted vegetables
- sprinkle over fried eggs
- add a spoonful to soups
- with hummus and tahini
- to make pita crisps
- to make a spread (mix with olive oil)
To make the yogurt:
1 container yougurt
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (or omit salt)
Double thickness cheescloth
A small mesh strainer
A deep bowl
Line the strainer with the double thickness cheesecloth and set over a bowl deep enough so the bottom of the strainer would sit above any water dripping from the yogurt..
Mix the yogurt with the salt and spoon into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.
Fold the cheesecloth over the cheese and refrigerate overnight. You can leave it in the fridge even longer but a couple of days are enough.
When ready, remove from the fridge and pour out the water from the bowl. Turn the cheese into a bowl and proceed with the recipe or keep refrigerated.
Za’atar pita crisps:
2 pita rounds
1/4 cup za’atar
Cut the pita into half, then cut each half into 4 wedges.
Arrange pita triangles on a baking sheet, brush with the olive oil and sprinkle the za’atar and paprika over (liberally with the za’atar, gingerly with the paprika).
Bake in a 375F oven for a few minutes until the pita turns golden. Do not over bake.
Remove and serve warm or at room temperature.
To make za’atar:
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sumac
1/4 cup dried oregano
1/4 cup dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Roast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until golden but not burnt.
Place the thyme and oregano in a bowl of a mortar and pestle and grind to break the spices down.
Add the sesame seeds, sumac and salt,
Store in an air tight jar.
Assembling the dish:
Spread the labne over a shallow plate. Drizzle with olive oil, chopped parsley and pine nuts.
Serve with pita crisps.