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In winter there was rain that fell for days without end and pulled from the almond trees green fruit so tender that you wanted to cup them with your hands and protect them like the fuzzy heads of newborns.

This seasonal memory is one of the corners where my husband’s and my childhood intersect, he on a kibbutz in Israel and me on an island in Greece.

 My mother would mix lemon juice and salt into our leftover yoghurt, wrap it in white linen and hang it from a hook until it had drip, drip, dripped out all of it’s whey and become an impossibly tangy, thick spread. As we had no refrigeration this alchemy was both practical and delicious.

 
In Israel a sloe eyed yemenite friend showed me how to salt sheep’s milk yogurt, roll it into small, herb encrusted balls and preserve them in jars of golden green olive oil. This she taught me was called Labneh. We cooked as we danced to the radio in her tiny kitchen, twirling and laughing.  
 
Both Hanaan and I grew up with the tang of fresh white cheese spread on our bread.
 
One I spring as I was running through the newly greened hills of Jerusalem I heard the bleating of goats in the still air. Following the sound, I left the dusty, sun beaten path and entered the cool of the forest. There beneath the pines, a beduin tent had sprung up between the pink cyclamen blooms. 
A young woman called to me. I stopped my running and salty with sweat approached her. She stood in robes that flowed like dark water, beckoning me to follow her into her tent. She and her mother plied me with green mallow soup, flat, fire-scorched bread and thick creamy goat cheese. They fed me with their own hands like a baby bird, laughing at my clumsy attempts at eating one handed with no utensils but a piece of torn bread. 
 
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the “Had Gadya” machine.
Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying. 
Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.
-Yehuda Amichai
 
5 from 3 votes
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Labneh

A tangy, silky cheese spread that can be served as a dip with pita bread or smeared on a toasted bagel. If you have the time make your own pita bread do so it is well worth it.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Greek, Middle Eastern
Servings: 4 people
Ingredients
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp salt a pinch
  • 1-2 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp strong mustard
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • olive oil for serving
  • 1 tsp Za'ater (or a combination of dried herbs for serving
Instructions
  1. Soak the cashews in the water for 12 hours.

  2. Puree the cashews and soaking water in a high speed blender until totally smooth.

  3. Heat up your cashew mixture in a saucepan until quite hot to the touch but not boiling or bubbling at all. Remember to stir as you don't want the cashew concoction to scorch!

  4. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice, vinegar and salt. Allow to sit undisturbed for 1/2 hour.

  5. Line a sieve with cheese cloth or do what I do and use an unbleached white cotton t-shirt that I have cut up. Place the cloth lined sieve over a bowl to catch the whey. Gently pour the cashew curds into the waiting sieve.

  6. Place the whole contraption into the fridge for the night.

  7. The next morning you should have something that is as thick as greek yoghurt. Pour out any whey that has gathered in the bottom bowl. Place a bowl on top of the curds to gently press out more liquid. The next morning you should be good to go. I like to let my labneh strain for 24 hours.

  8. Remove your curds from the cheese cloth, place in a bowl and add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, minced garlic, mustard and salt to taste. Whiz it with an immersion blender (or use a regular blender) until completely smooth. 

  9. You can now store it in the fridge or roll it into balls and the coat in finely chopped herbs. The flavors mellow after a couple of hours in the fridge.

  10. I like to spread it in a shallow dish like you would hummus. Splash some really good olive oil over the top, and sprinkle with za'ater and fresh black pepper. 

 

5 from 3 votes
Print
Pita
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
20 mins
 

These pita have a wonderfuly fluffy texture and are so easy to make that even a novice baker will end up with a delicious product. If you've never tasted fresh baked pita you will be in for a shock, the good kind.

Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Servings: 4 people
Ingredients
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
Instructions
  1. Place warm water in a medium bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Let sit 10 minutes. 

  2. Mix in sugar, salt, olive oil and the whole wheat flour and mix till combined.

    Add the all purpose flour and stir till you have a cohesive ball. Knead that ball on your counter with scant additions of flour to keep it from sticking.

  3. Lightly oil a large bowl and place your ball of dough inside turning once to coat with oil. 

  4. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour. Uncover your dough and ploop it gently onto a lightly floured counter.

  5.  Turn your oven onto 500 degrees fahrenheit. Place pizza stone or a large sheet pan in the oven to heat up.

  6. Cut you dough into 8 pieces. Form them into balls and roll each ball out to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cover with a cloth and let rest 20 minutes.

  7. Place half you rounds into the oven on your pizza stone or hey sheet pan. Allow to bake 3 minutes and then remove from oven and place immediately into a bowl lined with a towel. Place a towel over the newly baked pita, this is important for the formation of the pocket. Bake up your second batch of pita and place in the bowl with the first batch covering immediately with the towel. Let sit 7-8 minutes and enjoy!

I was inspired by the  http://plantepusherne.dk  recipe for almond milk cream-cheese. This recipe has stood me in good stead and gave me the confidence to experiment with cheese making again as a vegan. Nina’s recipe for butter is beyond compare as well!

Also the best Vegan cheese I have ever tasted is made and sold by a one woman company in Israel and called Einut’s. She has no strange ingredients in her products and the textures and flavors are sublime.

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It would make my day if you left me a comment. If you make one of these recipes please let me see by tagging @SunnysideHanne on Instagram, I’d love to see.

Comments

  1. Exquisite!
    I can smell the divine wafting warmth of fresh pita, and the herbed, creamy, olive oil-drenched labneh, as though I were likewise fortuitously beaconed within that most mythical of tents to sup. ❤

  2. Thank you for suggesting a t-shirt as a substitute for a piece of cheesecloth! If I had to go out and find cheesecloth I probably wouldn’t do it. Sheer laziness. I have all the ingredients and plan on making this tomorrow. What’s in za’ater? Thyme and that kind of thing? Just want to get a sense of the kind of herbs to rustle up from my spice cabinet.

    • I recommend repurposing a spouse’s t-shirt. T-shirt herds often need culling.
      As to Za’atar. Good question! Za’atar is two things. It is an herb that we commonly call hyssop in English. It is also a spice blend containing but not limited to sumac (the sour herb not the poison ivy), sesame seeds, salt, thyme etcetera. Really there are no hard and fast rules just a pleasing blend.

  3. As I’m typing this, I’m looking out over mist-covered mountains, and longing for warmth and sunshine – your blog is just the thing!

    Home-made labneh is fab, isn’t it? My mouth is watering, just thinking of it… tempted to go and make some right now! xx

  4. When I return from the holy land dusty and sunburnt, I cannot wait to forgo the pita and spoon this directly into my mouth while repaying you in stories of my travels.

  5. beautiful post and great recipe! Practical question: Can I sub the vinegar with more lemon juice?
    Thanks for the recipe and for sharing the memories!

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