Labneh is a tangy, silky Levantine cheese spread that can be served as a dip with pita bread or smeared on a toasted bagel. The cheese can also be rolled into balls, encrusted in herbs, and preserved in golden olive oil.
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.
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.
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.
Labneh is 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. The Labneh takes about 24 hours inactive time for soaking and draining but only a total of about 30 minutes active overall. If you have a Vitamix or other high speed blender you can cut the process down by 6-7 hours.
- 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
Soak the cashews in the water for for 8 hours or overnight. Speedy hack: If you have a high speed blender then you can blend the heck out of the cashews and water and let them sit for an hour and blend them again for a few minutes. Until smooth. This shortcut does not work with regular blenders!
After 8 hours, puree the cashews and soaking water in a blender until totally smooth. Rub a little between your fingers and if it is coarse then blend some more.
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!
Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice, vinegar and salt. Allow to sit undisturbed for 20 minutes.
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.
Place the whole contraption into the fridge for 8 hours. Lightly weighted.
Now 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. 6-8 hours later you should be good to go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
Place warm water in a medium bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Let sit 10 minutes.
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.
Lightly oil a large bowl and place your ball of dough inside turning once to coat with oil.
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.
Turn your oven onto 500 degrees fahrenheit. Place pizza stone or a large sheet pan in the oven to heat up.
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.
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.