fresh goat cheese is something i find it hard to say no to… smeared on some baguette or ficelle, i find it fragrant but still refreshing and summery. labneh (an arab version of strained goat’s yogurt, turned into some kind of fresh cheese) has always been a staple in my mom’s kitchen. she mostly turned them into balls and stored them in air-tight canning glasses, soaked in olive oil with fresh herbs and garlic. i’ve tried the labneh balls several times myself, and it’s alwas fulfilling – though so simple. but also a bit time-consuming to make. when i discovered this deconstructed version from ottolenghi, i was thrilled! and the idea of adding a fragrant summery pesto on top (made of pistacchios, black olives and lemon zest) is the ultimate labneh experience. this, my friend, is a must try.
deconstructed labneh with pistacchio olive pesto
adapted from yotam ottolenghi
500 g goat’s yogurt
500 g natural greek yogurt
2 tsp. fleur de sel
for the pesto:
20 black olives, pitted
40 g pistacchios, toasted
1 lemon, zest
2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
pinch chili flakes
1 tsp. acacia honey
5 black pepper corns
1 tsp. fleur de sel
2 tbsp. fresh oregano, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
2 tbsp. fresh thyme (i used lemon-thyme), minced
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, needles minced
1 tbsp. fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp. black cumin seeds
1 cup olive oil
you will first have to strain the yogurt, in order to turn it into fresh cheese consistency. 24 hours are okay, better are 36, and i went with 48 hours this time as a i really like the cheese dry and creamy.
line a fine meshed sieve with a thin muslin cloth. combine the yogurts in it, add one teaspoon of salt, and wrap it up tight. squeeze a little, so that the first liquid runs out of the yogurt through the mesh of the muslin. put the muslin-yogurt ball with the sieve in a bowl (holds the liquid), put something heavy on the yogurt-mix (to foster extra dehydration with the pressure) and put in the fridge.
after 48 hours, take the yogurt ball (now dry and creamy) out of the muslin. throw away the strained water. taste the labneh and season according to your liking. take a spatula and smear the labneh in a shallow bowl (i like the pointy tops that give it an artisanal and home-made look).
(note on labneh spicing: most labneh recipes pass on extra spices for the yogurt. i, however, sometimes add a pinch of extra fleur de sel, some lemon juice and zest, a drop of harissa for spice and a minced garlic clove. feel free to play around, the options are limitless. but i’d still recommend to not overdo it with the spices, as the idea is to have the olive oil mix transfer the spices and fragrance to the labneh, and let the labneh itself rather untouched and natural.)
now prepare the spices pesto for the labneh itself and for the pesto that comes on top. pit the olives and mince, then put in a bowl. toast the pistacchios and roughly ground in a mortar, together with the black pepper. grate the zest of one lemon, mince the garlic. add everything to the olives: pistacchios, pepper, lemon zest, garlic, chili flakes, honey and herbs. combine well, then add the olive oil. season with some more fleur de sel, to taste. pour the pesto mix over the labneh from centre to border, leaving out some of the border, so that the labneh still peaks out. pour some more olive oil over it all if you think it’s not enough (the labneh should be mostly covered so that the air won’t get to it. like that, it can be stored up to a few days).
(note on pesto: i passed on the tomatoes… i just felt this added too much juice, and i didn’t want to ‘stain’ my labneh / oil too much… but i might try it with tomatoes the next time, and i think i’ll use tomatillos (green tiny ones) for their green color and zingy fragrance).
serve the deconstructed labneh with fresh flatbread, foccaccia, baguette, ficelle or, actually, any other good bread (i believe a sourdough would be a nice contrast, too, maybe), as a starter or apéro. people will love you.
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