When in Rome (or Media) Labneh & The Desert Rose
I have a very good client whose office is in Narberth, Pa., which is a pretty good hike for a 30 minute project meeting. But we’ve discovered a little restaurant right in the middle, in Media, Pa, called the Desert Rose, and it’s become our excuse to meet a lot more often. They serve wonderful Middle Eastern and Israeli food, but frankly, they had me at Labneh. Labneh is a creamy, wonderful cheese made of kefir or yogurt and is absolutely perfect on every single thing I’ve used it for. It’s a healthier alternative to sour cream, or if you drain it longer, cream cheese. Drain it even longer and it takes on almost a goat cheese consistency.
Add a little olive oil and some herbs and serve it with pita wedges or on a salad, as I did here. I had leftover greens, some roasted beets and some toasted pine nuts that I topped with the labneh, a little olive oil (the good stuff!), some fresh dill and mint. No other dressing required. If you want to use the Labneh in a salad, arugula’s peppery flavor goes exceptionally well with it.
Smoked salmon or cubed smoked trout are also great additions. You can buy Labneh in some stores - I have seen it in the Whole Foods cheese department on occasion, but it’s so simple to make (I swear!) that you’ll want to make it all the time. Try some of the flavor combos I’ve listed and take it to your next party on a cheeseboard.
2 cups full fat yogurt (I like Greek)
1 1/2 tsp flaked salt
C o m b i n e yogurt and salt in a bowl. Transfer to a colander lined with a muslin or a clean cloth set over a bowl. Tie with kitchen string and chill for 24 hours for the liquid to drain, or up to 48 hours if you prefer a firmer Labneh.
U n w r a p Labneh, discarding any liquid in the bowl. Place in a bowl or jar and pour just enough olive oil to completely cover the top. You can also roll it into walnut-sized balls (with oiled hands) and coat it with a spice mix of your choice, like dukkah, harissa or za’atar. Any spice combo would actually work with this creamy blank canvas. Then half- fill a 2-cup preserving jar with oil. Carefully spoon coated Labneh balls into the oil, then pour over enough oil to cover. Seal and chill for at least 24 hours before eating. This works best if you’ve let it drain for more than 24 hours. Try: • Lemon verbena leaves or lemon thyme sprigs, 5 cracked black peppercorns and 1 minced long red chili. Or • Pared zest of 1 lemon, 1 tsp sumac and mint. Or • Fennel, coriander, cumin and rosemary.
Whether you try to make the Labneh or not, do try to make it into the Desert Rose in Media. I’ll likely be there with a laptop and a client. And Labneh.