Labne with Za’atar
I hope you’ve all had a wonderful weekend! We’ve just come back from a graduation party full of over-60s, finger sandwiches and lots and lots of wine. And though I’ve always been skeptical of finger sandwiches – which I know from their tendency to appear in period films in the English countryside – I’d never actually had any, let alone ones filled with smoked salmon, until today. And until yesterday? I’d never had a hazelnut or a meringue the size of my face (click link and scroll down for picture and yes, that is my neighborhood farmers market! Jealous? And – no joke – that meringue was the size. of. my. face).
All this to tell you that I liked it. I liked trying new things (yes, mom, a hazelnut! Smoked salmon! Aren’t you proud?). I even liked the finger sandwiches!
While I’ve never been a hugely picky eater (my favorite foods as a child were Spanish olives and pâté de foie gras) there are certain things, like hazelnuts and smoked salmon, that I never, ever touched until, well, now.
I guess it’s an inevitable part of growing up. Just like my old obsession with Kraft macaroni & cheese, our tastes change, mature, evolve. Some of us grow tired of having the same cereal every morning or the same birthday cake every year. Some things get old.
And some things don’t.
This, my friends, is one of those things.
As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever bothered to peruse my shortlists, I make labne with za’atar a lot.
Coming over for dinner? You’ll probably have some labne with za’atar to snack on as I boil the pasta.
If I were asked to name five things you can always find in my fridge, labne would be on the list. We eat it when dinner’s not ready yet but we’re feeling peckish. Sometimes, with a few slices tomatoes and some prosciutto, it constitutes a quick lunch.
So what is labne exactly? Apparently, it’s just strained yogurt. Who knew? (Actually, I did only because once I couldn’t find labne and had to make it myself by straining plain yogurt through cheesecloth.) Popular in the Middle East, we eat it with za’atar stuffed in lafa (also known as Druze pita) at roadside stands all over Israel.
So what is za’atar? It’s a popular Middle Eastern seasoning made from a mix of dried oregano, sumac, seasame seeds, thyme and other herbs. I think it’s the best possible compliment to labne, but it’s pretty damn good on chicken, or bread with olive oil, or crackers. And labne covered in olive oil and za’atar? Best possible compliment to my pita chips.
You can usually find za’atar and labne at the supermarket, but even if you have to go looking for them, it’s well worth the effort.
If you’ve never had it before, try it. I think that once you start eating labne with za’atar, it’ll never grow old.
LABNE WITH ZA’ATAR
This is how I prepare it to eat with pita chips and bread. You can also just shmear labne on bread or pita, sprinkle on some za’atar, salt and olive oil, and munch away.
1 (or so) cup labne (also called leben, labneh, strained yogurt cheese; or, strain whole milk yogurt)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons za’atar
1/2 teaspoon scroog (very spicy Middle Eastern condiment) (optional)
In a small bowl, mix the labne with 1 tablespoon olive oil (or more if the cheese is very dense), half the salt, half the za’atar and the scroog (if using). Scoop the mixture into the serving bowl and form a little hole in the middle. Fill with olive oil, sprinkle with za’atar and salt. Garnish with parsley if desired. Serve with pita chips, pita, or bread.