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Olive, Mint and Hazelnut Labneh with Za’tar Pita

Food

13th August, 2013
Gemma Lush
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Sydney food stylist Gemma Lush joins us again today with a deceptively simple but seriously delicious Middle Eastern dish.  Rich, creamy Labneh, or strained yoghurt,  can be made simply using any full fat yoghurt - all you need is a muslin cloth and a little advance prep!  Gemma has paired this Middle Eastern classic with a flavourful crumbling of roasted hazelnuts, olives, mint and za’tar pita - YUM!  Chip 'n dip doesn't get any better than this!  - Lucy

Olive, Mint and Hazelnut Labneh with Za’tar Pita.  Recipe and food styling - Gemma Lush, photo - Phu Tang.  Background tiles by Jatana Interiors.  Ceramic bowls - Mud Australia.

Yoghurt is so versatile. It can be sweet or savoury, eaten cold, or with hot dishes. It really can be paired with anything! In the Middle East, yoghurt is eaten almost every day and with every meal. Often the yoghurt is strained, giving it a thicker, cheese like texture, and served alongside mezze and meats. This strained form of yoghurt is called labneh.

To make labneh, yoghurt is placed into muslin fabric, and is hung to let all of the whey drain away. The result is a rich, creamy base ingredient, perfect to serve simply as a dip, or as an accompaniment to meat, fish or salads.  It’s mighty delicious and SO simple to make yourself. You just need to be organised and prepare it a couple of days in advance before eating.

The type of yoghurt you use is up to you, however I do recommend always using full fat. You could try goat, sheep or cow’s yoghurt, or a mix of two. For the following recipe I have used cow's yoghurt, as it’s a little easier to find.

This recipe is paired with a sprinkling of green olives, hazelnuts and mint. It makes for a great entree when entertaining, or to be enjoyed with a beverage or two.

INGREDIENTS

For the labneh

1kg cows milk yoghurt
Good pinch of salt
50cm x 50cm square piece of muslin (fine 100% cotton fabric, found at good fabric / haberdashery stores and some specialty food stores)

For the olive, mint and hazelnut labneh topping

½ cup roasted hazelnuts
16 Green Sicilian olives, pitted, roughly chopped
4 tbsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice ½ lemon
Little pinch salt
1 tsp sumac

For the za’tar pita

2 thick pita breads
2 tbsp za’tar
1 tbsp olive oil

Strained Yoghurt.  Recipe and food styling - Gemma Lush, photo - Phu Tang.  Background tiles by Jatana Interiors.  Ceramic bowls - Mud Australia.

Method

For the labneh

Begin by adding a generous pinch of salt to the yoghurt and stir until combined.  Place yoghurt on your square of muslin cloth, and bring the corners together to form a tight bundle.  Hang over the kitchen sink or over a bowl and leave to drain for 24-36 hours. The yoghurt should be stiff and dry on the outside, and a little creamy in the centre. The Labneh will keep for a few days in the fridge, but is best when brought to room temperature before serving.

To serve, spread the labneh out over your serving platter with the back of a spoon.

For the olive, mint and hazelnut labneh topping

Place hazelnuts onto a baking tray and pop into the oven at 180 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and once cooled gently rub the skins off the hazelnuts. This will make them look really lovely, and the skin can sometimes be a little bitter too, so off they go! Roughly chop. In a bowl mix together the chopped hazelnuts, olives, mint, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Scatter this mixture over the labneh and finish off with the sumac.

For the za'tar pita

Za’tar is a spice mix found in every Middle Eastern kitchen. Traditionally it is a blend of dried hyssop leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt. It has the most wonderful aroma and a zingy lemony taste. You can find this spice mix in the spice section of most supermarkets, greengrocers and at Middle Eastern supermarkets.

To make the bread for dunking into the labneh, begin by brushing the olive oil over the pita bread and sprinkle generously with the za’tar spice mix. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for five minutes until the bread is heated through, and has a little crunch to it. The smell will be to die for!  Cut the bread into wedges and serve with the olive and mint labneh.

For more of Gemma's beautiful styling work, do check out her folio website – and like every self respecting foodie, she has her own recipe blog too!  

Olive, Mint and Hazelnut Labneh with Za’tar Pita.  Recipe and food styling - Gemma Lush, photo - Phu Tang.  Background tiles by Jatana Interiors.  Ceramic bowls - Mud Australia.

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