In their cookbook, Saha, Greg and Lucy Malouf travel to Lebanon and the food of Beirut. The book is a treasure, a coffee table book and useful cookbook all in one, although my copy comes from the library and I may need to part with it soon. In Saha, as in all their other cookbooks, they discuss the centrality of yoghurt to the Middle Eastern diet,
‘Middle Easterners eat vast quantities of the stuff, although not the over-sweetened and artificially flavoured varieties that westerners tend to prefer. Sourness is a virtue in the Arab world, and yoghurt makes an appearance at just about every minute. It is consumed as a refreshing drink, served as a dip or accompaniment to all kinds of savoury dishes, and is also used as a cooking medium in soups and casseroles.’
Throughout this seductive book, yoghurt pops up in all sorts of recipes: there are at least 10 listed in the index. The dairy chapter uses yoghurt in a hot soup, and two different labneh: yoghurt is included as an ingredient elsewhere throughout the book, in salads, as a marinade and so on. As this one ingredient is vital to the middle eastern diet, and more importantly, so easy to make, I am including this recipe in the Cookbook Guru’s discussion of Saha this month. Another actual Malouf recipe will follow. This one is my old recipe and relies on a few simple bits of equipment.
You will need:
- a wide necked thermos, or similar thermal food container. (I use a vintage Chinese thermos because I love them!)
- a strainer or old plastic ricotta basket
- some muslin or an unused Chux wipe.
- Two tablespoons of full cream plain yoghurt. This may be the last one you buy so make it a good one, read the labels and make sure there are no flavours. I can’t see the point in low fat yoghurt. Full cream yoghurt contains only 3.5% fat.
- one litre of full cream milk.
You may need to double this amount if proceeding on to make Labneh.
- place the milk in a saucepan and heat till it just reaches boiling point. Remove from heat.
- When cool enough to put your finger in, holding it comfortably for 5 seconds, remove any milk skin on top, then add the yoghurt. Mix well, using a whisk.
- Add to the thermos which has been rinsed with hot water and drained just before using. Close lids and leave for four or so hours.
- Put the lovely warm yoghurt into a container. It will thicken further in the fridge.
- Just remember to save some yoghurt for your next batch. I make this weekly.
If needing Greek style yoghurt, strain the cooled yoghurt for an hour or more, using muslin and a fine strainer ( I use a plastic ricotta strainer) placed over a bowl. Save the whey to add to curry gravy, an old Indian trick.
If making Labneh, continue straining the yoghurt, knotting the muslin over the bowl, and place in the fridge for 24- 48 hours.
Greg Malouf adds salt before making labneh: other additions he suggests are mint and garlic. In one of his other cookbooks, Arabesque, he adds 10 roasted and crushed saffron threads, along with 1 clove of garlic crushed with a teaspoon of salt. The latter sounds very appealing.
It is hard to write about the Middle East, its exotic cuisine and long history without expressing concern over the tragedy of war and the effects on lives, homes and families. At the same time, it is heartening to see how neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Italy, humanely accept the flood of refugees into their own countries, knowing that humanitarian issues come first in this struggle.
I commend the following documentary to you which looks at Italian shipping rescue of refugee boats at sea.