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Herb and Nut Crusted Labneh Balls

WHAT YOU NEED:

For the Dukkah

  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • ½ cup toasted pistachios, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • ½ cup za’atar
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Black pepper, coarsely ground
  • ½ handful fresh thyme stems removed, finely chopped

For the Labneh

  • 5 quarts whole milk (20 cups)
  • 2 cups plain full-fat milk yogurt (starter)
  • Salt
  • Large piece of cheesecloth, a double layer

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. To make the dukkah mixture, toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan, stirring continuously. Remove and set aside to cool. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven and rub the skins while they’re hot in a tea towel. Chop or grind the nuts but not too finely. Pound the cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle. Mix all the spices and nuts as well as the salt and pepper and set aside. Leave out the fresh thyme to be added only before you serve.
  2. To make the labneh, start this process 2 nights before you plan to use the labneh. Pour all of the milk in a large deep pot, and place on a medium heat. Allow the milk to almost come up to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to lukewarm temperature. You should be able to immerse your hand in the milk with no discomfort.
  3. When the milk is ready, stir in the 2 cups of yogurt. Make sure that it has melted throughout. Cover the pot. Place in a dark, draft-free area. Wrap with a blanket and leave undisturbed overnight. In the morning you will wake up to a pot of fresh yogurt. Refrigerate the yogurt for at least 6 hours to set properly. Now it is ready to eat or turn into labneh. At this point I like to add the salt to the yogurt. Mix well. Place the doubled cheesecloth on a large enough colander and begin to ladle the yogurt. It looks like a lot at this point but when all the water is drained you will be left with about 3 cups of labneh. Twist and tie the cloth well. I tie it to my kitchen tap and allow the excess water to drip all night. Or you could leave it in the colander and place it in a bigger bowl to drain. Place a weight on top to hurry the process, and keep throwing out the water that collects in the bowl. At this point you can decide how thick you want your labneh to be. It should be the consistency of goat cheese.
  4. When it’s ready, remove the very thick labneh from the cloth and roll out golf-ball sized portions in your hands. It helps to oil your hands first. Roll the balls around in some of the space/ nut mixture and sprinkle on the fresh thyme. To store any of the extra labneh balls without dukkah mixture, place in a clean sterilized jar and our enough extra virgin olive oil to completely immerse them. Keep refrigerated up to one week. Serve with the toasted pita wedges, or crostini alongside tomato slices, fresh mint and/or arugula leaves.