I like cooking experiments. I like them so much that sometimes when I'm looking for something to eat, I realize I've spent my time in the kitchen on projects that peaked my interest that week, rather than cooking a sensible meal. What can I say, I'm a sucker for the urban homesteading trend just as much as any Brooklynite. I really like learning to make jam, baking treats, and pickling. This can lead to a strange mix of things to eat when you're hungry, but I also kind of enjoy the mad-scientist look of the contents of my fridge at times. I think of it as just one of the perks of being an grown-up kid, along with eating dessert before (and after) dinner. Recently, when considering my next DIY cooking project, I decided to attempt one that was simple, and not readily available, as opposed to butter or something. After my trip to Israel, I'd become obsessed with labneh - eating it for breakfast, and using it to compose simple open-face sandwiches in lieu of a proper dinner. As I was getting tired of trips to the mega-kosher grocery near my Grandma's house in Queens to find labneh, I learned to make my own. It's easy, it's super adaptable, and the waiting period is much less painful than a 45-minute subway ride to suburban Queens on an otherwise perfectly good weekend day.
Labneh, a kind of spreadable "cheese" made from yogurt, is eaten all over the Middle East. It's is relatively unknown here, and I think that's an even better reason to attempt it on your own, because chances are it'll be a lot easier than trying to find it at your local grocery. And, of course, the homemade one I had was better than the pre-packaged one. When I started my experiment I had no idea that the likes of Heidi and David had already shown the hungry people of the Internet that this was something worth trying. But, check out their posts for more ideas of what to do with it once you have it.
To say this classifies as an "easy" recipe, might be an understatement. Go get yourself some Greek yogurt, cheesecloth, a strainer and two bowls. Mix the yogurt with the salt, dump the mixture into a bowl lined with cheesecloth, and squeeze into a tight ball. Set the cheesecloth ball into a strainer that is set that over a deep bowl. Keep the bowl in the fridge for 24-36 hours. Check on it after 24 hours, to see how much has drained out. I waited the full 36 hours. Once you have waited the proper amount of time, the yogurt will appear thick and spreadable. Voíla! You have Labneh. Spread it on anything crunchy, layer sliced cucumbers or tomatoes on it, and sprinkle with za'atar. It's also really good mixed with preserves for a sweet version (if you haven't already sprinkled za'atar all over it). The best part is knowing you didn't have to get on a plane, or a train, to eat what you were craving.
Recipe inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem. Incredibly simple as long as you start the process two days in advance. It will keep in your fridge for two weeks or a tad longer. It goes with anything you can imagine mixing it with over bread.
Approximately 4 cups Greek yogurt (or a mixture of half cow's milk, half goat's milk yogurt) combined with 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt. Mix together, place in a cheesecloth. Leave wrapped tightly in a ball in a strainer set over a bowl for 36 hours in your refrigerator. When ready, transfer to an air-tight container for storing.