Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My new super-snack

This might not be what you typically reach for when you're feeling peckish, but my new go-to is warm whole-wheat pita with homemade labneh and za'atar. It's delicious and healthy. This new dish was inspired by yet another wonderful addition to my cookbook collection: "Secrets of Cooking," a collection of Armenian/Lebanese/Persian recipes by Linda Chirinian. The book came wrapped in brown paper, with a NYC return address label that showed the headquarters of the AGBU (the Armenian General Benevolent Union) - for some, a mysterious benefactor, but I knew right away that this was a gift from my Aunt Viviane in Paris, who presides over the AGBU (in French it's "UGAB") in the City of Love. Big batchigs to you, Viviane!

Now, onto the definitions: Labneh is a yogurt cheese, made by straining plain yogurt, mixed with a bit of salt, through a sieve lined with cheesecloth for up to 12 hours. Imagine Greek yogurt, but even better. It is tart, creamy, and spreadable.

is a word that refers both to a family of Middle Eastern herbs, closely related to thyme and oregano, as well as to a spice mixture that is a blend of sumac, toasted sesame seeds, the green herb itself (whichever variety you go with), and sea salt. I mixed a variation on what I found in the cookbook and on various websites:

1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Simply toast the sesame seeds lightly in a dry skillet, then grind them gently, either in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle (my preference). Then mix in the remaining ingredients and Voila! you have homemade za'atar.

To enjoy these two creations together, spoon some labneh into a bowl, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle generously with za'atar and more sea salt to taste.

Happy dipping!

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