Pascale’s Kitchen: Yummy yogurt

Yogurt is one of the healthiest foods we eat, as it is an excellent source of vitamin B, protein, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

 Yummy yogurt dishes (Illustrative). (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Yummy yogurt dishes (Illustrative).
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

Outside, the sun is shining and temperatures are soaring, which means that this is the perfect time of year to make labaneh and tzatziki, dishes that are made with yogurt and served cold. 

Both labaneh and tzatziki can be eaten on their own, or they can be spread on pastries and freshly baked bread. Yogurt is one of the healthiest foods we eat, as it is an excellent source of vitamin B, protein, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Moreover, yogurt is jam-packed with probiotic gut bacteria, which help to improve digestive health.

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Interestingly, yogurt plays a central role in Bulgarian cuisine, and Bulgarians eat it daily in extremely large quantities. It is apparently known to play a major role in the fact that Bulgarians live longer than most of their neighbors

One of my favorite summer snacks is labaneh with olive oil and fresh za’atar, which I pick from the herb garden in my backyard, or with dried za’atar. Most people don’t realize how easy it is to make homemade labaneh from yogurt. All you have to do is mix some yogurt with salt and place the mixture in a cheesecloth, or in a labaneh-making device, which can be bought in specialty shops. 

What I do is tie the four corners of a cheesecloth together and then hang it from the faucet in my kitchen sink so the liquid can drain easily into a bowl. In just a few hours, the labaneh is perfect and ready to be eaten. If you want your labaneh to be even more decadent, you can add sour cream. And believe it or not, the liquid that drains off does not go to waste, as I add it to dough I use to make dairy pastries. 

 Labaneh balls (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Labaneh balls (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

If you want your labaneh to come out silky smooth so that it can be easily spread on fresh bread, you only have to leave the yogurt resting on the cheesecloth for 6-7 hours. If you wait 12-13 hours, the labaneh will be a bit firmer, and you will be able to form labaneh balls from it. 

Both soft and firm labaneh are great served with salads and pastries. Or you can serve it all on its own, with a little bit of drizzled olive oil and a few za’atar leaves. 

Soft labaneh

Makes 4-6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 liters goat or sheep yogurt, 
  • 4%-4.5% fat
  • 1¾ Tbsp. salt

Toppings:

  • Olive oil
  • Fresh za’atar or 2 Tbsp. dried za’atar with sesame seeds

Directions:

  • Pour the yogurt into a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well. 
  • Place a cheesecloth over another large bowl and pour the yogurt mixture onto the cheesecloth. Hold onto all four corners of the cheesecloth and tie the corners together. Hang the cheesecloth from a faucet above a sink. Place a bowl in the sink below. Let the yogurt drain for 6 hours. 
  • Transfer the yogurt to a serving dish. Sprinkle with olive oil and add the fresh za’atar leaves or the dried za’atar. 

Level of difficulty: Easy.Time: 5 minutes + 6 hours.Status: Dairy.

Labaneh balls

You can place half of the balls in a jar with olive oil, and cover the other half of the balls with spices and seeds. Store them in the fridge.

Makes 10 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 liters goat or sheep yogurt, 
  • 4%-4.5% fat
  • 1 level Tbsp. salt
  • 2 containers (400 gr.) sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the balls:

  • ½ cup olive oil

Toppings:

  • ½ cup sumac
  • ½ cup za’atar
  • ½ cup sesame seeds or dried oregano
  • ½ cup nigella or black sesame seeds
  • ½ cup black pepper, paprika or 
  • Spicy paprika

Directions:

  • Pour the yogurt into a large bowl. Add the salt, sour cream and lemon juice. Mix well until smooth.
  • Place a cheesecloth over another large bowl and pour the yogurt mixture onto the cheesecloth. Hold onto all four corners of the cheesecloth and tie the corners together. Hang the cheesecloth from a faucet above a sink. Place a bowl in the sink below. Let the yogurt drain for 18-24 hours, depending on desired consistency. You can squeeze the cloth every so often to help the liquid drain from the cheese.
  • Remove the cheese from the cloth and place in a bowl. Cover your hands with oil, then take a little bit of the cheese and form balls with a diameter of 2-3 cm., or whichever size you desire. Keep covering your hands with oil as needed. Spread the balls on a tray with space between each one. 
  • Pour olive oil into a jar and then place half of the balls in the jar. Pour on more olive oil to cover. Close the jar and place it in the fridge.
  • Pour the spices and seeds onto a plate and roll the other half of the cheese balls in the mixture. Arrange them on a serving plate or in a container that closes well and store in the fridge. 
  • The labaneh balls can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

Level of difficulty: Easy.Time: 10 minutes + a few more hours.Status: Dairy.

Yogurt and cucumber soup (tzatziki)

Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 500 ml. goat yogurt, or other yogurt
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into small pieces or grated coarsely
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. dill, chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream

Toppings:

  • ½ cup dill, chopped (or mint)
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber

Directions:

  • Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 2 hours to enhance the flavor. 
  • Serve cold in individual bowls. Add the ice cubes, dill or mint and small pieces of cucumber. 

Level of difficulty: Easy.Time: 5 minutes + 2 hours.Status: Dairy.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.