Brown Bag Memories
15 April 2011
One thing I miss about being married to a Lebanese man is the food. More specifically, the Labneh. In earlier years, a starving artist in NYC, I used to bring lunch to work. In spite of a tight pocketbook, I’ve always had a vow to wow, homemade lunches included in the lifestyle. There was no bologna and cheese sandwich in my little mini-Igloo, no sir. It was all about labneh sandwiches rolled with zataar, fresh mint and basil leaves, cucumber and tomato into a lavash, doused with olive oil and held together with aluminum foil until lunchtime. He sent me out the door morning after morning with such a treat that I didn’t mind the refrain from joining the office girls at the diner on the corner. I’d love to say that on a NYC Spring afternoon I would pull up a bench in Central Park and peel off the foil in the company of the birds, but rarely did the sandwich make it that long. I mean, could you sit in your cubicle, hammering away at your PC under fluorescent lights at a temp job with such goodness beside you on ice at your desk? I think not.
Labneh is, simply, strained yogurt. Commonly referred to as Greek yogurt (although I contend it isn’t the same) it has been strained in a cloth to separate the whey, leaving a consistency between that of yogurt and cream cheese while still maintaining the sour taste distinctive to yogurt. Labneh is often made from enriched milk that has been boiled down to reduce water content, or is fortified with butter fat or powdered milk, although I suspect that no self-respecting Lebanese household would allow such an addition, but I could be wrong.
I have heard many versions of the noun, Labneh, most certainly due to the many dialects of the Near and Far Eastern and Mediterranean countries in which this blessed cream sits on the lunch or dinner table as both appetizer and accompaniment. It is also common to see it in savory breakfast sandwiches, which I can honestly say are out of this world. In Mediterranean restaurants, it is a side dish and pairs with just about anything else you choose. Traditionally, comes in its own dish with fresh herbs or crudite as a garnish, topped with a generous drenching of olive oil, and often a touch of paprika. Mix it in with tabouleh, cool down some spicy lamb, or just make a pool of olive oil on top and dip away with your pita. All of it is addictive and something I deeply wish would become a “thing” here in the States. At one point, Trader Joe’s carried their own labneh label and it was about as authentic as any I’ve ever tasted, but it seems they have discontinued it, sadly. What I would give for easy access to Labneh without having to track it down at a Middle Eastern market, which has been my only hookup thus far...