Real food like labneh, roasted eggplants, and sumac has the power to bring joy and pleasure into our lives and can have powerful effects on our bodies. Traditionally prepared, it is full of flavor and textures. I love to make my homemade yogurt, so the next logical step was to make labneh, a simple yogurt cheese that is eaten all over the Middle East.
The first time I tasted labneh was in Dubai, UAE, where I worked as a chef saucier at the Dubai Hilton Hotel.
Making labneh is a very easy undertaking; the only things you need are yogurt, a bowl, and cheesecloth. Keep in mind that if you want to make my labneh, roasted eggplant, and sumac recipe, you will need to make homemade yogurt and allow two days for the yogurt to drain.
Yogurt, keep it simple:
To make my homemade yogurt, all that is needed is milk and live and active bacteria, plain yogurt should have nothing more. I used to purchase Greek yogurt, but not anymore. I’m fermenting milk and making fresh homemade yogurt. There is nothing wrong with a good quality store-purchased yogurt, however, most store-purchased yogurts are only fermented for a very short time and they do not have as many healthy bacteria as homemade yogurt has. The health benefits of homemade yogurt are impressive, nutrient-rich, and an excellent source of vitamins and minerals for its calories!
Live yogurt contains cultures, i.e. beneficial bacteria which aid the digestive system and help to improve the body’s balance of natural bacteria. Eating live yogurt means that you will be consuming live and active cultures that help your body’s natural gut bacteria balance.
Here are some of the health benefits of homemade yogurt:
- It’s a good source of protein, calcium, and probiotics.
- It can help improve gut health and digestion.
- It may boost the immune system.
- It may help reduce the risk of heart disease
- It may help with weight loss and management.
Ali, our Lebanese chef at the Hilton Hotel, was a master of local cuisine. He cooked everything from great Mezzeh dishes to stuffed whole lamb to labneh. His roasted eggplants with sumac were a particular favorite of mine.
Ali used Indian eggplants in his recipe. Indian eggplants, also known as brinjal, are small, round, or oval-shaped eggplants that are native to India. They are typically 2-3 inches in diameter and have deep purple skin and white flesh. Indian eggplants are less bitter than other varieties of eggplant, and they have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor
The World Fresh Market on Devon Avenue, in the heart of one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, has an interesting and inexpensive produce selection, great spices, Halal meat, basmati rice, etc. Food that caters to the many different cultures that live in this neighborhood.
I love to visit the many ethnic food markets Chicago has to offer, from La Casa del Pueblo in Pilsen to Joong Boo Market. I can easily spend hours strolling down the aisles, looking for ingredients.
What is that weird yellowish liquid:
To make my labneh recipe, you need to make homemade yogurt, which takes two days to drain. A by-product of making labneh is whey, a yellowish liquid with a kimchi-like quality. Whey is a free bonus that is very healthy. It contains a very high level of calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B5, magnesium, and potassium, is super rich in protein and minerals, and is full of live healthy enzymes.
Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking, and it is often discarded. However, whey is a valuable source of nutrients, and it is becoming increasingly popular as a dietary supplement.
Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, and they must be obtained from food. Whey protein is also very digestible and absorbed quickly by the body.
Whey protein is often used by athletes and bodybuilders to help build muscle and improve athletic performance. However, whey protein can also be beneficial for people who are trying to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, or improve their overall health.
The notion of eating oven-baked eggplant almost feels like eating Oysters, scooping them from their shells and eating them with a spoon of tangy, creamy Labneh along with the sumac is a perfect combination. To elevate the flavor, I recommend using a good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oi
Labneh is a great snack on a piece of grilled bread topped with marinated olives, preserved lemon, and sumac.
What to do with whey:
If you have ever made Yogurt or Labneh, you know there is a lot of whey left over. Did you know there is a dark side to Greek yogurt manufacturing in the US? According to The Modern Farmer, the Northeast alone produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year. With the surge in popularity of Greek yogurt, companies are faced with a challenge. By law, it is illegal to dump whey because it’s toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. As a matter of fact, Greek yogurt manufacturers need to pay people, like farmers, to take this stuff off their hands.
I save the whey and drink it straight or use it for smoothies, add it to mashed potatoes, or freeze it in ice cube trays for later use. By producing my own Labneh and using the whey, I can proudly say that I do the environment some good, no waste in my kitchen.
Labneh, Roasted Eggplants & Sumac
- 32 oz yogurt homemade or store purchased
- 30 pieces Indian eggplant
- 2 tbsp salt
- 4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
Make the labneh
- Line a sieve with cheesecloth; set over a medium-deep bowl. Place yogurt in a sieve. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth to cover the yogurt. Place in refrigerator and let drain for 2-3 days.32 oz yogurt
- Squeeze out any excess liquid; discard the liquid in the bowl. The yogurt will be very thick and resemble soft goat cheese. The longer you drain the yogurt, the thicker the Labneh will be.
Make the Lemon dressing
- In a mixing bowl, combine olive oil, chopped cilantro, minced garlic, and salt and set aside.2 tbsp lemon, 2 tbsp cilantro, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 tsp sea salt
Cut and salt the eggplant
- Wash the eggplant and cut it in half. Salt the cut side of the eggplant, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Remove the salt and pat the eggplant dry.30 pieces Indian eggplant, 2 tbsp salt
Roast the eggplant
- Preheat oven to 400F. Place eggplant on a cookie sheet cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and place in oven, bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.2 tbsp lemon
Dress the eggplant
- Remove the eggplant from the oven and dress it with the lemon, cilantro garlic dressing. Let sit at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before serving.
Plate and serve
- With a spoon, smear the Labneh on the center of a plate, place roasted eggplant in the center, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sumac. Serve with Pita bread1/4 cup sumac, 4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate