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Labneh & Smoked Oil

I’ll admit it: this is more of a general technique than a true recipe. But in a world where so many basic skills have become “expertises,” I think cooking freely is a liberating act. Even more so when talking about outdoor cooking — it should be fun, intuitive, and daring.

Ditch the recipes! Try something new! Burn stuff!

When considering doing something or not, I always ask myself what’s the worst that can happen? I have never made something inedible (though admittedly that ham and chocolate sandwich was not my best idea), and I have tried my fair share.

So today, rather than a recipe, a general guideline for an appetizer that has conquered the world since Ottolenghi-style food and Middle Eastern cooking have started taking over our tastebuds (for everyone’s good, I will say).

Labneh is simply a strained yoghurt that can be used as a base or a condiment in many dishes. It pairs beautifully with strong-flavored oily fish like mackerel or sardines, with any roasted vegetable, with fresh fruit in the morning, or simply some tahini, olive oil, and za’atar or dukkah (both Middle Eastern spice mixes). It is fresh, creamy, tangy, and you can adapt the flavor by switching yoghurts or the texture by adjusting the draining time to your liking.

Here, I use it as a base for roasted vegetables, one of my obsessions. My boyfriend commonly tells me that one of the greatest additions I have brought to his life is roasted vegetables… and we have a daughter! So you’ll understand we are big fans.

I have not yet met a roasted vegetable I didn’t like. Even spinach becomes delicious when smothered in olive oil and salt and placed in a high-temperature oven. Here, you’ll see we used red pepper and broccoli because that is what we had plenty of. But I have made the same dish with roasted cherry tomatoes, and that has to be my favorite version so far. In winter, use squash! Cauliflower! Really, use anything you have on hand and free yourself from the recipe.

Then, the last little trick here I would like to share is smoked oil. Tell me anything is smoked, and I’ll want to eat it. Smoked salmon? Yum! Smoked heavy cream? Yes, please! Smoked chocolate ganache? Ooooh yeah! Here, all you have to do is take a small piece of burned wood from your fire and drop it in a bowl filled with oil. 

Finish off the dish with a topping such as nigella seeds, dukkah, or simply some toasted nuts and seeds for added crunch. Serve with a nice glass of wine or kombucha!

 

The labneh, the day before :

1kg yoghurt

2tbsp olive oil 

1 tsp salt

Place the yoghurt in a sieve lined with a cheesecloth (or other cloth). Set the sieve in a bowl, place in the fridge, and leave to drain overnight or up to a maximum 24 hours. Adjust the time to your tastes: the longer you leave it, the drier it will be. If it turns out too dry, simply add back some of the liquid into the labneh.

Once you are happy with it, mix with the salt and olive oil and anything else you fancy: pepper, cumin, coriander, freshly chopped mint…

The oil:

Fill a bowl or small jar with oil (olive has my preference) and take a piece of burned wood from the fire, put it in and close the jar or cover the bowl. Though I use olive, any cooking oil will do, even clarified butter, but steer clear of delicate oils like flaxseed or nut oils. Leave to cool and infuse on the side while you prepare the vegetables.

 

The vegetables:

Roughly chop your broccoli or cauliflower into florets, or wash your cherry tomatoes, or make large cubes out of celeriac, squash or beetroot, leave asparagus or young carrots whole… this step will depend on the vegetable you have chosen.

In a mixing bowl or straight away on your pizza pan, mix your vegetables with some olive oil and salt and place in your pre-heated oven. The temperature you are aiming for would be between 200°C and 300°C — no less, no more. Keep an eye on them as it might go fast if your oven is still hot. I found that five minutes was enough for the broccoli. It was nicely charred, but still green, vibrant, and crunchy. Squash and root vegetables would take longer, around 15-20 minutes, so the temperature should be lower.

To plate, swirl the labneh around, top with your vegetables, drizzle some smoked oil all over, and add your topping of choice. I used a homemade dukkah made of chopped hazelnuts, almonds, and sesame with toasted nigella seeds, cumin, coriander and cardamom. Croutons, toasted nuts, or some toasted mustard seeds would all be good choices too. This will serve 3 to 4 people as a side or an appetizer.

Et voilà!

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