Disclaimer: I was sent the labneh used in this recipe from Karoun Dairies for free. My thoughts and opinions on it are my own.
I’m sorry for all the review posts lately, you guys. But when someone sends you an email that says “Hey! It’s Mediterranean Diet Month, can we send you free cheese and yogurt to celebrate?”
As a full-blooded Italian, with Mediterranean blood coursing through your veins, you just can’t say no. It would be against your heritage, your upbringing, and everything your grandmother ever taught you about anything. And so the only correct answer is YES, followed by a superfluous amount of exclamation marks.
Or risk being haunted indefinitely by relatives past. Obviously.
So it was that I came home from a run two weeks ago to find a box of yogurt and cheese sitting on my doorstep (err…in the package room in my building).
Best. Surprise. Ever.
If we could somehow arrange for that to happen more often, I would do a lot more running. Truth.
After inhaling a container of the Greek honey yogurt, which was kind of the best yogurt I’ve ever eaten in my life (think creamy in a way that makes your heart skip a beat), I had to figure out what to do with all of the rest of it.
Primarily the labneh, because while I can happily top anything and everything with feta cheese and can find exactly one trillion uses for Greek yogurt, labneh is kind of a mystery to me. Not only have I never used it in a recipe before, but I’ve also never eaten it. Ever.
As a food blogger, that necessitates a pretty big Shame.On.Me.
Before I could decide what to make with it, however, I had to first figure out – what IS labneh? Animal? Vegetable? Mineral?
Slightly salty Greek yogurt that has been strained so that it is a consistency about halfway between sour cream and cream cheese?
The latter. Definitely the latter.
While it is most commonly incorporated into dips or just eaten plain, spread onto a piece of flatbread and topped with a bit of spice and olive oil, I knew that I wanted to do something a bit more involved with it. You know, the kind of thing that would take all morning longer than I thought and make me just a teensy bit late to lab. (That’s how I roll.)
Enter this pilaf, which consists of layer upon layer of amazing Middle Eastern flavor (and is totally worth postponing your experiments for).
On the bottom, we have a spinach and bulgur pilaf, which lends a bit of heartiness to the meal. This is topped with a bit of torn mint, tomatoes that have been roasted into a sweet spicy savory oblivion, cinnamon-infused caramelized onions, and the labneh, which kind of serves to cleanse your palate after each and every bite of all that intensely delicious flavor.
Definitely totally worthy of celebrating all that Mediterranean heritage I have in my bones. In fact, I daresay even the ghosts of my relatives past would be proud, and that is no easy feat.
One year ago…Deep Dish Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Crumb Topping
Two years ago…Tofu in Green Chile, Mint and Cilantro Sauce with Sweet Potatoes and Cauliflower, Indian-Spiced Chickpeas with Rhubarb and Spinach, Sweet and Salty Brownies
Three years ago…Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Bittman’s Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Four years ago…Sweet Potato Carbonara, Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Curry
For the pilaf:
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 6 oz bulgur wheat
- 1 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- salt and black pepper
- 11 oz baby spinach
- leaves from a small bunch of mint, torn
- 1 cup labneh
For the tomatoes:
- 12 plum tomatoes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp harissa
- 2 tsp soft dark brown sugar
For the onions:
- 2 onions, very thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp soft brown sugar
- juice of 1/2 small lemon
- Heat oven to 350. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and place them, cut side up, in a roasting pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, harissa, dark brown sugar, and salt and pepper. Pour this dressing over the tomatoes and mix in the pan to combine. Cook for 40-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are wrinkly and sweet.
- For the pilaf, saute the chopped onion in the olive oil and a pinch of salt until it is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the bulgur to the pan along with the spinach. Pour in the broth and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
- For the caramelized onions, cook the onions in the oil over high heat so they become golden brown and crispy. In the last few minutes of cooking, add in the brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir it around until the sugar begins to melt and caramelize. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Layer the various components in a broad shallow baking dish, putting the pilaf first, followed by half the mint, the tomatoes, the rest of the mint, dollops of the labneh, and the caramelized onions. Serve.