mostly about food and cooking, but also the stories about the Bread and the Butterflies!

Whole Wheat Pita and some Labneh

In Bread, Dips and Spreads, Low Fat, on the side, Tea Party, Under 30 min! on April 11, 2007 at 3:10 pm

labneh

The Arab-middle east-North Africa region, even the Mediterranean, have much that can be thought of as a common food heritage with the Indian subcontinent. The use of spices such as cumin, peppercorns, nutmeg, and bayleaf provide for the linking aromas, and the prominence of lentils and beans as a major ingredient in everyday food also speaks of a shared history. I find the similarities even more striking with North Indian food.

It is a cuisine for which the Indian palate needs no gradual tuning. We can embrace it in a bear hug the very first time we meet.

Besides the similarity in the use of spices, lentils and beans, as also vegetables, I find the plentiful use of yoghurt and the variety in flatbreads another reason for its easy adaptability to the Indian meal time. Even when meat is part of the meal, it is never the meal itself, and will always be served with some bread akin to out roti/parantha, and maybe a small bowl of dahi, the kind that has become better known as Greek-style yoghurt.

I remember when I lived in the Netherlands for a short while: how I disliked that slime that came out of the cartons in the name of yoghurt. When I found ‘standing-yoghurt’ in Antwerp, I just wanted to save some for culture…to make proper dahi in Rotterdam! The carton slime was good only for lassi; you couldn’t even hang it! So no shrikhand, and no yoghurt cheese.

From my college days I have been making chakka or yoghurt cheese as a healthy spread for my sandwiches. Remember I date from pre-cheese spread days? (yes, yes…old.. older whatever :) ) All we had was Amul butter and Amul cheese. And all those cookbooks I had would make me drool over the deli meats and cheeses…and I learned to be resourceful. A tip from my Mom and I was set. She told me about chakka. And I saw the spread of my dreams. I would add a pinch of salt, pepper, and mustard to the chakka, and sometimes chopped bell peppers and shredded cabbage to make a sandwich that intrigued all those who got a taste. Now that there is this wider choice, I still stick with Amul butter and Amul cheese. :)

Had there been Internet then, I would have found out that the Lebanese too have a tradition of using chakka with their pita! I had posted a recipe earlier using yoghurt cheese with sun-dried tomatoes where it substitutes perfectly for cream cheese. This labneh, as yoghurt cheese is known in Lebanon (from laban, the Lebanese word for yoghurt), is made with 3% medium-fat milk that I use everyday for all things in need of milk – dahi, tea, coffee, or on the rocks.

Labneh is simplicity itself. I had never before tried olive oil with it. Simply superlative and hardly any work. After rediscovering it this week, I and TH have decided we should make it every week and forget about butter altogether. You can slather it on and be happy in the fact that it is not butter, and yet a delicious spread. No preservative, just a little salt, and a happy drizzle of olive oil. With home-made whole-wheat fat-free Pita. Even Nandita will approve! ;)

labneh

Labneh
(Makes a little over a cup)
3 C yoghurt made with 3% milk (you can go creamier if you like)
salt
extra virgin olive oil

Tie the yoghurt in muslin and let it hang for 5-6 hours to remove the whey. I usually use my draining rack (over the sink) for this, with a vessel below to catch the whey. In the peak of summer, I do this process inside the fridge – it gets super hot in Delhi and the yoghurt cheese would be sour by the time it was ready.

hung curd

The longer you hang the thicker the resulting cheese.

Untie the muslin and tip the cheese into your serving bowl. Mix in salt to taste, but be generous. Be liberal with the drizzle of the olive oil as well.

Done! Serve with Pita wedges or crackers. For variation you can mix in some finely chopped mint, or garlic. But the first time, try it plain.

Note: Do not throw away the whey. It makes a great base for clear vegetable soup! You could also add it to kadhi, of course.

pita

Pita
makes 12-14

2 C atta (whole wheat flour)
2 C maida (all purpose flour)
1 t sugar
1 t active dry yeast
½ C + 1C warm water
1 ½ t salt

pita

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in half a cup of warm water. Let it sit covered for 10 min till it gets frothy. Sift the flours and add the salt. Pour in the yeast mixture and knead to a smooth dough using additional warm water. The dough should be soft and very pliable but not sticky. Knead for 10 minutes. Smear some oil on your fingers and pat the dough with it. Cover and leave to double in size; 3-4 hrs. Traditionally, this is not a very yeasty bread; note the small amount of yeast used. Give it time to rise.

pita

Punch down, make a long rope and pinch off, making 12-14 balls. Let the balls rest for 20 min. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (or Gas Mark 9) with the baking sheet on the lowest shelf. Employing a roll, turn, roll action, make 5-6” diameter pitas, about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour as needed. This is no different from making regular rotis. Lift onto your hand and slap on the baking sheet. Let cook till puffed up, about 2-3 min. Flip them over and cook an additional 30 seconds.

pita

Pita can also be cooked stove top, as you would roti. A heavy cast iron pan works very well. Heat a cast iron pan, and pat on the pita. Flip it over when it has bubbled. Let cook on the other side for a min or so. Now pick it up with a pair of tongs, flip it over the flame and cook till puffed and spotted with brown flecks. No different from your roti process!

Use it to make Pita pocket sandwiches, or cut into wedges to serve with Labneh, hummus, or baba ghanouj!! The easy and perfect bread for your Arabian spread.

MM

Over to Meeta’s for her Monthly Mingle

Tags: Arabian Night, pita, whole wheat pita, Lebanese Food, hung yoghurt, chakka, dips, labneh

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  1. Very, very nice Anita! I love yoghurt cheeses too; indeed your beautiful pita and l…[scrolls up] labneh are an ideal, sin-free food. Have you heard how flat-breads have become quite the rage here in the states in the last few years? Home-made is far better of course…inspiring post!

    Dill is good mixed with it too…

    Will try with dill next year…season’s over!
    I didn’t know the Lebanese word myself till yesterday! I used to call it curd cheese…And when I had Philly cheese…bingo…do you know how Philly is made?

    I’ve seen ‘roti’ show up on lots of American blogs and stopped italicizing it!

  2. Anita, your pitas are superb! And I can ‘feel’ the texture of the labneh! I like the idea of fire-roasted pitas. Hmmm! You’ve outdone yourself with this post! Your pictures are fabulous, too!

    Pel, don’t you ever sleep? Or did you just wake up?

    Look who’s talking about sleeping… 8O

    I turned on all the lights in the kitchen and thankfully, the white stayed white. That labneh texture is so good because I didn’t smoosh it to mix in the salt, just sprinkled it on liberally and then drizzled, nah, poured on the olive oil! :)

  3. Roti is an English word, don’t you know?

    I sleep…just at all the wrong times. 8|

  4. Arrrgh! I did a Vee. That should have been :|

    You really need some sleep, Manisha. Now.
    :-)

  5. That Lebaneh looks AWESOME in capital letters!!!!! Reminds me of the home made makkhan!! :)

    Thanks, Coffee. And it is really creamy too.

  6. Ah, I see I have achieved virtual immortalisation in the labyrinths of emoticon failures.

    Anita, I love the simplicity of the labneh, seasoned with just salt and olive oil. Kind of like a savoury shrikhand.
    I just peeked over at manisha’s and found lebeneh. Is that the same or different things? I see that she has buttermilk in hers. I think it is bacteria-ised dairy thing. I am gonna go check..

    It is all the same and from the looks of it, so is cream cheese

    Hey, Vee. That was a good link…confirmed my impression of cream cheese too.

  7. Anita,

    That Labneh looks GORGEOUS to say the least…..just feel like reaching out and grabbing some. There is a Lebanese Cafe’ very close by, they serve labneh with most of their combos…..yours looks just like that, especially with that generous topping of Oilve Oil.

    May i please join for lunch :)

    Why, thank you! :-) It is always good to know you have a authentic dish on hand! That olive-oil bit really transforms it altogether.

  8. According to the author of the book I got the recipe from, lebeneh anything or anything lebeneh means made from yogurt. But will confirm again, nevertheless.

  9. Anita—are you saying, before I go on an intense internet research session, that cream cheese is dahi fromage? :-) Because if it is, I know just what is to be done with it! :-)

    Manisha, roti sounds suspiciously Hindi…like dhoti….and roti dhoti….are you trying to insult me too?!!! :-D :-/ ;-)

    Okay, Pel, out with it! Tell me what else I can do with this delicious creamy low cal stuff…

  10. yeah, ‘hung cheese’ if there’s such a term is better and more versatile than cream cheese. stove top pitas??? now that’s a great idea.

    Stove top is faster and appeals to my energy-conserving self as well!!

  11. I now have several reputations to live down – I don’t know where to start. But insulting you, Pel, is so inviting – not to mention a lot of fun – that I might just start living up to all that baggage instead. :roll:

    The ebook reader won’t let me read anymore of Diana Abu-Jaber’s book. Darned thing says number of free pages viewable have been exceeded. How is one supposed to read a book online from an ebrary if the number of pages you can read are less than the number of pages in the book! I thought it was such a cool idea to be able to read the book right away than have to wait for the book to return to the shelves…So now, I’m waiting for the printed book and will confirm this lebeneh business after I get my hands on it.

    But, look, you got a visit from Diana herself!! How cool is that!

  12. Bee seems to be right. The site I linked above classifies labneh, lebeneh, chenna, cream cheese as hung cheese. To think, I have been having a sweeter version of labneh all my life ;)

    Now we get to call it by an exotic-sounding name!

  13. Yeah…and in Wiki…it says “cream cheese”/”Philadelphia cheese” was first made by a dairy farmer in New York state with a mix of cream and milk…and, just like the yoghurt cheeses, it is cultured with bacteria and then hung(strained)…(not totally original is it?)…wow, that explains why i thought the taste and texture was so similar…

    Chenna and panir though, although hung…(actually ALL cheeses are hung somewhere in the process to separate curds from whey)are different in that they are curdled with an added acid(like lemon/lime juice), instead of an acid-producing bacteria.

    Yes!! Now I can make cheesecake!! I saw the taste-texture link too and was not so concerned about missing Philly on my return to India…I could also see that if I wanted to make it exactly like Philly, all I needed to do was add more cream…but why would I do that…I have Philly Lite! Thanks for the research, Pel. Have been a little busy…hic… ;-)

  14. Cool and how very simple!
    I made Pita bread too! I was so happy that it was a success, since it was my first attempt!!!

    It is amazing what can be accomplished with very little effort!

  15. The Bedouin take it one step further – they dry it in the sun so that it can be stored. This is called jameed and traditionally, it appears that is what is used to make mansaf.

    Someone said on some blog that it was raining Arabic food. How true!

    I want to know about that dried cheese stuff…you know how I am about sun drying! Then we could have it on trips too…

    There is a kind of cheese that the gujjars make with goat milk…it is called ‘masheer cry‘ in Kashmiri… sour and very dry..holey…fried and added to veggies…any one know how to make that?? ;-)

    Later: I looked up the jameed link on your post…it looks suspiciously like the cheese I am talking about!! And it is used to make shakreyeh – if that is not the masheer kreyeh, I wonder….So I may now have to prepare it and have my Mom take a look…now to procure goat milk! That could be some project!

  16. oooh – the yoghurt cheese looks wonderful!

    Smita

    It tastes wonderful too.

  17. Wonderful Anita! Gosh this simple treat brings back awesome memories!

    You thought up the perfect theme…

  18. Anita:

    Now, you have really made me think that I can get my bread and labneh in India…just takes a bit of preparation like your post nicely highlights.

    I suspect that we were influneced by Greek/Middle Eastern cuisine. Yoghurt is supposed to have originated in Turkey and the pita bread is so similar to what we eat in North India. Until the 15th century the Arabs were middle men for the spice trade between India and Europe and I think that is how we may have gotten their style of cooking.

    I also discovered that our samosas and puffs are derived from the Middle Eastern dishes with similar sounding names. Plus the Indian kachumbar is very close to the salad that Middle Easterners eat.

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    Happy cooking!

    kamla

    Hi Kamla. So there will be less things to miss when you do return! And you already make your own bagels!

    Isn’t it amazing that there can be a mind boggling variety when so much is the same! We see it within India itself…dal chaval, and how many distinct ways to dal chaval!!

  19. Kamla, not meaning to disagree with you, but I do feel I must clarify a point:
    The word yoghurt is indeed of Turkish origin, but the substance known as yoghurt/dahi/etc appears to be a very ancient food, known in several cultures simultaneously… there is no conclusive evidence of any one of those cultures (forgive the pun) passing the method to another.

  20. Stove top pitas and yogurt!!! Looks so good.

    There is no reason to not make them!

  21. Kudos Anita! I started making spreads with chakka after tasting Britannia’s Malai Chaska. I have tried your sun-dried tomatoes spread and my friends Asif and Seema loved it. They now make it regularly for their kids lunch box.

    Whole Wheat Pita and some Labneh will be my this weekend’s project. Thanks! Mwah~~~~

    Hi Anjali. Cream cheese is amongst my favorite dips/spreads, any which way! Sun dried tomatoes, walnuts and garlic,cayenne pepper, and now salt and Olive oil!

  22. A,
    You had to mention that na!!! (you know what Im talking about :D )

    I was doing some research on lebanese cuisine a while ago and found Labneh there too…so simple yet so delightful. Now that you have put your stamp and certified, will try out your recipe…I make pitas on a heavy heavy iron dosaikkal (the tava used to make dosas), i can easily do two at a time and most of them fluff up on the tava itself, for those that dont, the direct on flame works perfect…
    Thanks to Meeta for bringing out all the wonderful recipes out!

    Well…you still haven’t gotten around to telling us about those potatoes!

  23. How interesting, is it called chakka in Kashmiri? Or did you borrow it from your knowledge of Marathi?

    I cannot remember what it is called in Kashmiri!! :) It is chakka in Marathi…

  24. I’m really starting to think that you are quite fond of potatoes Anita… :-D

    Now, why would you think that?! ;)

  25. Ummmm….because even if the post has nothing to do with taters, you squeeze somethin’ ’bout ‘em in dere somwheres! lol :-D
    In the local cuisine, they’re eaten with every meal; that’s changed a lot over the years though…
    I only have them once in a great while; I’ve been using sweet potatoes for chole lately. As I’m hypoglycemic, they don’t make me fall asleep in an hour like regular potatoes do, but i still love them…have you ever tried sweet cassava roots?

    Yes, potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. It will be a very sad day when I can’t eat them! And Nandita did promise! Meanwhile, I will try Manisha’s and Gini’s!

  26. hi!

    till i moved to europe i didnt discove labneh with olive oil (yumm!) but back home in bombay we used to make a version of it…….a bit more drier than labneh which we slathered with on to a bread slice then sprinkled it with finely chopped onions and green chillies/paprika try it its pretty good!

    do you like toum (garlic cream?) I love it….even if i smell 10 miles off…. i even ask for it in my falafel! amuses my corner lebanese guy to no end!

    Hi KP! I agree the basic labneh is very versatile, and garlic is a great flavour to add to anything with a dahi base!

    Toum sounds like a ‘sauce’ I want to make – and I do actually have a wooden pestle and mortar that I have never used!

  27. Hi Anita,
    Very nice post and pictures. I feel like eating. Thanks for sharing.

    cheers
    rajani

  28. WOW I LOVE your blog & all the things you try. I also LOVE to cook & try new things. I am hooked on reading cooking blogs too!!! oh and this june I am coming to Delhi :)

    Hi Nishi. Welcome to AMTP! Are you from Delhi? If not, then make sure you check out the other posts on Delhi! You will be in time for the mango festival! Gorge on the safeda, langda, and the dusseri!

  29. I love your writing. :)

    And I love to hear that!
    ;-)

  30. Hi, I am from Lebanon and I have studied in India during the Amul processed Ch… only days – guess what I was making – labneh of course, although buffalo milk is not really the real taste (most Indian dahi was from buffalo milk).Everywhere was goats, but their milk wasn’t availiable because people kept it for their kids or whatever…Next quest was vergine olive oil – no luck, I only found terrible quality Spanish (Figaro) olive oil that doesn’t even deserve the name oil.Indians use it for massage so I found it in pharmacies.I suffered a lot from the daily bindi, aloo, parwal, gobi, dal standarized food from the dhabas, naturally I was on a budged as well.Labneh and Za’taar plus some real olives, black and salted, where the only things we made to remember home, apart from Falafel and other stuff made with Indian ingredients.Strangly, in Nepal, all the things where availible…….even parsley.

  31. [...] discussion on labneh did confirm that my hung-curd-chukka was as good as any Philly. The main ingredient was taken care [...]

  32. [...] for March Click: Cheese! Don’t miss it! There was lots of hung curd cheese/cream cheese/labneh. I also made panir tikkas for the first time – and they were awesome! I will soon update this post [...]

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