For many years the months of June through August were what I called our “Summer of Company”. Our relatives and friends from across the Middle East would escape the scorching heat of home for the relative comfort of our Chicago summers where the daytime temperatures rarely peaked around the low triple digits ( the average middle-of-the-night temperature in Abu Dhabi this week). We adored spending our summers reconnecting with family, playing cards, drinking tea, and catching up.
During these days we forego the American bacon and eggs breakfast for something cooler, lighter and more typical of our mornings in the UAE. Thus, for those of you sweltering in our former home town, here’s a nice light, no-cook breakfast that requires more composition than culinary skill.
sliced English or persian cucumbers
fresh mint leaves
slices of feta cheese OR Labneh
Arrange all these items on a plate, slightly warm the pita, and serve. This is finger food, usually served with juice and strong tea or espresso.
Labneh is a thick spreadable cheese made by straining the whey out of Greek yogurt. You can buy it in Middle Eastern markets, but it’s also really easy to make. Here are two recipes:
1) buy a quart of your favorite brand of Greek yogurt and some muslin or cheesecloth. Before you go to bed, put the cloth into a strainer perched over a large bowl and dump the yogurt into the strainer. Let strain/drain overnight. What’s left in the morning can be turned out onto a plate and served.
2) I owe the next recipe to Mark Solomon from whom I recently took a cheesemaking class: Put a quart of your favorite plain yogurt in a bowl and whisk in a teaspoon of salt. (use kosher or sea salt, not iodized) Stir with a whisk until you feel the mixture begin to thicken like a good bechamel (or about 5 minutes). Pour this mixture into a cheesecloth-lined strainer so it starts to drain. Then tie the ends of the muslin together with kitchen twine to make a ball of the cheese and hang it from a rafter over the sink or a bowl to let it drain overnight at room temperature. Much more fun, but also messier. (You could probably also let this drain in a strainer over a bowl in the fridge if you liked.)
Some folks roll bits of labneh into small balls and keep them in olive oil. I find a mini scoop works well for portioning these out. Another lovely accompaniment to labneh is something called zaatar, which is basically a mix of herbs and sesame seeds you can get at a middle eastern store. Sprinkle it over the cheese when you want an herby element but don’t have fresh mint leaves available.