When Oscar time rolled around back when I was living in Chicago, I took it as a great excuse to eat a bunch of rich food and drink wine, while lounging in sweats, with my favorite pals.
I always pulled out the stops not with Lebanese recipes, but what I considered Oscar-worthy guacamole. I like mine chunky, with lots of cilantro and lime. A massive quantity of it, of course, because you can’t have too much guac and it gets eaten up in a flash. My sister brought out her decadent spinach dip in its obligatory bread bowl as though it was the clear winner, the best picture. And it was delicious.
There were brownies. There were chocolate chip cookies. Red licorice whips and popcorn for later.
This gush of lush must have been my latent response to Oscar fun, because I spent most years up until then shunning Oscar night, having no idea I was missing some good gawking but especially some good snacking.
But I here is what I like to pull out of my sleeve most often: my tub of labneh—the thick, strained yogurt that is so essential to the Lebanese table (oh okay, the Greeks too), and any good tidbits that are salty or herbaceous from around my fridge and spice rack. Here comes a dip that is always, unfailingly good.
Tonight I’m stirring in kalamata olives (I keep them, with pits and without, at the ready at all times), scallion, a dusting of dried mint, and my mama’s favorite secret weapon, granulated garlic powder (it may not say so on the label; look for garlic powder that is toasty in color rather than bright white; it’s so much better).
Dollop this on cucumber rounds with a few toasted pine nuts, and you and your food are stars. Or mound the labneh in a bowl surrounded by crudité. It’s near effortless wow-factor that might just make you feel under-dressed in your sweats (but certainly not enough to change out of them).
Cucumber Bites with Labneh and Olives
The labneh here can be used as described for cucumber bites, or simply as a dip.
- 1 cup labneh
- Pinch kosher salt
- Few grinds black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Mint Salt, or crushed dried mint and garlic powder
- 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
In a medium bowl, mix the labneh with the salt, pepper, mint salt, and lemon juice. Gently stir in the scallions and olives. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pat the cucumber slices dry with a paper towel. Place about a teaspoon of the labneh mixture on each slice of cucumber, and top each with a couple of pine nuts.