Part of the fun, and good work, of sharing my new Lebanese cookbook with the world is doing interviews (and—thankfully—lots of them). Today, this Very Big Deal was published in The New York Times!
Among the many questions that get asked in these interviews, I’ve always been unnecessarily prepared for one of the sort Bon Appetit magazine used to pose in its back-of-book interviews with VIPs: what three ingredients do you keep in your refrigerator at all times? Reading their answers was kind of like inspecting (stealth, of course) the grocery cart of the person in front of you: it feels like you’re stealing a little look into their soul. Judgments abound.
Refrigerator, similar deal. Which is why I’ve thought that I’d love to rattle off my fridge staples for all the world to see. I would keep quiet, certainly, about the ridiculous number of half-full pickle jars and the Hershey’s chocolate syrup (it’s not for me! It’s for the nieces and nephews! Quick hot chocolate!).
It’s the labneh that I’d tout—my thick, luscious, and often homemade Lebanese condiment of choice. There is hardly a meal, and no snack, no app, no moment of hunger that labneh doesn’t improve.
This is the darling of my fridge, a fixture along with fresh, clean herbs. I emphasize “clean” because I find if I wash and store them right away when I pick them or bring them home from the market, cooking with them is much more likely.
One of the great pleasures of my version of a well-stocked larder is the ability to pull off a remarkably good and healthy dip at a moment’s notice. Sour cream, I’m sorry: move over. There is nothing better than a tangy labneh as the base for dip—the labneh can be homemade (you can do it!), or it can be purchased (labneh/labne/labna is showing up more and more), or it can simply be plain Greek yogurt.
Stir in any aromatic you have, and if that includes mint, labneh’s best friend, you’ll be richly rewarded. I use fresh garlic but I also like to substitute toasty granulated garlic powder, with no apologies. The mellow taste of the powder is flavorful without ever being too much. Top the dip with a dusting of dried mint, which is not just a pretty face here. I mean, it is beautiful all crushed and bright green over a big dollop of snow-white labneh, but it’s also a key flavor-maker. I like to keep a jar of dried mint on hand at all times.
If labneh and mint aren’t your staples, I suspect that one taste of this dip and its endless possibilities for variation will put them right up there as new top contenders with your other favorites (which I’m sure don’t include Hershey’s syrup…).
- 1 cup labneh
- 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 small clove garlic, minced, or ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic powder
- 10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
- Big pinch of kosher salt
- Few grinds black pepper
- Several leaves dried mint
- In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the dried mint. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Spoon the dip into a small serving bowl and crush the dried mint leaves over the top before serving.