Yogurt is a very common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. It’s cooked to make a savory sauce, strained and spread with olive oil for breakfast (called labneh), or served plain alongside rice dishes and stews. I’m constantly eating it, and can safely say I’ve gotten the Australian Man hooked since we moved in together last year. It’s no surprise then that yogurt takes center stage in this versatile dip I’m sharing today.
But this dip is particularly special. This love of yogurt was also shared by my late and very dear auntie Nabila. As an artist with a heart of gold, she left us with an incredible, decades-worth collection of paintings and mixed media, plus memories of her wonderful – sometimes quite funny, actually – culinary creations… this being one of them. She would often bring it to family gatherings, and I was always excited to see it on the table amongst the other dips, grilled meats, rice and vegetables.
Walnuts and fresh herbs provide substance and earthiness to the garlicky yogurt, and the addition of extra virgin olive oil makes it smooth as silk. The flavors are always changing, too, since you can use any fresh or dried herbs you have on hand — though I always love the inclusion of fresh mint. Labneh can be purchased from the grocery store, but you can very easily make your own by straining plain yogurt through a sieve. See the link in the recipe for a quick tutorial.
YOGURT DIP WITH WALNUTS AND HERBS
1 quantity labneh (strained yogurt) + 1 heaping spoonful of plain yogurt to lighten
Drizzle olive oil, for smoothness and taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
Large handful coarsely chopped walnuts
Handful of fresh or dry chopped herbs: mint, basil, thyme and/or oregano
Extra olive oil, nuts and herbs, to garnish
Optional: chopped scallion. My auntie used to add this, though I usually leave it out.
Mix the labneh with the plain yogurt and a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil until smooth. Add the garlic, salt, chopped nuts, herbs and scallions (if using), then fold again to combine. Place in a serving bowl, topping with more nuts, fresh herbs and olive oil to garnish.
Serve as a dip with fresh vegetables or bread, as a spread for sandwiches, or smoothed atop sfeeha and other savory pastries.
Audio pairing: Gipsy Kings, “Djobi Djoba”
A song that always reminds me of my childhood, in the kitchen at family brunches