This little dessert is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi, who has been writing about his love of labneh – strained yoghurt – for years. And yet somehow I always thought, well, why not simply buy quark or cream cheese? Oh, how wrong I was.
Draining yoghurt is obviously very easy, but as with all new ‘techniques’ such as sprouting, fermentation, making almond milk or the first real bone broth it still feels like some alchemic experiment. Once successfully mastered (oh, how I hate it when something fails to work – my more sophisticated self would of course tell you, that failures are part of the process) it becomes more of a routine and loses the ‘excitement’ and that feeling of anxious curiosity. Therefore I am grateful that there are always new things to be discovered, that don’t cost a fortune, are super simple and yet SO tasty. I ventured out to get myself a linen cloth, because I had already made the experience that a fine strainer is too permeable. I simply lined a strainer with the cloth and placed it over a bowl, but it’s also possible to wrap up a sack-like bundle, hang it on a wooden spoon that you place across a bowl.
The licorice root powder was another flavour experiment. I found it two years ago in Copenhagen (where else if not in Denmark or Sweden would you find such a thing?). A friend of mine who lived in Stockholm told me about vanilla ice cream served with licorice sauce and when I finally came across that sauce as well as the powder, I simply had to have it. I mean – liquorice! Ahem, maybe I should explain, that I’m deeply in love with the combination of sweet and salty: dark chocolate with sea salt, roasted almonds with coconut chips, cinnamon and a little salt and of course very, very salty liquorice… However, I found the powder to be very sweet, almost a little too much for me (so if you use it: a little goes a long way, just saying). Since I’ve quit sugar I find even liquorice root tea almost unpleasantly sweet – everyone else who has tried the dessert seemed to like it and the combination of the creamy labneh, the tart rhubarb and the sweet and yet unexpected liquorice is indeed truly divine. Of course not everyone likes liquorice or it might be hard to get hold of the powder – in this case, simply replace it with roasted pistachios or almonds.
Homemade labneh with rhubarb & liquorice (serves 4)
700 g Greek style yoghurt (I used sheep’s milk yoghurt which has ca. 6% fat)
100 g feta
1/2 tsp unsweetened grounded vanilla (or vanilla powder)
1 tbs organic lemon zest + a drizzle of lemon juice
2 tbs granulated stevia (or other natural sweetener of choice)
For the rhubarb topping:
5 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp unsweetened grounded vanilla
2 tbs rice malt syrup
1 tsp organic lemon zest
1/2 tsp liquorice powder
Place the yoghurt in a cheese cloth (or linen cloth, or muslin), hang it over a bowl either using a stainer or a wooden spoon to hold it and let drain over night. I let it drain for about 20 hours, but if you are short of time 8 hours will do. Also give the bundle a little squeeze in the end to help the draining. You can let it sit at room temperature (as long as it is not really hot outside), the yoghurt will continue to ferment, which is a good thing (make sure, you use a high quality yoghurt). I was surprised with how much whey I ended up, almost half of the yoghurt seemed to have drained away. Don’t throw that whey out! It is rich in minerals and you can use it to help ferment vegetables, to soak grains and legumes or to add it to condiments like mayonnaise to enhance the shelf life.
On the next day, crumble the feta into a bowl and mash it with a fork. Add all the other ingredients and stir with a spoon until the mixture is creamy. Place in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the rhubarb into ca. 7 cm batons. Ground the cardamom with a mortar and pestle. Mix the cardamom, vanilla, 1 tbs of the rice malt syrup and 1 tbs of hot water. Mix the rhubarb with that mixture until it is coated and place it in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with another tbs of rice malt syrup. Place the dish in the oven and roast the rhubarb for about 15 minutes until it has become tender, but not mushy. Remove it from the oven and leave it to cool.
Scoop out the labneh, assemble the cooled rhubarb on top and sprinkle with liquorice and lemon zest.