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TIP OF THE DAY: Make Labneh At Home

March 25th is Greek Independence Day, so how about celebrating by making some labneh?

Labneh (pronounced LOB-nay or LOB-neh) is Greek yogurt cheese: cheese made from yogurt. The cheese preserves yogurt’s distinctive tart taste.

Although it can be called Greek yogurt cheese in the U.S., labneh is popular throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.

To make labneh, yogurt is strained to remove most of its whey, resulting in a thick consistency, not unlike ricotta. Once the whey is removed, the firm yogurt solids (curds) that remain are called cheese.
 
 
RECIPE #1: HOMEMADE LABNEH (YOGURT CHEESE)

While the labneh is served here with traditional Greek crudites, you can substitute or add whatever you like.

Unlike Greek yogurt, labneh is used as a spread, commonly served with pita bread, toasted flatbread and crudités (raw vegetables).

This recipe is excerpted from Syria: Recipes for Olive Oil and Vinegar Lovers, by Emily Lycopolus and D.L. Acken. Reprinted with permission of TouchWood Editions via Lucero olive oil.

Here are more ways to use labneh.

Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 2-1/2 cups full-fat, Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 large piece of cheesecloth
  • 2 tablespoons lime-infused olive oil (or add lime zest to plain olive oil)
  •  
    For Serving

  • 2 tablespoons harissa-infused olive oil (blend harissa [photo #4] into plain olive oil) or lime-infused olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-torn mint leaves
  • 2 radishes (watermelon radishes in season)
  • 1 seedless cucumber, sliced
  • 1/2 cup pitted black or kalamata olives
  • Flatbread, cut in triangles (substitute pita or pita chips)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the labneh. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt and the salt together, stirring the salt evenly through the yogurt.

    2. FOLD the cheesecloth into a 16-inch square at least two layers thick. Spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth and pull the corners together. Tie the opposite corners together, not too tightly, so the yogurt can breathe, but tight enough that it will stay closed (photo #2).

    3. PLACE the cheesecloth in a strainer with large holes over a large bowl and place a weight on top to help it drain. Let the labneh sit and drain for at least 12 hours, and no longer than 24 hrs.

    An alternative method from the author: Loop the knots over the tap in the kitchen sink, so the whey can easily drain. You don’t need to place a weight on top, but your sink is out of action for some time. You can do this in the evening and let the cheese drain overnight.

    4. STORE: Spoon the thick mixture into a jar with an airtight lid. Smooth the top and drizzle the olive oil over the top to keep air from the labneh. Keep for up to 10 days.

    Note from the author: Harissa-infused olive oil can be quite spicy, so if you want to store the labneh, using the lime-infused olive oil instead.

    5. SERVE: spoon the labneh into a serving dish, plate or shallow bowl. Drizzle it with additional olive oil, garnish with mint leaves, and serve with a plate of sliced radishes, cucumbers, olives, and flatbread..
     
     
    RECIPE #2: LABNEH APPETIZER BALLS

    Labneh is often served as a garnish, scooped into small balls and rolled in coatings of Aleppo pepper, chopped pistachios, nigella (onion seeds), sesame seeds, sumac or za’atar.

    These little balls used to garnish a bowl of soup, as a spread for flatbread, or to decorate a salad.

    To make labneh balls:

    1. SCOOP tablespoons of the cheese into your hands and gently roll to form a ball. Then roll each ball in your coating of choice.

    2. CHILL for an hour or two, or keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.

     

    Homemade Labneh
    [1] Homemade labneh with watermelon radishes, olives and cucumber (photo courtesy Emily Lycopoulos, Syria, Touchwood Editions).

    Making Labneh
    [2] Making labneh (preparation step #2, photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    Labneh
    [3] A sprinkling of harissa, a side of pita chips (photo courtesy Good Eggs)l.

    Harissa
    [4] Harissa is a Tunisian hot chile spice blend that is often mixed with olive oil to create a paste. The main ingredients are baklouti pepper, roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, and other hot chiles, plus spices and herbs (photo courtesy Market Spice).

     
    MORE FRESH CHEESES

    Check out some other fresh cheeses, including creme fraiche, fromage blanc, mascarpone, queso blanco, queso fresco and quark.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Gourmet Cheesesteak For National Cheesesteak Day

    Cheesesteak
    [1] Cheddar is a cheesesteak staple, but some people prefer provolone. Here’s the recipe from Life In The Lofthouse.

    Cheesesteak
    [2] According to Tony Lukes’s, a venerable Philadelphia emporium, American cheese is the most popular (photo courtesy Tony Luke’s | Visit Philly).

    Korean Cheesesteak
    [3] Make cheesesteak with an international flair, like this Korean-fusion version with bulgogi beef, hot chiles and sriracha on a baguette. Here’s the recipe.

    Vegan Cheesesteak
    [4] A vegan “” has grilled vegetables that can be added onto cheesesteaks.
    Here’s the recipe from Sweet CS Designs.

     

    March 24th is National Cheesesteak Day, celebrating the fourth-most influential hallmark of Philadelphia—after the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin. (Some might re-order this to put cheesesteak first.)

    What is cheesesteak? It’s not a piece of cheese slapped onto a steak, like a cheeseburger. Rather, it’s a chopped fantasy of flavors that many Philadelphians revere as their favorite fast food.

    Cheesesteak (photo #1) is made of thin slices of grilled steak, covered with melted cheese and served on a long roll. Traditionally, it includes grilled peppers and onions or hot cherry peppers.

    It has been personalized with different ingredient options at different cheesesteak emporia.

    And it’s become a fusion food, like the Korean bulgogi-hot chile cheesesteak in photo #4. Or embrace onto other ideas, like vegan “cheesesteak” (photo #5) or Buffalo chicken cheese “steak.”
     
     
    HOW ABOUT A CHEESESTEAK PARTY?

    When the grill comes out for the season, consider a DIY cheesesteak party. It’s fun to build your own (blue cheese, anyone?) and see what others have created.

    You can make it a gourmet cheesesteak party with better steak, better cheese, better bread and toppings (e.g. caramelized onions).
     
    Ingredients

    The Basics

  • Sliced steak (grilled flank steak; also chicken if there are non-beef eaters)
  • Bread: Italian rolls (also the best long roll you can find, e.g. baguette, whole wheat hoagie rolls, Italian rolls, etc.)
  • baguette, French, Hero/hoagie, Italian,

  • Cheese (cheddar or American is standard [not to mention Cheez Whiz], but also consider asiago, blue, goat, gruyère, provolone, etc.
  • Sautéed or grilled green bell peppers and onions – or –
  • Caramelized onions and separately sautéed green peppers and mushrooms
  •  
    Marinades

  • Classic marinade: olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, dried basil, dried parsley, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and black pepper. Optional: hot sauce and sliced fresh garlic.
  • Classic fresh herb marinade: olive oil, red-wine vinegar, fresh oregano (finely chopped), fresh thyme, granulated onion or onion powder, minced fresh garlic cloves, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper
  • French marinade: olive oil, wine, wine vinegar, tarragon, garlic, a bit of salt and pepper
  • Italian marinade: olive oil, wine, wine vinegar, lemon juice, vinegar, chile flakes, oregano, garlic, a bit of salt and pepper
  •  
    Plus

  • Grilled vegetables as a vegetarian/vegan options (photo #3)
  • Green salad for the bread-averse (and anyone else who wants a salad)
  •  
    Condiments

  • Dijon or grainy mustard
  • Giardiniera, a pickled Italian relish.
  • Chopped raw onions
  • Hot sauce
  • Marinara sauce
  • Pickled jalapeños
  • Worcestershire sauce
  •  
    Creative Options

  • Buffalo chicken hoagie: chicken, buffalo sauce and fried onions.
  • Cheesesteak hoagie, cheesesteak plus hoagie dressings (lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise).
  • International variations, like the Korean cheesesteak in photo #4.
  •  
     
    THE HISTORY OF CHEESESTEAK

    According to VisitPhilly.com, Philadelphia’s official tourism site, the cheesesteak in the 1930s by Pat Olivieri.

    Olivieri was a hot dog vendor in South Philly. One day, he expanded his menu by adding some sliced beef to the grill. A cab driver was lured by the aroma of grilling meat, and ordered a steak sandwich, which he received on an Italian roll.

     
    By the next day, the buzz about the sandwich had spread among cabbies; locals were attracted to it; and shortly Olivieri opened a shop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, called Pat’s King of Steaks, to sell his steak sandwich.

    But it was still not a cheesesteak!

    According to nephew Frank Olivieri Jr., the cheese was added in the 1940s by an otherwise unspectacular employee named Joe Lorenza, who added slices of provolone to the sandwich [source].

    Eventually, he added cheese to the recipe.

    In 1966 a rival shop across the street: Geno’s. While Geno’s was not the first to add cheese to the sandwich it is credited with creating the Whiz, using Cheez Wiz instead of sliced cheese. (Frankly, we prefer something more refined, like gruyère.)

    The friendly rivalry wages on decade after decade, as do the arguments among customers as to whose cheesesteak is better.

    Word spread rapidly through the cabbie rumor mill, and drivers from all over the city soon visited Olivieri for steak sandwiches. Olivieri eventually opened up Pat’s King of Steaks on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. manager Joe Lorenza, according to Philadelphia Magazine.

    By the way, if you’re in town, both Pat’s and Geno’s are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other cheesesteak vendors have popped up developed their own loyal clientele.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Grain Bowl

    If you order grain bowls at cafes or take-outs, have you ever made them at home?

    A grain bowl is essentially a complete meal in one bowl. Combining whole grains, proteins, vegetables, and dressing, it’s a nutritious and filling lunch or light dinner,

    This tip from DeLallo Foods is an easy blueprint.
     
     
    HOW TO MAKE A GRAIN BOWL

    There’s no exact science.

    1. WHOLE GRAIN. There are many grains to choose from. Working through the list, you can change the personality of your bowl time after time.

    Some favorites: barley, brown rice, couscous, farro, freekeh, kamut, millet, polenta, quinoa, spelt berries. You can also use smaller pasta shapes like orzo and acini di pepe, but you may not be able to find them in whole grain.

    Mini Tip: Cook your grains in vegetable or chicken broth, instead of water.

    (Check out all these grains in our Beans & Grains Glossary.)

    2. PROTEIN. Make it light or hearty with beans, chicken, a fried or poached egg, pork, shrimp, tofu, tuna. Leftover proteins are more than welcome.

    3. VEGETABLES. Fill up on a boatload of greens and other vegetables, raw, roasted or otherwise cooked. Try arugula, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots (we like carrot curls), chard, mushrooms, spinach, and anything that appeals to you as you peruse the produce aisle.

    Assemble varied colors: orange sliced sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, red bell peppers, red or orange beets, red radicchio.

    You can also add pickled and marinated vegetables, from dilly beans and pickled jalapeños marinated artichoke hearts. Steamed baby potatoes are fun.

    4. DRESSING. You can use a salad dressing or a sauce like peanut or pesto. We prefer to keep it simple with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin oil, perhaps a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

    But you may prefer honey mustard, Italian or ranch dressing. Go for it.

    5. GARNISHES. Garnishing is an opportunity to add more favorite flavors: avocado, capers, cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped scallions, edamame, fresh herbs, lemon zest, olives, watermelon radishes, etc.

    We like to add crunch: nuts and/or seeds, trendy roasted chickpeas.
     
     
    HAVE A GRAIN BOWL PARTY

     

    Grain Bowl Ingredients
    [1] Grain bowl ingredients. Imagine them in a DIY buffet (both photos courtesy DeLallo).

    Mediterranean Grain Bowl
    [2] Mediterranean grain bowls with farro and chicken breasts. Here’s the recipe.

     
    Set out a grain bowl buffet for your next get-together. Everyone will have fun putting the ingredients together.

    It’s an opportunity to introduce guests to grains they haven’t had before.

    At this point, everyone knows what brown rice and quinoa taste like. So pick three or four others from the WHOLE GRAIN list above.

    And for the mix-ins: The sky’s the limit.

     
     
    GRAIN BOWL HISTORY

    A grain bowl is another term for a macrobiotic dish* variously known as Buddha bowl, dragon bowl, grain bowl, hippie bowl, macro bowl or power bowl.

    These “bowls” began to emerge in macrobiotics around 2014, but the foods they include have been part of a diet philosophy for centuries [source].

    Macrobiotics is both a practice (a diet) and a philosophy (way of life). The belief, drawn from Zen Buddhism, is that its balanced diet (the balance of yin and yang) is the basis of good health, which delivers true happiness and freedom.

    The macrobiotic diet is based on whole grains, vegetables, and beans are the mainstays of the diet; it mostly limits animal fat (fish is the one exception). Here’s an overview of the diet, including what is and is not recommended.

    The diet may be beneficial for people dealing with heart disease and high cholesterol. While the American Cancer Society stops short of recommending macrobiotic diets to prevent cancer because there’s no scientific evidence, it does say that researchers believe eating a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet lowers the risk of heart disease and some kinds of cancer [source].

     
    What’s In A Grain Bowl?

    It depends on what the eater desires to eat, in the categories of beans/legumes, grains and vegetables.

    Think of a large bowl layered with beans, brown rice or other whole grain, seasonal vegetables, sea vegetables (e.g. seaweed), tofu or fish for protein, and a garnish of fermented or pickled vegetables.

    If you’d rather garnish your grain bowl with avocado, carrot curls, chopped scallions or jalapeños, go for it!

    ________________

    *While modern eaters may add eggs, fish or other animal-based protein to the bowl, a traditional macrobiotic diet allows only fish.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: The Dirty Dozen, 2019

    Fresh Strawberries
    [1] Top on the list of pesticide-laden produce: strawberries (photo courtesy In Harvest).

    Spinach
    [2] Popeye beware: Spinach is #2 (photo Stephen Ausmus | USDA Agricultural Research Service).

    Kale
    [3] In addition to nutrition, kale is laden with pesticides (photo courtesy National Kale Day).

     

    Your fresh produce may not be as innocently good for you as you think. The annual Dirty Dozen list is out, naming the fruits and veggies most likely to be tainted with pesticides—even after you wash them.

    The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is published annually by The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.

  • The Dirty Dozen is the produce with the highest levels of chemical pesticides.
  • The Clean Fifteen has the least amount of pesticides.
  •  
    The findings are always eye-opening. Take kale, a vegetable embraced in recent years as a nutritional powerhouse.

    A single sample of kale—#3 on this year’s Dirty Dozen list—had up to 18 different pesticide residues.

    Strawberries top the list for the 4th year in a row, being the most likely to retain pesticides even after washing.

    The antidote? Eat more organic produce. The challenge: Organic produce is more costly and not every market carries the organic options you are looking for.
     
     
    THE DIRTY DOZEN
    1. Strawberries
    2. Spinach
    3. Kale
    4. Nectarines
    5. Apples
    6. Grapes
    7. Peaches
    8. Cherries
    9. Pears
    10. Tomatoes
    11. Celery
    12. Potatoes
     
    Here are more on the “dirty” list. Take a look: It may influence your shopping decisions.
     
     
    THE CLEAN FIFTEEN

    Produce with the least amount of pesticides include:

    1. Avocados
    2. Sweet Corn*
    3. Pineapple
    4. Sweet Peas
    5. Onions
    6. Papayas*
    7. Eggplants
    8. Asparagus
    9. Kiwis
    10. Cabbages
    11. Cauliflower
    12. Cantaloupes
    13. Broccoli
    14. Mushrooms
    15. Honeydew
     
     
    ________________

    *A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. If you want to avoid genetically modified produce, buy organic varieties of these foods.

     

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spring Salad With Warm Bagna Cauda Dressing

    It’s the first day of spring. For a sprightly lunch or dinner dish, how about a spring salad with bagna càuda dressing?

    Bagna càuda is a classic sauce from the Piedmont region of Italy. It’s made from olive oil, anchovies and garlic. The name means “hot bath,” since it’s served warm.

    Bagna cauda is served with crudités, especially in fall and winter. It’s often part of a Christmas Eve buffet.

    In our own version, we add slices of toasted plain and/or baguette to the crudités plate—because bagna càuda is a zesty bread dipper, too.

    Bonus: Serve it as a piquant sauce with chicken and fish, poached or grilled.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF BAGNA CÀUDA

    Bagna càuda dates to the Middle Ages, during the expansion of commerce between France and Italy. Among other items, Italian merchants began to import salted anchovies.

    A dip from Provence, anchoiade, is made with olive oil, garlic, white wine vinegar and anchovies. It likely crossed the border with the imported anchovies.

    The Piemontese adjusted the recipe to their taste, warmed it up, and created bagna càuda.

    For some time, bagna càuda was a food for ordinary people. It was not included in official Piedmontese cookbooks until 1875 [source].

    Today, it is one of the most popular recipes to hail from the Piedmont region.
     
     
    SALAD WITH BAGNA CÀUDA

    Last year, we came across an extension of the bagna càuda dip: as a warm dressing for a spring salad. We’ve enjoyed it several times since then

    Some simple recipes require simply that the anchovy fillets be mashed with the garlic cloves. They are then simmered in olive oil for a few minutes to take the edge off the garlic.

  • The French had it right: The dip tastes better with a bit lemon juice or vinegar.
  • Some versions add butter or cream.
  • You can give it a different flavor profile with walnut oil.
  • If you have truffle pieces (lucky you!), toss them in.
  •  
    Here’s our version. Play with it as you wish.

    Ingredients For 1 Cup Of Dressing (4 Servings)

  • 4-6 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6-12 best quality anchovy fillets, well drained
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Optional: pinch of chile flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves
  •  
    Ingredients For The Salad

    Use whatever looks nice and springy in the produce aisle. We didn’t include carrot curls in the ingredients list, for example; but any salad vegetable fits right in.

  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 2 endive or radicchio, leaves separated
  • 4 radishes (ideally watermelon radishes), very thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 medium beet, ideally chioggia or yellow*, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, trimmed
  • 12 small asparagus spears, blanched or raw
  • Salt and pepper
  • ________________

    *Red beets bleed.
     
    Optional

  • 1 burrata or 6 ounces goat cheese —or—
  • 4 eggs, boiled 8 minutes and cooled, then halved or quartered
  • Prosciutto “roses” (roll up the slices)
  •  
    Plus

  • 1 crusty baguette, sliced into 1″ widths
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the dressing: Pound the anchovies and garlic into a rough paste, using a mortar and pestle. Place in a small saucepan, add the olive oil and butter and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes, until the anchovies have dissolved. Add the optional chile flakes before removing from the flame.

  • Alternatively, blend the oil, butter, anchovies and garlic in a food processor until smooth.
  • To take the edge off the garlic, sauté the garlic cloves in some olive oil for 3-5 minutes.
  •  

    Spring Salad

    [1] Spring salad with chioggia beets, from Foster’s Market Cookbook.

    Spring Salad With Burrata

    [2] Spring salad with burrata, from The Gourmet RD. Here are more recipes for a spring burrata salad.

    Spring Salad With Watermelon Radish
    [3] Spring salad with watermelon radishes, from Sid Wainer.

    Anchovy Fillets
    [4] Buy the best anchovies you can find, for the best flavor in your bagna càuda. These are from Vital Choice.

    Chioggia Beets
    [5] Chioggia beets are a specialty product. Like watermelon radishes, they add fun and fancy to a salad. Here’s a recipe for a chioggia beet salad (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

     
    2. TRANSFER Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the lemon zest and juice. Set aside to cool.

    3. ARRANGE the salad on individual plates or on a large platter, as you prefer. Set a scallion across the plate. Garnish with the eggs or cheese. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

    4. WARM the dressing for 15 seconds in the microwave (or serve it at room temperature, if you prefer). Stir in the parsley right before serving.

    5. DRIZZLE 1 tablespoon of over each plate of salad and put the remainder in a small pitcher for passing. Serve immediately.

  • If the dressing is too garlicky for you, whisk in some crème fraîche, sour cream or plain yogurt.
  •   

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