Having lived in the Middle East for a few years I can assure you of one thing: there is always a tub of labneh in my fridge. While I grew up in the US and our fridge almost always had a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese, in Dubai it’s the ubiquitous labneh. Our grocery stores are full with never-ending varieties of labneh from Turkish labneh that’s creamy and rich to aged labneh balls preserved in olive oil with herbs which is almost reminiscent of a tangy crumbly feta. Labneh is the result of an age-old Levantine method of straining yogurt to remove the whey giving it a creamy and silky texture. It’s oh-so luscious feel is literally the perfect amalgamation between cheese and a thick yogurt.
While I’ve been adept to ordering it in my za’atar man’ousheh from the local bakery or as part of a quintessential mezze meal, labneh is actually an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be used in many sweet and savory recipes. Its creamy texture adds a lovely tang and fluffiness to cakes and loaf breads. It’s also wonderful in sauces as a replacement to cream, just keep in mind that it can add a sour note at times.
In this recipe I’ve used labneh as the filling for a tart. The labneh comes together with the eggs, vanilla, & sugar and once baked forms a heavenly custard-like flavor and texture. The rhubarb compote on top cuts the richness with a sweet tartness that complements the labneh (you wouldn’t believe my excitement when I found rhubarb in the grocery store, quite the rarity over here). Ground almonds form the crust adding that oh-so-necessary nutty bite. It’s like the holy trinity of desserts.
for the crust:
- ¾ cup + 2 tbs almond meal (ground almonds)
- ½ cup + 2 tbs flour
- 1 stick melted unsalted butter (113 grams)
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
With a wooden spoon mix the butter, sugar and salt in a bowl till combined. Add the almond meal and flour. Use your hands to mix till it forms a dough. If it’s too crumbly and wet, add an extra tablespoon of flour till it comes together.
Using your fingers press the dough evenly into a tart pan (14 inch rectangle or 9 inch round) and prick the dough with a fork to release any air. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350F/177C for 25 minutes. Set aside.
for the rhubarb compote:
- 2 cups rhubarb (roughly cut into chunks)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- the juice of ½ a lemon
Over medium heat add the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, salt & lemon juice into a saucepan. Once the rhubarb starts cooking down (about four minutes) reduce the heat to low and let simmer for another three minutes. Set aside.
for the labneh tart:
- 1 cup labneh
- ½ cup crème fraîche
- 3 eggs
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
Preheat the oven to 300F/148 C. In a bowl whisk the labneh, crème fraîche, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla bean till smooth and creamy.
Pour the labneh mixture into the prepared tart shell and place into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes increase the heat to 350F/177C and bake for another 10 minutes. Make sure to keep a vigilant eye on the tart during the last 10 minutes of baking, if it starts getting brown remove from the oven. The tart should be firm with just a tad of jiggle when you shake it.
Serve the tart with dollops of rhubarb compote and crushed pistachios on top.
This recipe is also featured on Savoir Flair: http://www.savoirflair.com/culture/209369/labneh-tart-recipe
photography: Sheetal Bhagnari