Lebne with Zaatar (Middle Eastern herbed yogurt cheese)
Makes 1 cup
You can make the seasoning mixture for this appetizer now for when you're ready for this unusual Middle Eastern dish. Store the dried mixture in a tightly closed container at room temperature. Plan ahead to prepare the yogurt cheese at least 1 day or up to 1 week in advance. Top with the seasoning just before serving with crackers, wedges of pita bread (preferably Lebanese pita bread with no pocket) or Crostini and a bowl of imported olives.
For the Yogurt Cheese
Cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter
2 cups fresh plain yogurt (do not use yogurt with gelatin added)
For the seasoning mixture
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried summer savory
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground sumac berries, optional
¼ teaspoon ground cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
To make the cheese, set a strainer over a deep medium bowl (make certain the strainer does not touch the bottom of the bowl). Line the strainer with 4 layers of cheesecloth, allowing about 4 inches to extend over the sides of the strainer, or line with a paper coffee filter.
Spoon the yogurt into the strainer. If using cheesecloth, gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt. Cover the strainer and bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the surface of the cheese from drying out. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Transfer the thickened yogurt cheese to a small serving bowl; discard the cheesecloth or paper filter and the liquid.
To make the seasoning mixture, combine the ingredients, except oil, in a small bowl.
To serve, drizzle the yogurt cheese with olive oil and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Paulette Mitchell, a culinary instructor, television personality, spokesperson, freelance food writer, and the award-winning author of 13 cookbooks, is known internationally for her quick-to-prepare recipes with gourmet flair. Paulette's most recently published cookbook is "The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh." She is also the author of "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" and "The Spirited Vegetarian," which was voted "Best Book in the World on Cooking with Wine" at the 2005 Gourmand World Media Awards. Paulette says that international travel is her favorite source of culinary inspiration.