Cheesecake is not, traditionally, a dessert eaten in Palestine, but all the ingredients are: the labneh and filo, for example, the nuts and floral orange blossom. Recipe from Falastin by Sami Tamimi & Tara Wigley.
The base was Noor’s idea: blitzing up the sheets of filo to make crumbs. Mixing this with the nuts calls baklava to mind. The result, we think, is distinct and special.
Base 5 sheets of good-quality filo pastry (about 110g / 3½ oz ) 90g (3 oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing 40g (1½ oz) walnut halves 60g (2 oz) pistachio kernels 1½ Tbsp standard flour 50g (1¾ oz) caster (superfine granulated) sugar 10 cardamom pods, shells discarded and seeds finely crushed in a pestle and mortar (or ¾ tsp ground cardamom) 1 tsp ground cinnamon ¼ tsp flaked sea salt Filling 500g (1 lb 1 oz) labneh (either shop-bought or 850g (1 lb 8 oz) of Greek-style yoghurt, see headnote and below, if making your own) 500g (1 lb 1 oz) ricotta 210g (generous 7 oz) caster (superfine granulated) sugar ⅔ tsp flaked sea salt 5 eggs (2 whole, and 3 with yolks and whites separated: you will only be using the yolks of these) 2 tsp finely grated orange zest 1 tbsp orange blossom water 1¼ tsp vanilla extract 1½ Tbsp cornflour Topping 75g (5 Tbsp) runny honey 2 tsp orange blossom water 40ml (2½ Tbsp) orange juice 6 cardamom pods, shells on, seeds roughly bashed together in a pestle and mortar 350g (12 oz) ripe apricots, stones removed, cut into 6 wedges A small handful of picked mint leaves, to garnish (optional)
1 To make the filling, clean out the food processor and add the labneh, ricotta, sugar and salt. Pulse for just a few seconds, to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks (the spare whites can be saved for something else), orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla extract and cornflour. Pulse for about 15 seconds, to combine, then pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 60–70 minutes, or until the cake is beginning to take
on some colour around the edges but still has a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at room temperature for an hour before refrigerating for at least 4 hours or (preferably) overnight.
2 On the day of serving, preheat the oven to 200°C (410°F) fan and prepare the topping.
3 Put the honey, orange blossom water, orange juice and bashed cardamom pods into a small saucepan and place on a medium-high heat. Cook for 4–6 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half and is beginning to form a thin syrup. Spread the apricots out on a parchment-lined baking sheet (tray), on their side, and drizzle over half the syrup. Bake for about 8 minutes, turning the apricots over halfway through baking, until completely softened but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 30 minutes, until completely cool.
4 Just before serving (or up to 1 hour, if you want to prepare ahead), release the cake from its tin and transfer to a round serving platter. Top with the apricots – there should not be any overlap – and drizzle with the remaining syrup. The bashed cardamom pods can be used for garnish as well – they look nice – but these are not to be eaten. Scatter over the mint leaves, if using, and serve.
Labneh is an Arabic cheese made by draining yoghurt so that it loses most of its liquid: the longer its left to drain, the drier and firmer it becomes. You can either have it as it is, to cook with or just to spread on toast drizzled with olive oil and za’tar, or else you can shape it into balls, for a pre-dinner snack.
Making labneh is one of those things which can feel like a step too far until you actually get around to doing it and realise how simple it is. It honestly takes more effort to hang out your washing then it does to hang up your yoghurt.
Playing around: Use either a combination or goat’s (or sheep’s or ewe’s) yoghurt and Greek-style yoghurt or just stick to Greek-style yoghurt. The combination option has a bit more of a tang, which we like, but they both work very well.
Keeping notes: Once covered with (and therefore preserved by) oil, labneh keeps in the fridge for up to 2 months. Without the oil it keeps for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 500g (over 1 lb)
900g (1 lb 9 oz) Greek style yoghurt (or a combination of 450g (about 1 lb) goat’s yoghurt and 450g (about 1 lb) Greek-style yoghurt)
Olive oil, to seal
1 Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine as an alternative) and set aside.
2 In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurts(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drop inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for up to 24 – 36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.
3 Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.
4 Transfer the labneh to an airtight sterilised container or jar: just pour over enough olive oil so that the labneh is covered and sealed.
Extracted from FALASTIN: A COOKBOOK by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury Press, $60)
Photography by Jenny Zarins