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Archive for the ‘yogurt’ Tag

Middle Eastern Yogurt Soup

It’s almost February, it’s cold and it’s the perfect time for soup, if there ever was one. Keeping true to my kibbeh promise from my last post, I made kibbeh b’laban (كبة بلبن او كبة لبنية), which literally translated means kibbeh cooked in yogurt. Not only was it my first try at making this on my blog, but it was my first attempt ever. In order to get everything right, I called my sito (grandmother in Arabic) and stayed on the phone with her until I got every last detail of this dish right. It also took a long time since I had to convert her measurements of “handfuls, half-handfuls and pinches” into more relative quantities. All in all, it was lots of fun and in retrospect, a major success. 

mise en place

If you want to go for the absolute traditional method, you’ll want to use goat milk yogurt instead of cow’s milk. Although either works fine for this dish. The other main ingredient I want to talk about is the habra, which is basically ground inside round (with absolutely no fat) and then processed in the food processor with some salt, a little ice water and a tiny amount of baking soda. This makes the traditional meat paste used in every kibbeh recipe. I’ll usually prepare kilos of habra at a time and keep 500g portions stored in the freezer for whenever I want to make kibbeh.

forming the kibbeh

The meat itself has absolutely no fat, and is mixed with the soaked bulgur wheat to form the outside of the kibbeh balls. For moisture, the kibbeh is stuffed with grated onions and a tiny dab of cold butter. As the kibbeh balls cook in the yogurt, the butter will melt and combine with the grated onions to make for a sweet surprise in each bite.

rice helps stabilize the yogurt

The yogurt is the foundation of the dish and requires some cleverness to avoid it from curdling over the heat. The first step is to cook about a quarter cup of rice in 3/4 to 1 cup of water (way more than you usually need) until it turns into complete mush. Once it cools a bit you’ll want to blend the mushy rice with the yogurt, egg and a teaspoon of cornstarch. The egg, cornstarch and rice all act as stabilizers for the yogurt. A final precaution would be to cook the sauce over low heat and stirring only in one direction (either clockwise or counterclockwise). Don’t ask me why, but it works… if anyone knows a more scientific reason to this, I’d love to know it.

kibbeh bil-laban (كبة باللبن)

Once the yogurt begins to simmer, cook the kibbeh balls in the yogurt at a low simmer for about 7-10 minutes (depending on the size of your kibbeh) and you’ve got a fantastic Middle Eastern soup. Sprinkle with some dried mint and enjoy. 

Kibbeh B’Laban

4-6 servings


  • 500 g. habra
  • 300 g. bulgur wheat (finely ground)
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 1/2 stick of butter, cut into tiny cubes
  • 2 liters of goat or cow yogurt
  • 1/4 cup rice
  • 1 tsp of cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • dried mint, for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • ice cold water, as necessary*

Putting them all together

  1. Soak the bulgur wheat in water for 10-15 minutes (use enough water to cover the bulgur entirely by about 1/4 inch).
  2. Mix habra, allspice and soaked bulgur together and set aside.
  3. Cook the rice in 3/4 cup of water until mushy. 
  4. Blend the rice with some of the yogurt, the egg and the cornstarch. Mix this mixture with the rest of yogurt and place over low heat. 
  5. Stir occasionally and once it comes to a small simmer, add kibbeh balls and cook for another 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the kibbeh).
  6. Garnish with dried mint.

note: use the ice water to form the kibbeh balls. This will help make them smooth. For more specific step-by-step instructions read the blog post.


dried mint + paprika are optional garnishes

Goat Milk is King

This entry is dedicated to my cousins Dina and Yasmin (aka Rita), my Aunt Kiki and the rest of the family who showed me such an amazing time while I was visiting the Middle East, shukran jazeelan!!

In the Middle East, goat milk is king. It’s rich and tangy, and has a lot less lactose than cow milk. Although I don’t use goat milk in my cereal or for dunking cookies, when it comes to cooking, goat milk is phenomenal. I find it has a much deeper and sharper taste than cow’s milk, and it adds an authentic flavor when used in Middle Eastern recipes.

While I was travelled in the Middle East, I enjoyed strolling through the different outdoor markets (souks) and admiring how store owners were true artisans of their culinary crafts. It was just as I remembered it in Aladdin, only it was real and even more chaotic. Markets were divided into categories such as meats, spices, nuts, dairy and so forth, creating the perfect competition necessary for bargaining.

a peak into the future

Every morning my aunt and I enjoyed a variety of mezze while watching her favorite news anchor read the daily horoscope. A few of the neighbors would stop by for Turkish coffee, served with a side of gossip, and they took turns reading each others coffee cups. This is a popular pastime among women in the Middle East.

Aside from all the amazing memories I’ve created from my travels, I also made sure to inquire about every single recipe that crossed my plate. Labne, which is essentially strained yogurt, was one of those recipes. Making the yogurt from scratch with the freshest goat milk will yield a more authentic product, but this recipe is versatile and adapts well to regular cow’s milk, or even sheep’s milk.

from milk to yogurt

If you are in need of a (relatively quick) labne fix, you could always strain store-bought plain yogurt. And if you could get your hands on goat yogurt, even better. However, for the food aficionados and for those those looking for some culinary therapy, take the scenic route and make your own yogurt at home.

Once you’ve made your yogurt as directed on the package of your preferred yogurt starter, refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

straining the yogurt

I gave up on cheese cloths a long time ago and started using a clean undershirt to strain my yogurt. It’s a lot cheaper, it’s reusable and you could fit a lot more yogurt per batch. However you decide to strain your yogurt is up to you, but make sure to stir salt into the yogurt before setting aside to strain (approximately ½ tsp. of salt per cup of yogurt).

labne (لبنة)

Labne (strained yogurt)

(yields approx. 2½ cups)


  • 2 quarts of milk, preferably goat
  • 10 g. yogurt starter (2 packs)
  • 4 tsp. salt (½ tsp. per cup of yogurt)
  • dried mint
  • Hungarian paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • toasted pita bread or pita chips

Putting them all together

  1. Make yogurt as instructed by the package and refrigerate.
  2. Stir salt into yogurt and pour into your straining cloth of choice.
  3. Strain for approximately 12 hours or until you’ve reached a sour cream consistency.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. To plate, sprinkle with dried mint, Hungarian paprika and drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil. Serve with pita bread or pita chips.