Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh

A book focused on eating less meat, more vegetables, and a variety of whole grains and legumes was of course right up my alley. Diana Henry set out to learn more about what is truly healthy eating, and that’s how her new book, A Change of Appetite, came about of which I received a review copy. Not to worry though; this book isn’t about following strict rules or depriving yourself in any way. It’s about eating more fresh food and saving sweet treats for the weekend or special occasions. And the food here isn’t chosen for health benefits alone. Yes, the dishes in this book are healthy, but they were picked because of flavor first. The chapters are divided into seasons, and there are recipes for every meal of the day and even a special menu for each season. Although I mentioned a focus on less meat, there are still meat dishes included like Japanese Ginger and Garlic Chicken with Smashed Cucumber and Whole Roasted Fish with Tahini Dressing and Barley Tabbouleh. The influences on the food range from Middle Eastern to Asian to Scandinavian and Peruvian to name a few. And, I forgot to mention Indian. I can’t wait to try the Home-style Punjabi Lentils with a spicy tomato topping, Lentil and Roasted Tomato Soup with Saffron, and Roopa’s Indian Scrambled Eggs. The photos show off how beautiful these dishes are as well. The Burmese Chile Fish with Hot and Sour Salad; the Pilaf of Mixed Grains, Sweet Potato, and Fennel with Avocado Cream; and the Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbed Eggs all look irresistible. It’s no secret that I’m always drawn to dishes with saffron. I had to try the Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh. 

Here in Austin, our tomato season starts early. We actually have two seasons, and by late August we’re in between them. Fall tomatoes will arrive a little later. Luckily, we have farmers who sell at our markets that are from areas just far enough north of the city to still have tomatoes when the heat has ended the early season for other farms. I brought home plum tomatoes from Hairston Creek Farm for this dish. To start, the labneh needs to be made the day before serving. Greek yogurt was mixed with minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. It was left in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The cheesecloth should be twisted up and around the yogurt so it can be squeezed from time to time to release more liquid. The next day, the tomatoes were halved and topped with a mixture of olive oil, harissa, and usually I make my own but I was lazy and bought a jar this time, and saffron. The tomatoes were tossed in the mixture in a roasting pan, and they were placed in the oven for about 45 minutes. The roasted tomatoes were transferred to a serving platter, the labneh was broken into pieces and dotted around the tomatoes, and chopped toasted almonds were sprinkled on top. More saffron was heated with lemon juice and olive oil, and that mixture was drizzled over the top. I served the tomatoes and labneh with warmed pita. 

This was my first time making labneh, and I’ll definitely be doing that again. The tangy yogurt, garlic, and parsley mixture could be used in so many ways. Roasting tomatoes intensifies the flavor, and the saffron gives them a lovely added dimension. The pretty, lemon-saffron oil drizzled on top brought even more color to this bright dish. With so many styles of cooking and such variety of flavors, this book offers new fresh food adventures on every page. 

Sweet Saffron Roasted Tomatoes with Labneh 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from A Change of Appetite.

Saffron and hot spices, sweet tomato flesh, clean acidic yogurt, there is an irresistible interplay of flavors here. Try to make sure you get some of the saffron juices to smear the labneh; the golden streaks on creamy white yogurt look beautiful. Make this a complete main course by serving couscous on the side, or try kamut flavored with preserved lemons. You can sprinkle either pistachios or almonds on top. 

Serves 8 

For the labneh 
1 3⁄4 cups Greek yogurt 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, mint, or parsley leaves 
pinch of salt 
black pepper 

For the tomatoes 
18 plum tomatoes 
1⁄4 cup olive oil 
2 teaspoons harissa 
good pinch of saffron stamens, plus extra to serve 
1⁄2 tablespoon sugar (unless you have great sweet tomatoes) 

To serve 
Arab flatbread 
1 1⁄2 cups slivered almonds, lightly toasted
juice of 1⁄2 lemon 
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves 

Make the labneh the day before you want to serve the dish. Line a strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Mix the yogurt with the garlic, herbs, salt, and black pepper. Transfer to the cloth, tie it up, and refrigerate. The yogurt will lose moisture over the next 24 hours, producing a firmer, "cheeselike" substance. Help it along by giving it a squeeze every so often. 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Halve the tomatoes and lay them in a single layer in a large roasting pan (or two small pans). Mix the regular olive oil, harissa, and saffron and pour the dressing over the tomatoes. Turn the tomatoes over in the oil to make sure they are well coated, ending with them cut side up. Sprinkle with the sugar and season. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until caramelized and slightly shrunken. Let cool a little. 

Take the labneh out of its cloth. Carefully move the tomatoes (they will be fragile and can fall apart easily) to a serving plate, dotting nuggets of the labneh among them as you work. You can also toast the flatbread, break it up, and arrange it among the tomatoes as well (or serve it on the side). Pour on any cooking juices that have collected in the tomato roasting pan, being sure to douse the flatbread if you have included it within the dish. 

Sprinkle the almonds over the top, then heat another good pinch of saffron stamens with the lemon juice in a small saucepan. Add the extra virgin oil and mix with a spoon. Spoon the mixture over the dish; the golden dressing looks beautiful against the white labneh. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve warm, or at room temperature. 

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  1. Absolutely stunning - I, too, am drawn to all things saffron! And I could lick labneh off the floor.... it's the best!

  2. Simply spectacular! Love everything about this dish, including of course the use of saffron - that immediately calls my name....

    interesting cookbook, I shall try to resist it. (sigh)

  3. Exquisite! I must try your homemade labneh..gorgeous over the saffron tomatoes.

  4. Looks really lovely! I like those exotic flavors.. :)

  5. I only recently fell in love with labneh so I think your recipe is more than well-timed :D
    The saffron tomatoes are inspired without a doubt!

    Choc Chip Uru

  6. So, not only do I need that cookbook...but I need these tomatoes! Oh so tasty.

  7. Refined, flavorful and extremely appetizing! A great combination and mouthwatering recipe.



  8. A very alluring recipe, just in time for the late summer flurry of bright red tomatoes. I've heard so much about this book and am very tempted to order it this week after reading your review!

  9. I love the idea of saffron roasted tomatoes. Here in Denver, our tomato season starts late, so I'm just now enjoying the harvest. Thanks for a great idea Lisa.

  10. I've never made labneh but I love it. I love your images - you've photographed this dish beautifully xx

  11. Wow! Magnificent and now I want this book! Roasting the tomatoes in olive oil, harissa, and saffron sounds fabulous and with the cilantro in the labneh this dish would quickly become a favorite lunch. Glad you could share the recipe!

  12. My kitchen is overflowing with tomatoes of every shape and size. I have never made labneh ether, but I see this needs to change.

  13. It's coming up to summer season now for us and this would be perfect for all of those warm weather meals . I'm a big fan of saffron and labneh and sweet tomatoes :D

  14. The recipes in the book sound just the kind I would love cook and add to my collection. I would love trying the whole fish with tahini dressing.
    As for this dish, it sounds perfect for summers. So fresh and beautiful.

  15. I really love this recipe. Letting you know that I featured it in my monthly round-up of 25 Deliciously Healthy Low-Carb Recipes. I hope a lot of my readers will come over here and try it!

    1. Kalyn: Thank you for including this in your round-up!

  16. This sounds absolutely wonderful, and just in time for the last of the tomatoes. I am always looking for ways to use saffron, so thank you for this one!

  17. Sounds like a book I should read! Great recipe -- loads of flavor, and so interesting. Thanks.

  18. i don't think i know what saffron tastes like, though i can tell this is a wonderful dish. i love flatbread and roasted tomatoes!

  19. Wow - this is an amazing combo of flavors and techniques! It is just stunning. Here in Upstate NY, the tomatoes are really starting to pile into the house, and roasting them is just lovely - will be giving this a try1

  20. This is such a lovely dish - so light and summery! We are in high tomato season here and I love them.

  21. Goodness I must make this. The tomatoes look lovely with the harissa!

  22. It all looks WONDERFUL!

  23. This looks so good, I like it very much. I think it will be so nice to serve with any bread or even maybe biscuits. :)


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