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.
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
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)
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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