Homemade Labneh (Greek yogurt spread) with Beetroot, Pistachio and Mint

Yum

I love surprising my guests with side dishes that are different from your good ol’ potatoes or broccoli. Tasting dishes at different restaurants around Toronto has taught me that side dishes don’t need to be boring! For example, if you’ve never tried Susur Lee’s 19-ingredient Singapore slaw, I suggest you get your butt over to one of his amazing restaurants ASAP. It’s an explosion of colours and flavours and it’s pretty much just perfection.

Another side dish I’m obsessed with is the shaved brussel sprouts with crisp pancetta and parm at Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant in Leslieville (better known as “The Nose” to East-enders). It’s simple, packed with flavour, and finished with just a hint of lemon to lighten it up. YUM. (Stay tuned for future posts featuring my version of these amazing side dishes).

But the side dish I was inspired by for today’s beetroot salad with fresh labneh comes from none other than Byblos, one of the city’s hippest Middle-Eastern spots. I love ordering this dish for its simplicity. Though the beautiful beets really stand out on the plate, the true star of this dish is the creamy and tangy labneh (kind of like Middle-Eastern cream cheese). It’s the perfect creamy compliment to the earthy beets, but also spreads so nicely on a piece of grilled crostini or pita.

My take on this dish is SO simple, beautiful, and healthy! I’ve lightened my version of the restaurant dish up a little by using low fat Greek yogurt and mixing the labneh with high quality extra virgin olive oil. I also add some fresh mint and honey for a brighter, fresher flavour.

Impress your guests this weekend with a show stopping, colourful side dish, and bonus…it can be prepared in advance!

Homemade labneh with beetroot, pistachio, and mint
Total time: 3-5 hours
Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Serves: 8-10 as a side dish
Ingredients
1 package cheese cloth
500g Greek yogurt (0 or 2% MF)
2 ½ tbsp. good quality extra virgin olive oil
1-1.5kg beets, depending on size of group
1/4 cup roasted pistachios
1 tbsp. honey
Large handful of fresh mint
Salt
Instructions
1.     Line a colander with cheesecloth (2-3 layers), and place over a bowl. Combine the Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp. olive oil, and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Place the yogurt mixture in the cheesecloth and allow to drain in the colander in the fridge for 3-5 hours. The desired outcome should be just slightly thinner than cream cheese. Once at the desired thickness, remove the labneh from the cheese cloth. In a bowl, combine with an additional 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil, and taste. Add more salt and olive oil to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. 
2.     In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil (don’t forget to salt to water). Peel the beets and add them whole to the water. Boil until just barely fork tender (not mushy), 35-45 minutes. Remove from stove and run under cold water to cool them down slightly. Cut the beets into wedges and set aside until ready to serve (room temperature). 
3.     Prepare the garnish: julienne (finely slice) 1 tbsp. of fresh mint. Chop the roasted pistachios. When ready to serve, spread the labneh on a serving platter. Arrange the beets on top, and sprinkle with fresh mint. Garnish the dish with pistachios, drizzled honey, and drizzled olive oil (remaining 1 tbsp.). Top with a few whole mint leaves and serve!
Also, serve this labneh alone with grilled crostini or pita alongside your other favourite Middle-Eastern dishes!

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