The nearer to Christmas it gets, the further East I travel for recipe inspiration. I suspect that this is greatly influenced by the boxes of dates we used to be given as a child. You may know the ones I mean, the box had a lacy paper lining and a bright label depicting the three Kings sitting atop camels following a star towards a distant dessert city. Years later, I remember witnessing a similar scene for myself – minus the kings of course – and feeling a real sense of magic and connection to the ancient past. For that reason, winter food for me is all about spices, exotic fruits, tangy white cheeses, slow-baked rice dishes and stews garnished with plenty of mint, dill, pomegranate arils and toasted nuts. Here’s a great example, it’s simply a plate of of labneh stirred through with green harissa and topped with herby roasted cherry tomatoes, chopped spring onions and a scattering of toasted hazelnut and almond dukkah. I make a jar of dukkah every couple of weeks so I have it ready to use as a quick garnish whenever I want to and I always have a jar of green harissa in my fridge. If you do the same and plan ahead, this recipe literally take five minutes to pull together.
For the labneh:
500g of Greek yoghurt
3 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Generous pinch of sea salt
For the tomatoes:
500g cherry tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp of dried wild oregano or za’atar
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
Two spring onions, finely sliced
For the harissa:
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
3 medium heat green chillies, de-seeded and sliced
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
30g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
30g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp sea salt flakes
For the dukkah:
75g blanched hazelnuts
100g blanched almonds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
6 tbsp black and white sesame seeds
2 tsp sea salt flakes
Half teaspoon of freshly ground mixed peppercorns
1 tbsp dried thyme
How I make it
To make the labneh, simply combine all the ingredients and line a sieve with a square of muslin. Place the sieve over a bowl and tip in the yoghurt mixture. Bring the corners of the muslin together and loosely tie. Leave to drain in a cool place for one to three hours (the longer you leave it, the thicker it will become).
Heat an oven to 200C. Place the tomatoes on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with as much oregano or za’atar as you like. Season to your taste. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set side to cool.
To make the harissa, lightly toast cumin and coriander seeds over a medium heat until they are fragrant. Set aside to cool and then add them to a mini food processor. Add all the other ingredients and blend to a smooth paste.
To make the dukkah, toast the nuts over a medium heat until they are golden brown. Set aside to cool before roughly chopping them. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds until they are dark and fragrant and tip them into a mortar. Toast the sesame seeds for a couple of minutes and add them to the mortar. Grind everything to a coarse powder with a pestle. Mix together with the nuts, sea salt flakes, pepper and thyme.
To assemble the dish, spread the labneh onto a large serving platter and stir through as much harissa as you want. Spoon the tomatoes over the top, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the spring onions and the dukkah.
Any remaining labneh can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days. Store your dukkah in a screw top jar and place in a dark place for up to three months. Store the harissa in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to a week.