Garden feast, 214pp.
by Melissa King
ABC Books, Sydney, 2007
Cooking on page 32
This book is a gold mine of information for those wanting to grow and cook their own produce.
Author, Melissa King, knows what she’s talking about. As a horticulturist, gardening writer and television presenter, she’s been a regular on the popular TV programs, Gardening Australia and The garden gurus.
King wrote the gardening information for the book, while chefs at Heronswood Café in Victoria developed the recipes. I was lucky enough to buy this copy for $4 a couple of months ago at the Lifeline Book Fair.
Heronswood tomato salad
1 kg Greek-style yoghurt (to make labna, a yoghurt cheese)
500 g assorted heirloom tomatoes, the more variety in colour and size the better
8 torn basil leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 black peppercorns
2 peeled garlic cloves
To make the labna, take 1 kg of Greek-style yoghurt, place in a muslin-lined sieve or colander and position over a bowl to drain.
Place a saucer on top of the yogurt along with a 500 g weight and place in the refrigerator overnight in order to press out as much liquid as possible. Discard the liquid from the bowl the next morning and roll the labna into walnut-sized balls.
Place the balls in a wide-mouthed jar filled with good olive oil, and add the fresh thyme sprigs, peppercorns and garlic to the oil Stored in the fridge, the labna will keep for one week.
To assemble salad, quarter or slice the larger tomatoes but leave the small ones whole. Place in a bowl, add the vinaigrette and torn basil leaves and toss so that the tomatoes are well coated.
Transfer the tomato mixture into the salad bowl and top with labna. Drizzle a little extra oil from the labna jar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
How it played out
I love Greek-style yoghurt (the only kind I buy), plus 0ur garden has been overflowing with tomatoes including five heirloom varieties (some doing better than others). So you can bet that I was keen to try this recipe. An added bonus is that we love labna.
Interestingly, as much as we like this yoghurt cheese, I’ve never made it, mostly because both fridges are usually too full to fit in a set-up for draining the yoghurt. But for a few weeks, our bathroom, toilet and laundry was being renovated.
So I took a stab at emptying out the spare fridge before it got moved to the garage. While I couldn’t get rid of everything, I managed to clear enough space to make this with the 500 grams of Greek-style yoghurt I still had.
In the flurry of builders, plumbers, electricians and tilers, I completely forgot about the draining yoghurt, so it got two nights of draining. The result was a wonderfully thick labna.
It was super easy to roll the cheese into balls, drop them into a tallish jar and cover them with an excellent Australian olive oil. I also added the full amount of thyme, peppercorns and garlic.
I let everything sit for a couple of hours before making a batch of salad for dinner. For that I used 250 grams of heirloom tomatoes and four yoghurt balls that I tore in pieces.
For the vinaigrette, I used a delicious, homemade balsamic dressing. Let me know if you want the recipe.
Fabulous salad in every way, although if you want a bit of crunch, you could add some pine nuts, sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts. I’ll be making this every night this week until the labna is gone. And you can bet I’ll be making labna again. Too easy.
Plus, I‘ll be getting more use out of this cookbook. There are chapters on more than 20 different fruits and vegetables (with 7 or 8 of them growing in my garden), as well as advice on freezing and preserving.
Labna (also spelt labneh) is popular in many parts of the world, especially the Middle East and Central Asia. If you have a moment, check out my travel blog for one of the meals we made in Kyrgyzstan.