I got a beautiful bunch of mature arugula at the market last week and brought it with me to the kitchen where I work as a caterer. Chef Mike, my coworker for the past six years, took one look at it and asked: “Do you know what my mother used to make with these?” And I knew I’m in for something good.
Chef Mike, Mahmoud Abulhawa, is a Palestinian from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem who moved to America some thirty years ago. I have written about our endless arguments before (all in good spirit). His memories and his descriptions of the food he grew up eating always make me hungry.
Chef Mike was actually referring to watercress. His mother used to soak it in cold salted water overnight, then squeeze the watercress and chop. She would then mix it with thick yogurt, drizzle with olive oil and serve as a dip with pita bread.
I tried this combination at home with the mature arugula and labneh (a strained yogurt cheese). The result was similar to the Greek tzatziki, only a bit more peppery, which I love. A perfect addition to my Shavuot table.
Arugula and labneh dip
Labneh is a strained yogurt cheese, available in Middle Eastern markets and in some Whole Foods supermarkets, but it’s easy to make your own: Mix 4 cups of Greek yogurt with 1.5 teaspoon salt. Fold a cheesecloth in two and spread over a bowl. Put the yogurt inside the cheesecloth, then tie the cheesecloth and hang it over your kitchen faucet, so the yogurt will drip into the sink (alternatively, you can put the cheesecloth inside a sieve and over a bowl to collect the drippings.) Leave the yogurt to drip for 12 to 24 hours, until the labneh reaches your desired thickness.
Mature arugula is thicker and more peppery than the baby arugula usually found in supermarkets. Try to find the mature arugula in farmers markets and in some specialty markets, or substitute with baby arugula or watercress.
Yields 2 cups
1/2 lb. mature arugula leaves
1/2 lb. labneh
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 tsp. table salt
Serve with pita bread
1.Soak arugula in salted ice water for 30 minutes. Mix and try to get rid of the sand.
2. Drain the arugula, squeeze with your hands any excess water and finely chop using a knife. Put in a bowl.
3. Add labneh, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and mix well. Taste to adjust seasoning.
4. Spread on a serving plate and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.
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