My favorite comfort foods: Macaroni beh Laban

You can credit my microbiology teacher who gave me serious craves for yogurt during a lecture on fermented food 😉 

Being of Lebanese/Syrian descent, I grew up in kitchens where dairy products were omnipresent. I did not realize how much we loved milk and cheese until I evoked our traditional dishes to my Moroccan Friend who casually mentioned that apart one popular brand of cheese spread, people in Morocco used little dairy.

When I would visit my Lebanese Teta (grammy) in Canada, I knew I would find, in her fridge, a plastic pot of commercial yogurt filled with her homemade yogurt, that she would prepare in batches large enough to supply her needs for all the Middle-Eastern recipes calling for yogurt. We have yogurt-based soup served with a side of rice (shakrieh w rez); traditional tzatziki (yogurt with fresh or dried mint leaves, diced cucumbers and a small amount of grated garlic) that is served with hot meals such as mujaddara or any kind of rice; we mince salad and blend it with yogurt and mint. We also have a densier, creamier version of yogurt-lebneh, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with olives, and, you guess it, mint again. And the list could expand as we have cheese-based dessert such as kunafeh and halawet b jeben- mozzarella and ricotta-based cheesecake, you could say.

It never fails to surprise my French friends when I tell them that we use yogurt as an ingredient in salted dishes, as in our Western culture it is eaten as such, or topped with fruit/cereals. But yogurt used in main courses or served aside in a little cup, scooped with some of your steaming rice, has this way of bringing a refreshing, light touch to a variety of meals.

Today, I am sharing with you a super easy recipe that has been one of the most loved comfort food here at home: macaroni beh laban, literally, « pasta with yogurt ».

 

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Tonight’s dinner ! 

 

Basically, macaroni beh laban is a dish made of pasta topped with a refreshing minty, garlicey yogurt sauce. The choice of pasta is left to your discretion; while my mom is fond of spaghetti, I prefer Farfalle, or Fetuccini, at least not some « elongated » pasta, as I feel like the sauce coats smaller pasta better and it just tastes more savoury, for some reason.

The nice thing is that you can eat two ways- either with your steaming pasta covered with this fresh sauce, or prepare your macaroni beh laban as a cold pasta salad, i.e, cook the pasta and allow to cool in the fridge and then incorporate your sauce.

The latter option was chosen by my mom when this summer, we attended our local assembly potluck and my mom wanted something quick to make and that could feed a crowd. While I have tested in the past a variety of Lebanese recipes on my non-levantine friends, and it was usually a hit, I was curious to see what reaction this dish would trigger as it is fairly different from the well-known Arabic/Israeli dishes that, if you ever went to a Middle-Eastern restaurant, you were likely to have had on the table (mezze dishes such as houmous, falafels, tabbouleh…). I doubt you would eat Macaroni beh Laban somewhere out of home as it is the comfort food that your mom and your teta make when you are really hungry or sick.

So I was pretty pleased when someone approached me at lunch and asked me if my mom did the pasta pot, because it was delicious ! The contrast between the hot pasta, the tanginess of yogurt, the refreshing mint and the little « stinginess » of grated garlic, that brings out the flavor of this dish, is ah-mazing ! You can now curl up on your couch and enjoy your Saturday evening with this effortless comfort food.

 

MACARONI BEH LABAN

Recipe courtesy of antoniotahhan.com

approx 4-6 servings

Ingredients

•1 lb pasta

•24 oz plain, whole milk yogurt (3/4 large container)

•1 1/2 – 2 tbsp dried mint (Stéphanie’s note: I use both dried and fresh when possible)

•1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (or more !!)

•salt, to taste

•extra-virgin olive oil, optional

Directions 

  1. Make sauce by mixing together yogurt, garlic and mint. Set aside at room temperature.
  2. Bring water to a boil, season with plenty of salt (1-2 tbsp), and cook pasta according to instructions on the box.
  3. Once pasta is done cooking, drain very well and mix with yogurt sauce that has been sitting at room temperature.
  4. Season with salt and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.
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