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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Daily diary

After two weeks of “vacations” at my parents home- I’m back in my appartment, ready for another week of school !

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Vacations with quotations marks since of course, I’ve been studying a lot and right after I post this short entry, I’ll be back at my desk. Though difficult and filled with tons of concepts and tons of “actors”, i.e cells and the way the interact with each other, overall, immunology is enjoyable. And while I’m talking about school, I have to mention that I’m really excited  for this week ! My older brother will defend his doctoral dissertation and, God willing, will become a Pharmacist ! I’m a proud sister, and my parents are overwhelmed. My parents called a friend who owns a restaurant and booked a table for the evening, are getting everything ready, from the camera to the chocolates for the professors, they are just so involved in the process, and getting all emotional about it ! It’s really a huge transition for my brother: right after his final internship in a pharmaceutical company, they hired him so he had the luck to find a job right after his studies, which he is really happy about, yet I think he is going to miss university. So will I. I have one month of school yet and then, I’m off to a 6 months internship.

mujaddara

In the kitchen ! Lately, I was reading a culinary blog in which the author gave advice about finding your style in the kitchen and one of them was that it is better to stick to one type of cuisine rather than have all the ingredients, exotic and not so exotic, not use them a lot and , in the end, waste food. As basic as this sound, it definitely makes a difference when you’re learning to cook and to stock items in your pantry. So I decided that from now on, being Lebanese and Syrian, I would stick to traditional Middle-Eastern cuisine. Not that I refuse to cook something different every once in a while but it feels so much better, especially when you are trying to live with less and incorporate minimalism in your life, to have just the basic ingredients and fresh items and stick to a few dishes. Pictured above is Mujaddara, a dish of rice and lentils. It is traditionally served with fried onions and a tzatziki.

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Yesterday, I started reading a God-Entranced Vision of All things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, by John Piper and Justin Taylor. You can find it for free on PDF, by the way, something that Desiring God Ministries do with most books they publish. Jonathan Edwards is one of my favorite authors and I think I will post a few of his quotes online throughout the week. His words are stirring my affections for Christ, which, lately, at times, I have to confess, have been growing cold. I have been mourning over my sin-I realized that at times, I have desired the approval of men more than the approval of the Lord Jesus and I’m not as disciplined when it comes to the reading of the Scriptures and putting God first in everything than I used to be- a lack of discipline which has caused me a lot of grief. I told my mother this morning, that I did not want to be so anymore. Sin makes false promises. It’s alluring, it’s tempting, and then, it kills you. I was reading something in that book that caught my attention:

“Many Christians think stoicism is a good antidote to sensuality. It isn’t. It is hopelessly weak and ineffective. And the reason it fails is that the power of sin comes from its promise of pleasure and is meant to be defeated by the superior promise of pleasure in God, not by the power of the human will. Willpower religion, when it succeeds, gets glory for the will. It produces legalists, not lovers.”-John Piper

And

Self-denial will also be reckoned amongst the troubles of the godly. . . . But whoever has tried self-denial can give in his testimony that they never experience greater pleasure and joys than after great acts of self-denial. Selfdenial destroys the very root and foundation of sorrow, and is nothing else but the lancing of a grievous and painful sore that effects a cure and brings abundance of health as a recompense for the pain of the operation.-Jonathan Edwards

So this week, I’ll be fighting for true joy. True Joy that is found only in Christ. “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalms 16:11). I will fight for it, and I know that the Lord will be my help in this fight, that I won’t be alone.