Nigel Slater’s light summertime recipes

Yogurt adds a cool note to summertime eating, as a herby highlight to chicken, or a lighter raspberry buffoon to end the working day. Plus, how to construct your own labneh

If there is a topic running through this summers cooking it is that of yogurt and its strained and softly salted cousin labneh. At breakfast, I favor the wake-up-call sharpness of sheeps milk yoghurt, often with a glowing puree of alphonso mango and a softly sweetened compote of blueberries or blackcurrants. Employed as replacement for some of the cream in a fruit buffoon, the refreshingly acidic notes of goats milk yogurt flatters the flavours of apricots, strawberries and raspberries, as well as attaining the dessert less rich. Homemade labneh, attained with thick yogurt left to strain overnight through a muslin, has been in my fridge all summertime long. I use it as it comes, or with basil and mint threaded through and maybe a little black pepper. Cold for the refrigerator it accompanies lamb and chicken from the grill, and last week I used it to stuff aubergines with shredded cucumber and garlic. The blander, sweeter cows milk range can be used for this.

Labneh

You will need a large square of cheesecloth.

Makes about 500 g
sea salt 1 tsp
strained yogurt 500 g

Stir the salt into the strained yogurt. Line a sieve with a piece of cheesecloth( a new J cloth will do at a push ), then suspend it over a bowl. Scrape the yogurt into the lined sieve, place the sieve and bowl in the refrigerator and leave to drip overnight. By morning you will have a thick cream that will hold its shape. Should you want something spreadable, then you could leave it for another 24 hours.

Stuffed aubergine with labneh and cucumber

I love the soft, luscious stuffed aubergines of the Countries of the middle east, especially when they are allowed to stand after cooking and can be eaten merely warm and when their flavours have time to marry. Rather than the usual tomato and onion stuffing, earlier the coming week I made a refreshing filling with salted yogurt, cucumber and the flesh of the roasted aubergine. The recipe involved two textures of cucumber, one soft and mildy salted, the other fresh crisp. Both were folded, together with the soft aubergine into the labneh and stuffed into the aubergine shell with sesame and dill. One of those dishes that is pleasing warm or cold.

Serves 4
cucumber 1 large
salt 1 tsp
small, plump aubergines 4
olive oil 8 tbsp
a head of garlic
labneh 200 g
sesame seeds 2 tbsp
dill a handful
rose petals ( optional)

Set the oven at 200 C/ gas mark 6. Peel the cucumber, slice in half lengthways then, using a teaspoon, remove and dispose the seedy core. Coarsely grate the cucumber, using the largest matchstick disc on the food processor.

Divide the cucumber into two heaps, place one half in a sieve balancing over a bowl, sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt then leave in a cool place for an hour. This will introduce a soft, silky texture. Put the other half in a bowl, encompas and refrigerate.

Halve the aubergines lengthways, then score them, almost through to the skin, in a lattice fashion. This encourages the olive oil to penetrate more thoroughly. Place the aubergines snugly and cut side up in a roast tin, percolate over the olive oil, add the whole head of garlic, unpeeled, to the tin, then cook for about 45 minutes until the aubergines flesh is soft and wholly tender.

Remove the aubergines from the oven and rub their flesh into a bowl, returning each empty skin to the tin. Peel the garlic, squeezing the soft, creamy filling into the warm aubergine flesh. Squeeze the salted cucumber dry in your hand, then add, together with the matchsticks of crisp cucumber to the aubergine. Season with black pepper. Add the labneh, then fold the ingredients together.

Spoon the filling into the aubergine skins. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry, shallow pan till golden, chop the dill and, if you are using them, the rose petals. Mix the seeds, dill and petals then scatter over the filling and serve.

Grilled chicken, herb labneh

Grilled
Grilled chicken, herb labneh. Photo: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

I would be happy to eat sizzling, crisp-skinned chicken and chilled, herbed yogurt all summer long.

Serves 2
For the marinade
oregano leaves 2 tbsp
olive oil 6 tbsp
garlic 3 big cloves
peppercorns a few

chicken legs 2
labneh 300 g
basil 10 g
mint 10 g
parsley 10 g
long thin Turkish peppers 2

Roughly chop the oregano leaves, set them in a shallow dish large enough to take the chicken, then add the olive oil. Peel and crush the garlic and stir into the marinade. Roughly crush a few peppercorns and add.

Remove the bone from the chicken legs with a sharp kitchen knife. The easiest route to go about this is to place the chicken leg flat on a chopping board, plumpest side down, then, following the line of the bone with your knife, cut through the scalp and flesh easing the bone out from within the flesh as you go. Worry not about the occasional pit or tear.

Using a piece of cellophane or clingfilm to wrap the meat and a cutlet at-bat or rolling pin, flatten each leg out to about 1cm in thickness. A few firm, measured blows should do it. Peel the meat from the cellophane, place the meat in the marinade, encompas, and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Put the labneh in a bowl. Remove the leaves from the the basil, mint and parsley, leaving a few whole foliages for later, then approximately chop or tear and fold into the labneh, season with black pepper, cover and chill. Get a ridged griddle pan hot. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shake off any excess oil then cook, skin side down for 7-8 minutes until the skin is gently crisp. You should expect some smoking. Turn the meat over and cook the other side, brushing with some of the marinade as necessary.

As the meat is cooking, place the peppers onto the griddle too, turning them as they brown. Spoon some of the herb labneh onto a serving plate, then place the chicken, hot from the grill on top. A few of the reserved herbs, torn and scattered over the hot meat is a exhaustively fragrant thing.

Raspberry fool, pistachio meringue

Raspberry
Raspberry fool, pistachio meringue. Photo: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

Serves 6
For the meringue
caster sugar 250 g
shelled pistachios 95 g
egg whites 4

For the fool
double cream 250 ml
raspberries 250 g
natural yogurt 150 ml

To finish
raspberries 125 g

Put a large mixing bowl in the fridge to chill.

Set the oven at 140 C/ gas mark 1. Spread the sugar on a baking sheet and heat for 5 minutes till somewhat warm to the touch. Chop the pistachios finely in a food processor. Beat the egg whites until they start to stiffen( though they should not be quite stiff enough to stand in peaks) then add the sugar a large spoonful at a time, beating endlessly. Carry on, with the beater at high speed, for 3-4 minutes until the meringue is thick and glossy. Line the empty baking sheet with cooking parchment.

Fold the crushed pistachios into the meringue, then spread onto the cooking parchment, smoothing the concoction flat and almost right out to the edges. Place the meringue in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. It will be softly crisp on top, softer underneath. Remove and allow to cool.

For the fool, pour the cream into the chilled bowl, beat slowly and securely until it is just thick enough to hold it shape. Process the raspberries to a puree then promoted through a sieve into a bowl or jug to remove the seeds.

Fold the yogurt and half the raspberry puree partially into the cream, leaving ribbons of yogurt and scarlet fruit sauce running through the cream. Violate the pistachio meringue into rough pieces, and fold gently into the fool, maintaining the pieces large and avoiding the temptation to mixture thoroughly. Serve in small bowl. Add a few extra raspberries and the remaining puree to finish.

Baked yogurt with apricots

Baked
Baked yogurt with apricots. Photo: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

A light yogurt custard that sets to the consistency of a creme brulee.

Serves 4
For the apricots
apricots 500 g
cardamom 12
sugar 3 tbsp
water 400 ml
rosewater 1 tbsp
cinnamon stick half

For the baked yogurt
double cream 250 ml
condensed milk 200 ml
yogurt 300 ml

Halve the apricots and remove their stones. Crack the cardamom pods, remove the black seeds within and grind to a very fine powder with a pestle and mortar. Put the sugar and water in a medium-sized pan, add the rosewater, ground cardamom and cinnamon stick and bring to the boil.

Lower in the apricots, turn the heat down so that the syrup simmers gently, and leave for 15 minutes or so, till the fruit is soft and tender. Remove from the hot and put aside to cool. Chill in the refrigerator.

Set the oven at 150 C/ gas mark 2. Put the double cream in a large bowl, stir in the condensed milk and then the yogurt. A whisk is useful. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug.

Fill a cook tin with enough water to come halfway up the sides of 4 small heatproof dishes or ramekins that will each hold 200 ml. Place the dishes in the tin, then carefully pour the custard into each one and bake for 15 -1 8 minutes until the custard is starting to set. The middle should be barely defined. Remove from the oven, take the dishes out of the water and chill them in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

Serve the custards with some of the chilled apricots on top, the rest offered in a bowl.

Mango and blackcurrant breakfast bowl

Mango
Mango and blackcurrant breakfast bowl. Photo: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

I have started my day with sheeps or goats yogurt for decades. In summer, it is usually mixed with a classic concoction of seeds, nuts and oats, but also fresh fruit compote and puree. A dazzling start to the day. It is not worth inducing less compote than the amount below, but it will maintain for several days in the fridge.

Serves 2
For the blackcurrant compote
blackcurrants 200 g
caster sugar 2 tbsp
water 4 tbsp

jumbo oats 50 g
medium oatmeal 40 g
flaked almonds 40 g
hazelnuts, shelled 24
pumpkin seeds 20 g
mangoes , small, ripe 2
natural yogurt 250 ml

Pull the blackcurrants from their stems, drop them into a small, stainless steel saucepan, add the sugar and water and bring to the simmer. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 5 or 6 minutes, till the fruit pop and is surrounded by deep purple juice. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Warm a shallow pan over a moderate heat, add the oats and oatmeal, the flaked almonds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds and toast till the oats are tightly golden and the almonds are fragrant. Set aside.

Peel the mangoes then slice the flesh from their stones. Process to a puree employing a blender or food processor.

Spoon the yogurt into a serving bowl. Spoonful in the mango puree, about half blackcurrants and their juice then scatter the oats, nuts and seeds over the surface. Stir briefly then serve.

Email Nigel at nigel.slater @observer. co.uk or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater

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