Lovely Lentils & Homemade Labneh

So, we are a week into the new diet ‘Healthy Eating Plan’ following the Christmas and New Year binge and things are going well.  To keep myself focused, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen, rather than taking part in the usual daily snack-athon.

This week, I’ve made a healthy Middle Eastern dish called Lebneh, which is a soft cheese made from yoghurt. I made mine with some of the fat-free natural pro-biotic yoghurt sitting in my fridge. Much too sour (for my taste) to eat on its own.  However, straining it (which removes the whey) turns into a lovely and much more indulgent cream cheese, which can then be used as a dip (for crudites or wholemeal pitta) or can be used as a topping (see second recipe below.)

To make it, mix 500g natural yoghurt with one teaspoon of salt. Place the yoghurt over a paper towel or cloth in a sieve over a bowl. Leave in the fridge overnight, loosely covered with a lid or clingfilm. Some recipes suggest forming a tight bundle with the cloth and tying it with string.

The next day, the liquid should have separated from the cheese into the bowl.  Remove the cheese from the sieve, discard the liquid and place in a clean bowl. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil if you like and flavour with nuts, herbs or spices. I used lemon olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. Chopped cucumber, pistachios, pine nuts all work well too.

Next, I turned my hand to lentils and made a Butternut, Lentil and Chickpea Stew (which we had with brown rice). This was a really hearty meal, so much so, that I didn’t miss the meat at all.  It actually made me think about eating less meat, and in doing so, I stumbled across a few campaigns suggesting that if we ate less meat, even just one day per week, we would be helping the climate, saving money, reducing environmental impact and be healthier – all in one easy go!

I’m sure there are plenty of authentic recipes for chickpea curries or for Dhal which you could try, but here is what I threw together in my pressure cooker (times for stove top are included too).

Butternut, Lentil & Chickpea Stew


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion (white or red, finely chopped)

2 cm piece fresh ginger (minced)

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

300 g red lentils (dry, uncooked)

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds or powder

1 tsp ground tumeric

1 tsp garam masala

1 butternut squash (peeled, de-seeded, cubed)

2 carrots (grated)

1 tin tomatoes

600 ml vegetable stock

Optional (add ten minutes before the end)

1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1 can green lentils (drained and rinsed)

1 bag fresh spinach (washed)


Prepare the onion, carrots and butternut squash as above.  Mince the ginger, finely chop the garlic.

Add one tablespoon olive oil to a large pan. Gently fry the onion for a few minutes then add the ginger and garlic to the pan. Coat well with the olive oil, make sure the heat is not too hot.

Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds or powder, tumeric and garam masala to the pan. Mix well.

Add the butternut squash and grated carrot and stir around.

Add a coupe of handfuls of red lentils, stir again and pour in the tinned tomatoes and vegetable stock over the top. All of the ingredients should be covered, if not, add some water.

Cover and simmer for around 45 minutes (15 minutes in a pressure cooker)

The butternut squash should be really soft, almost blending into the liquid.  The lentils should be cooked through.

Next, add in your tin of chickpeas and any other tinned lentils/beans you like.  Cook for another ten minutes.

Finally, add the spinach and mix into the stew until wilted.

Check the seasoning and serve.

For more information on being ‘meat free’ and for some lovely recipes ideas, see Meat Free Monday (Paul McCartney’s campaign) or Meat Free Mondays another site dedicated to helping us have at least one day a week totally free of meat.

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