Middle Eastern stews can be categorized under the base sauce. The most common two sauces are the tomato based sauce and the yogurt based sauce. After I felt I finally perfected the tomato sauce base, I turned my attention to the yogurt sauce-actually my preference. Some of my favorite dishes to eat are those based in a cooked yogurt sauce. The sauce is tangy, garlic infused (at least mine is. Garlic is life), and the perfect compliment to whatever you are serving it with. Some classic combinations are stuffed zucchini, or kibbeh(little bulgur and minced meat croquettes). I also love shish barak, which are like little meat filled crispy dumplings, and I often combine kibbeh and shish barak for the best of both worlds. Of course my tata makes her shish barak and kibbeh from scratch and insists on feeding me shish barak literally every single time I see her, but I cheated and used the frozen ones. I say cheated, but really I also saved like 10 hours of my life.
The laban sauce is a very simple affair. You take yogurt, mix it with water and cornstarch to thicken it. You add an egg for the same reason, and salt for seasoning. For flavor, in goes some minced garlic and coriander that have been sauteed in some olive oil. I sometimes add some laban drink to the mix (buttermilk) to loosen it just a little and for extra tanginess, but this is optional. I like a really sour and tangy yogurt sauce, so I use sour yogurt as my base. (You can find this labeled- I use Al Marai)
Some recipes online call for cornstarch only, some for an egg only, but I make it with both and it turns out beautifully thick and smooth so I haven’t looked back since. The key to a thick and creamy yogurt sauce that doesn’t split is to whisk CONSTANTLY. Don’t stop whisking. Also, the second the sauce comes to a boil, take it off the stove.
Kebbe bil Laban
To make the kebbe and shish barak bil laban pictured above, I’ll make it easy for you. Buy them frozen. Trust me. Maybe one day I’ll make my own homemade shish barak and freeze them, but until then make your lives easier. I found both at Chtaura in Moda Mall. Heat your oven to 200 C (400F), lightly oil a baking sheet and place them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Drizzle with a little extra oil and toss until coated. Cook for 20-30 minutes turning over halfway until golden brown and crisped up. I like mine to remain crispy and not soft like the traditional kebbe bil laban, so I add them to the yogurt sauce at the last minute before serving.
Yogurt sauce based dishes are best served with vermicelli rice, and I think this is a my family only thing, but we love having it with raw green onion on the side. My husband thinks we are weird, but just try it!
Middle Eastern Yogurt Sauce (Laban)
- 1 bunch coriander, finely chopped.
- 6-8 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 kg AL Marai Sour Yogurt or other yogurt of choice
- 1 egg
- 1-2 tablespoon cornstarch, heaped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 100 ml yogurt drink
- toasted pine nuts to garnish
- extra coriander to garnish
- Frozen kebbe/shish barak if using.
Kebbe/ Shish Bark
- To prepare frozen kebbe or shish barak, Heat oven to 200 C (400 F). Lighly oil a baking sheet then place frozen kebbe or shish barak onto the baking sheet, no need to defrost. Drizzle with additional oil and toss to combine. Bake 20-30 minutes until golden brown, turning over halfway through.
- For the Yogurt Sauce:
- Heat a small skillet over medium high heat, and saute the chopped coriander and crushed garlic with a pinch of salt until the garlic has just turned golden. Set aside.
- Mix the amount of cornstarch you will be using (1 heaped tablespoon for a thinner sauce, 2 for a thicker) with just enough cold water to form a paste.
- Using a blender or immersion blender, blend together the yogurt, the egg, the cornstarch paste,and the salt until well combined.
- Pour yogurt mixture into a heavy saucepan over medium heat and immediately start whisking. Keep whisking and don’t stop or the sauce will separate. After around 10 minutes or so, the sauce will begin to boil and as soon as that happens take it off the stove.
- Add the fried garlic and coriander mix, stir and taste for seasoning. Add the yogurt drink if desired and especially if sauce is too thick.
- If using this yogurt sauce for the cooked kebbe and shish barak, add them right before serving so they retain their crunch. Garnish with fresh coriander and toasted pine nuts.
- Serve with vermicelli rice and enjoy!