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Food & Wine

Cheesecake lightens up with lemon and spice



Base cheesecake around the tangy flavor of Middle Eastern yogurt this year. Photo Courtesy of Blanche Shaheen

When it comes to entertaining people unfamiliar with Middle Eastern food, I love combining eastern and western influences, allowing the uninitiated to try a new dish that is somewhat familiar at the same time.

Enter my Lemon Labneh Cheesecake with Almond Ginger Crust – yes, that is a mouthful, both literally and figuratively.

Labneh is an Arabic breakfast staple, a kefir cheese that is a cross between cream cheese and Greek yogurt. It is traditionally served with olive oil and pita bread for breakfast, but there are many other uses for the versatile dip. Labneh boasts the healthful addition of probiotics and is less processed than traditional cream cheese – meaning no carrageenan or other questionable fillers.

I created the recipe when I was expecting company and had labneh and almond meal in the refrigerator. Labneh surprises the taste buds with a tart, tangy flavor, so I thought, Why not make a cheesecake with it?

I knew I had little time to make a pie or tart crust, so the almond meal came in handy as well, adding a nutty flavor and satisfying crunch to the dessert. I added ginger snaps to the crust for some extra spice, but if you want a gluten-free dessert, omit them and instead add another 1/2 cup of almond meal and 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger.

The coconut sugar I use for this recipe is another staple in my house because it’s less processed, contains more magnesium and iron than traditional sugar and boasts a lower glycemic index than sugar. The bonus? Coconut sugar has the comforting aroma of toasted graham cracker crumbs, offering more complexity to the flavor of the crust. The coconut sugar also gives the cheesecake a golden color, reminiscent of crème brûlée. Substitute regular sugar for the coconut sugar if you wish.

You can find labneh at any Middle Eastern market, as well as major grocers like Whole Foods and Nob Hill Foods. Coconut sugar is increasingly available at large retailers, including Costco.

My Lemon Labneh Cheesecake with Ginger Almond Crust is much lighter in texture, butter and sugar than traditional cheesecake, but the result is just as satisfying.

Lemon Labneh Cheesecake with Ginger Almond Crust

• 1 1/2 cups almond meal

• 10 ginger snaps (or 1/2 teaspoon ginger)

• 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup coconut sugar (can use regular sugar)

• 1/2 stick butter, melted

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

• 2 cups labneh (kefir cheese)

• 3 eggs

• Juice of half a lemon

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

• 1 cup strawberries, sliced, or raspberries

• 1/2 cup seedless raspberry or strawberry jelly

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine ginger snaps, almond meal, 1/3 cup coconut sugar and cinnamon in food processor until consistency is of fine crumbs. Transfer mixture into bowl and add melted butter. Combine, then press into bottom of Springform or cake pan (be sure to butter edges of pan to prevent cake from sticking). Set aside.

Beat eggs on high until frothy. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/2 cup coconut sugar and mix on low until smooth. Add labneh and fold in by hand until fully incorporated. A few lumps are OK.

Pour cheese mixture into crust, then place tart on cookie sheet in oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and cheese is set. Let cool.

In small saucepan, melt jelly. Drizzle over finished cheesecake and add fresh berries.

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