Fermented Milk Products from All Over the World. Leben and Kishk
Leben is the traditional yogurt found in the Arabic countries, a fermented milk product that is consumed throughout the day. There are practically no rules when it comes to the refreshing Leben, as they enjoy serving it for breakfast, snack, for lunch, dinner, practically anytime they feel like it. It is not a sweet type of food, which explains its versatility, allowing you to serve Leben with almost anything you like. Some like preparing light summer salads with it, by adding cucumber and garlic, while others like it sweet, served with dates, for example. Or, you can always have it with bread, just as simple as this, and enjoy a tasty and light breakfast.
While it may sound exotic, it is not very difficult to prepare Leben at home. You will need one gallon of milk and 8 oz. of regular plain yogurt. Pour the milk into a pot that is sufficiently large and put it on the stove, at medium heat, allowing the milk to warm sufficiently until it forms bubbles and starts to rise. Turn off the heat and let the milk to cool down until it reaches 125°F. Be very careful to respect this temperature, because if the milk cools down too much or it is too hot when introducing the bacteria from the yogurt, your plan of making Leben will fail. Next, take the 8 oz. of yogurt and put some warm milk into it. Mix these two together until you obtain a smooth consistency of the content. Then gently pour the mixed yogurt into the pot containing the warm milk, cover it with a lid, and wrap it in a thick blanket. You can let it sit this way overnight or 8 hours if you’re doing this during the day. The content in the pot should be a creamy solid, with a thin layer of liquid on top. You’ll have to drain this liquid and cover your pot with Leben with a paper or kitchen towel. Serve after cooling it in the fridge with anything you may like.
Kishk or kashk is a dairy product like you’ve never seen before. Present in the menu of very many countries of the Arab world, like Turkey, Afghanistan, Armenia, Lebanon, Mongolia, and others, the kishk is a unique product made out of milk. The truth is that the kishk looks more like a cheese, rather than yogurt, but it is, after all, a type of yogurt, only that it’s a drained one. The preparation method is rather spectacular, as it allows people to consume this product for longer than any other types of yogurt. This is possible due to the fact that the kishk is left to dry out in the open air. Back in the days, kishk was spread over the rooftops of houses in small villages around Lebanon and left to dry, before being collected and turned into a powder. Believe it or not, kishk has been prepared and consumed since the 10th century, not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries as well.
If we are to get into more details concerning the making process of kishk, you need to know that the ingredient that makes the difference is wheat bulgur. This is used to drain the kishk and allow it to dry faster. Any kind of milk can be used when preparing kishk, although, for the one that is found on the market, cow milk is used exclusively, as it gives the product a sweeter taste. Goat milk turns out to be more acidic when fermenting, which makes the kishk likewise, an aspect that is not so much appreciated by everyone. Sheep milk can also be used, if it is available. The product, made out of bulgur and yogurt, is prepared during 3 or 4 days. During these days, when the bulgur is left to soak in yogurt, the future kishk is rubbed between the hands on a daily basis. This is made to ensure that the wheat bulgur, which is rather coarse, absorbed the yogurt well. It is worth mentioning that the yogurt is added gradually, more each day so that the product won’t get too dry. Also, salt is added, so mold will not form during the days of fermentation. Once these 4 days have passed, it is left to ferment for 9 days. What results from this process is the so-called “green” kishk, which can be consumed as it is or stored in glass jars with olive oil.
To continue the kishk making product, the “green” version is spread on a cloth and left to dry on rooftops or other plain surfaces that allows the product to dry. Again, it is rubbed by hand every day, to break it down and accelerate the drying process. Once the kishk is dried completely, it is turned into a fine powder, and used in various dishes, such as salads, soups, and main courses, like kebbeh or cabbage served with kishk.