Labna, crème fraiche, mascarpone, buttermilk and sour cream are dairy delights that have become synonymous with enticing eats.

Labna is a Middle Eastern staple — a ‘cheese’ prepared from salted yoghurt. It is easily prepared at home and is a fave of mine to offer with nibbles. It can be marinated and spread on crusty bread; or if left plain, spread on breakfast toast and drizzled with honey and hazelnuts; added to crisp salads; served on sautéed greens; and it makes an interesting addition to soups.

Buttermilk — which is a little like a thin yoghurt — is made commercially by adding special bacteria to non-fat or low-fat milk, giving it a slightly thickened texture and a tangy flavour. Some people enjoy it in smoothies. It is also adds lightness to muffins, scones and fruit loaves. Just ensure a little baking soda is incorporated in the recipe. However, a substitute buttermilk can be made at home. Place one tablespoon of lemon juice in a measuring cup and top up with milk to the 250ml level. Stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes. The milk should look curdled. 

Instant sour cream can be prepared using a similar method. Place one cup of cream in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Whisk vigorously. Stand for 15 minutes then store in the fridge for up to two days.


500g plain Greek-style yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
Marinade: 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped mixed herbs eg chives, thyme, parsley, French tarragon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Line a large sieve or colander with damp muslin or cheesecloth. Place over a bowl deep enough that the sieve will not touch the whey that drips from the yoghurt.

Combine the yoghurt and salt and pour in to the lined sieve. Refrigerate for 24 hours. The yoghurt will be quite firm. This can be stored in the fridge at this stage for up to 10 days and used as is. Or it may be marinated.

Take tablespoons of the labna and roll into balls. Place in a jar or bowl and add the combined marinade ingredients. Marinate for 8 hours before using.

Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Great spread on crusty bread. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.



2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
250g spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
2 cups frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup mascarpone

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sauté the onion, until softened but not browned. Add the veggies, garlic and stock. Season. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender.

Purée, either with a handheld blender or in a food processor. Stir in the mascarpone and carefully reheat. Great garnished with extra mascarpone. Serves 4.


Buttermilk tenderises chicken and adds a tang.   

 8 large chicken drumsticks
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon each: crushed garlic, dried thyme, oregano, ground cumin
pinch chilli powder
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken in a plastic bag and add the buttermilk paprika, garlic, thyme, oregano, cumin and chilli powder. Move it around so the chicken is well coated. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Lightly oil a large baking pan.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, shaking off any excess. Dip one drumstick at a time into the breadcrumbs ensuring it is well coated. Place in the roasting pan leaving plenty of space between each drumstick. 

Bake for about 50 minutes, turning each piece over carefully halfway through cooking. Serves 4.


Crème fraiche may be lightly whipped. Add to savoury or sweet sauces; combine with chopped fresh herbs as a dip; add chilli and/or coriander as a topping for tacos or curries; serve on hot vegetables, fish, cold fruit salads, cakes, apple pies; and add to cheesecakes.

2 cups cream
2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk

Combine the cream and buttermilk in a glass bowl. Cover and stand for 12 hours at (a cool) room temperature.

Store in an airtight, non-metallic container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 cups.


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