When Shahir Massoud was growing up in Toronto, summer gatherings inevitably included potato salads, made by his mother and the other women in the family and community. The traditional Egyptian dishes included the classic lentils and a lemony dressing.
As a child, he loved the combination. But now, as a 37-year-old trained restaurant chef, he looks back and thinks: Couldn’t it have been better? The potatoes were nondescript, and the green lentils were “cooked to oblivion.” The latter was the biggest problem, as he remembers, because it made for a lack of textural variation, which is so important to the way he cooks now.
In his first cookbook, “Eat, Habibi, Eat!,” Massoud revisits the foods of his childhood, especially the celebration dishes made by his mother, who owned a pharmacy and would undoubtedly refer to him as “habibi,” or “my darling” in Arabic.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t I take all these influences and my restaurant training and put some spins on those dishes, but still honor the traditions?'” he said in a phone interview from Toronto, where he lives with his wife and two young children. “They still had to taste like the version they were inspired by, but they could be more interesting.”
When it comes to that potato salad, for instance, Massoud switches to black lentils and buttery fingerlings, cooking them carefully to keep their textures intact. He dresses the potatoes while they’re warm so the dressing soaks in, adding flavor to every bite, and he adds dollops of another traditional Egyptian ingredient: labneh – salted and strained yogurt. (But not just any labneh. For his, he first makes a garlic confit, whisking some of the sweet cloves into the yogurt after it has thickened.)
“It honors that original potato salad,” he said, “but transforms it into something more exciting.”
I served Massoud’s recipe at a casual potluck get-together of work colleagues, all of us excited to see one another after way too many Zoom meetings.
I was the only one who brought something savory, and even though I had tasted the salad and knew how delicious it was, for a brief moment I wondered whether it could compete on a table of shortbread, cookies, Thai iced tea and a galette. It was all I could do to not shout, “Eat, friends, eat!”
I needn’t have worried.
Fingerling Potato Salad With Black Lentils and Labneh
Active time: 20 minutes; Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus overnight straining time
Makes: 6 servings
This Egyptian-style potato salad gets its punch from tangy, garlicky labneh. Make sure to toss the fingerling potatoes with their dressing while they’re still warm; that helps them absorb it. If you’d like, substitute small new potatoes and use store-bought labneh or Greek yogurt. You’ll be left with more confit garlic and garlic-infused oil than you need for this dish. Add the garlic to mashed potatoes or blend it into dressings, and use the oil to drizzle on roasted vegetables or to make a vinaigrette.
Make Ahead: The labneh needs to drain overnight.
Storage Notes: The salad can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Freezing is not recommended. The garlic confit can be refrigerated for up to 1 week and frozen for up to 3 months. Make sure the cloves are submerged in the oil by at least 1 inch. Use a clean spoon to scoop the cloves out. The garlic oil can be refrigerated for up to 7 days. The labneh can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, as can the cooked potatoes and lentils. Rewarm the potatoes and lentils in the microwave or the oven before dressing and assembling.
FOR THE LABNEH
- 3 cups plain yogurt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
FOR THE GARLIC CONFIT
- 15 cloves garlic
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
FOR THE POTATO SALAD
- 1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes (may substitute small new potatoes), scrubbed
- 1/4 cup black lentils
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/3 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Make the labneh: In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and salt. Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, place on top of another bowl and scoop the salted yogurt into the lined strainer. Cover with a plate, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Make the garlic confit: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 250 degrees. In an ovenproof skillet, combine the garlic with the olive oil, adding more oil if needed to barely cover the garlic and bake until the garlic is very soft, about 1 hour. Transfer the garlic and the oil to a clean jar with a lid and refrigerate until needed.
- When the labneh has drained and thickened, in a small bowl mash 6 cloves of the garlic confit. Transfer the labneh to the bowl and whisk to combine. You should have about 1 cup. (Save the thin whey for another use, such as adding to smoothies, soups and stews, soaking grains and nuts, or using instead of water in bread baking.)
- Make the potato salad: In a large pot over high heat, combine the potatoes and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the lentils. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the lentils are tender but with a slight al-dente bite, 20 to 25 minutes, then drain and let cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the parsley, onion, 3 tablespoons of garlic oil, lemon, cumin, chili powder, 1 clove of garlic confit and salt. While the potatoes are still warm, cut them lengthwise or slice into coins. Transfer the potatoes and lentils to the bowl with the dressing, and gently fold until thoroughly coated.
- Transfer to a serving platter, and top with dollops of the garlic labneh (about 1 cup) along with a few cloves of garlic confit, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition | Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.
Adapted from “Eat, Habibi, Eat” by Shahir Massoud (Appetite, 2021).