Whey Braised Celery + Labneh

Cutting straight to the chase, this recipe came about for a number of reasons:

1. I buy a bunch of celery, use a few stalks, and end up with a semi-forgotten heart in the fridge, often abandoned to the point of serious wilt.  Same boat?  Excellent.  Keep reading.

2. I can binge watch food shows like it’s my job (if only it were...).  And sometimes techniques, such as whey-braising on Masterchef Australia, about 2 seasons ago, sit in the back of my mind until they get tried and tested.  Maybe you don't have quite such peculiar urges, but bare with me.

3. I recently tasted homemade labneh, for the first time (heaven knows why I waited so long), devoured an entire tupperware-ful before asking for the recipe from my Lebanese friend (yes learning from an authentic human being beats all online how-tos).  And what’s the by-product of labneh-making?

I think you can see where this is going.

So I'm making my labneh and saving my whey, in the good old fashioned No Waste whey (couldn't resist).  On a slightly different note, I recently tasted the most phenomenal whey caramel by Chef James Lowe of Lyles, London.  Rest assured, recipe testing, already underway.  Stay tuned...).

Whey Braised Celery + Labneh
nibs etc. original recipe. Serves 1-2.

1/2 cup Plain Yoghurt
Sieve + Bowl

1 bunch Celery Stalks
1 bunch Celery Leaves – removed from stalks prior to cooking
1/4 cup whey
1/4 cup water
Salt + Pepper
1 tbsp / 12-14g Butter
2 eggs
2 tbsp Labneh
1 tbsp Pine Nuts
1 ‘knife-point’ Paprika
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the labneh + whey: place a strainer over a bowl, line it with a cheesecloth/paper-towel.  Pour yoghurt into the lined strainer, fold paper-towel over the yoghurt so it is entirely covered and you have ensured that no yoghurt can seep out the seams.  Then place a moderately heavy object (plate/bowl/butternut squash/half a pomelo), on top of the yoghurt parcel, and let stand for 2 hours minimum – or overnight – in the fridge.  (And if your contraption doesn’t fit, which, trust me, it might not, leaving in a cold kitchen works too).
When ready to use, tip the contents of the sieve into a glass jar/fridge-proof container, smooth out the top, drizzle with a healthy glug of olive oil, and leave in the fridge until needed.  DON’T TOSS THE WHEY.  We’re getting to that next.
Remove the celery leaves from your stalks, wash, dry, rough chop and set aside.  Grab your celery bunch/heart, slice off the butt, cut stalks in half, placing them concave-side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, (note. if celery fits in your pan in its entirety, simply slice in half, lengthways, and serve as such - makes for a more elegant presentation).
Pour your whey (about ½ cup) over the celery into the pan.  Pour the equivalent (in this case, 1/2) in water, into the pan, and top with 2 small knobs butter.
Turn the heat on high and bring the liquid to a boil.  Once reached, cover, turn the heat down low, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes/until the liquid has more or less entirely disappeared.
Depending on how you want your eggs – fried, soft boiled, poached – start your egg making process about half way through your celery cooking time.  This evening, mine were poached.
Meanwhile, toast your pine nuts with the smoked paprika and a sprinkle of salt.
Once celery is ready, slide neatly onto a plate.  Top with a handful of chopped celery leaves, your (poached) eggs, a dollop of labneh on each, cracked pepper, pine nuts, additional celery leaves for garnish, and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil for flare.

As a brunch dish, appetizer, lunch or light dinner.
Substituting celery for cabbage, carrots, (and any other semi-abandoned veg-heart).
Top with hollandaise/béarnaise instead of labneh.
Toast any nuts and or seeds of your choice for extra crunch.