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Cheesy synchronicity

bridge-elizabeth-52x60.jpg

By Elizabeth Bridge, CBC Digital Archives

I had a "plate o' shrimp" moment recently. (For the uninitiated, this is a reference from the 1984 movie Repo Man. Without going into too much detail, "plate o' shrimp" means a moment of synchronicity, or a freaky coincidence.)

I was on a short vacation with a day in Montreal (and, of course, I stopped on St. Viateur for a bagel fix). My husband has family there, and we took some time to visit with his aunt, a woman I had met only once before.

Among the snacks she offered was a tasty white spread, strewn with black olives and served with veggies and pita for dipping. Intrigued by the flavour, I asked her what it was. A Middle Eastern cheese, she said, mixed with a spice blend that she spelled out for me: za'atar. The cheese, she said, came from a local shop, but when she lived in a remote part of Quebec she'd make her own by straining plain yogurt. Then she pronounced the name, which to my ears — perhaps because of her francophone accent — sounded something like l'abanaye. I pledged to find it as soon as I could.

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Plain yogurt is the first step in making a tasty Middle Eastern dip.
(Skip Peterson/Associated Press)

Here's the plate o' shrimp part. Later that day, in the airport on the way home, I bought the New Yorker to read on the plane. As I paged through it, my eye fell on a review of a restaurant where "the jalapenos and the harissas and the labnehs and the lasagnas get along fine." Labneh! I suppose I would have hit on the correct spelling on my own eventually. But with this happy coincidence I was able to do a quick Google search to find the method for making labneh, and it can't be easier.

All you do is mix two cups of plain yogurt (the full-fat kind, please) with a dash of salt. Pour into several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter set in a strainer, and place over a bowl to catch the protein-rich liquid, or whey. Put the works in the fridge, and after a day or two you'll have labneh.

But that's only half the equation. Get your hands on some za'atar – a mixture of dried thyme, oregano and marjoram, plus salt, sesame seeds and sometimes sumac. (I found the blend at my local spice dealer.) Mix a teaspoon or more with the labneh, stir in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss a few black olives on top. Serve with pita triangles and crudites. After years of enjoying baba ghanoush and hummus, I can't believe it took me this long to hear about labneh and za'atar.

Have you ever had a food-related moment of synchronicity?

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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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