Labneh, nut, and fruit tart (no-bake, gluten-free!)
This recipe is inspired by similar recipes for labneh cheesecakes in Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian and Falastin by Sami Tamimi. My version is completely gluten-free and requires no baking. Labneh is a yogurt cheese—you can make your own by straining full fat Greek yogurt. You can also purchase labneh from Middle Eastern and Eastern European grocery stores.
I put together tart as a fitting dessert (or even sweet appetizer) for Tu BiShvat, the Jewish "new year of the trees." TuBishvat is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Shvat, as the fruit trees began the process of waking up from winter. Growing up in New England, it always struck me as very strange to celebrate trees and plants in what still felt like the dead of winter. However, Tu BiShvat is deeply connected to the seasonality of Israel and surrounding land. Living in Austin, which is more similar in climate to Israel than Rhode Island is, I can experience these early moments of green and growth. In fact, I just planted my first crop of the season—sorrel! We celebrate Tu BiShvat with a "Seder" (like Passover, but different), where we eat of the Seven species of Israel—wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and date (honey). Unfortunately, being allergic to gluten, I cannot eat barley or wheat. I can, however, partake in the tradition of eating 15 different types of fruits/nuts. My personal tradition is to try a fruit that I have not had before. The tart is made with a date and nut crust that incorporates four different fruits/nuts (dates, olive oil, pistachios, and walnuts). Though I topped it with mandarinquats in syrup, you could use fresh pomegranate seeds, grapes, or figs instead to get in an additional representative of the specials of Israel.
3/4 cup pistachios (raw, unsalted, shelled)
1 cup walnuts (raw, unsalted, shelled)
1 cup medjool dates (pitted, chopped)
1 and 1/2 tbsp olive oil (preferably a flavorful one. I used Palestianian Rumi olive oil from Caanan Fair Trade)
2 and 1/4 cups labneh
1/4 cup thick, raw honey, or evaporated cane juice sugar (optional)
6 mandarinquats, kumquats, meyer lemons, or any other citrus with edible peel (thinly sliced, seeds removed)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange blossom water
Line the bottom of a tart pan with parchment paper and grease with a small amount of olive oil.
Put the pistachios and walnuts in a blender or food processor and chop until they have a grainy consistency.
Put the ground nuts in a bowl with the chopped dates, 1 tbsp olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt. Mix together with your hands until everything is well incorporated. If it is too dry, add more olive oil. You can also coat your fingers in olive oil if you find that the mixture is sticking to you too much.
Press the crust base into the tart pan to the thickness of just under 1/4 inch. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling ingredients.
Use a whisk to mix the labneh with the raw honey or sugar. You can also leave the filling unsweetened, as the topping and crust are sweet. Spread the filling into the crust in the tart pan. Return to the refrigerator to chill for a few hours (at least three).
Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Put the sliced, seeded citrus in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water, orange blossom water, cardamom, and the 3/4 cups sugar. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium high and cook until the peels are soften and the liquid has reduced to a medium-viscosity syrup (it will thicken more as it cools).
Add the topping to the tart before serving.