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Asparagus with labneh, brown butter and burnt lemon

Side Spring
Serves 4
Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
Hanging overnight
Featured in
OTK Extra Good Things cookbook

It’s no secret that asparagus enjoys a good soak in the old brown-butter (bubble) bath, which we’ve generously accommodated for. There are so many textures going on here, from tender asparagus to creamy labneh and hints of burnt lemon. The burnt lemon is a clever way to use up excess lemon peel by roasting it on a high heat until nicely charred. The result: a fragrant, bitter and intense condiment to sprinkle on to both sweet and savoury dishes. Plan ahead by making the labneh the night before or, alternatively, use store-bought labneh or some thick-set Greek yoghurt


900g thick-stemmed asparagus (2–3 bunches), woody ends trimmed (450g)
3 tbsp olive oil
70g unsalted butter
2 sprigs of thyme, plus 1 tsp picked leaves
1 tsp light soft brown sugar
salt and black pepper
650g Greek-style yoghurt
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2 unwaxed lemons


  1. Make the labneh by putting the yoghurt and ½ teaspoon of salt into a bowl and mixing well to combine. Line a medium sieve with a piece of cheesecloth or a clean tea towel, with plenty of cloth hanging over the sides. Add the yoghurt, using the overhanging cloth to completely encase it, then set the sieve over a clean bowl and place a weight on top (a couple of tins will do). Refrigerate overnight. When the labneh is ready, discard the liquid collected and transfer the labneh to a clean bowl. You’ll make about 300g of labneh. Stir in the garlic and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
  3. Make the burnt lemon. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the lemons into long strips – don’t worry if you get some of the pith. You want 30g in total. Set aside a couple of strips and put the remainder on a small baking parchment-lined baking tray. Bake for 9–12 minutes, until completely dry and mostly blackened (they’ll shrivel up significantly). Finely grind with a pestle and mortar, then pass through a sieve, to catch any large pieces (discard these). Set the burnt lemon powder aside. Scrape away any pith from the reserved strips, and very finely julienne them. Set aside.
  4. Reset the oven to a high grill setting. Put the asparagus, oil, ¾ teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper on a large baking tray lined with foil, give everything a good mix, then arrange the spears so they’re not overlapping. Grill on the highest shelf for 8–10 minutes, until tender and nicely browned. Ovens can vary, so check at the 6-minute mark.
  5. Meanwhile, make the browned butter by first putting the butter into a small saucepan and placing it on a medium-high heat. Once melted, continue to cook for a further 3–4 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally, until nicely browned and smelling nutty. Add the thyme sprigs (careful, the fat will spit!), then stir in the brown sugar, ¾ teaspoon of the burnt lemon powder and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool down slightly, about 5 minutes.
  6. While the butter is cooling, segment one of the peeled lemons. Use a small sharp knife to trim away any excess pith, then cut between the membranes to release the segments and roughly chop each into 3–4 pieces. Juice the remaining lemon to give you 4 teaspoons of juice. Add the juice and all the segments to the browned butter mixture.
  7. Spread the labneh out on a platter or plate, and top with the asparagus, so that the spears are all facing in the same direction. Pour over the browned butter, then scatter over the picked thyme. Lastly, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the burnt lemon powder and the lemon strips.