If I was still living somewhere in the Middle East, I would not be making the deliciously creamy, and slightly tangy, labneh at home, however making the yogurt ‘cheese spread’ turned out to be easy and tasted even better than any store-bought labneh. What is labneh? It’s basically strained Greek yogurt - so you know that it’s going to be better for you than regular cream cheese! Also, if you’re lactose intolerant, and are craving cream cheese, labneh would be an excellent alternative to cream cheese because of its gut-friendly probiotic yogurt base.
In the Middle East, labneh is served primarily for breakfast, and in its simplest form, it’s served with a generous drizzle of heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and a side of cucumbers and olives, and the best way to eat it is by scooping it up with some warm ‘khobuz’ Arabic bread. Of course, if you’re in brunch, or mezze, mode, then labneh gets jazzed up with all sorts of other equally delicious garnishes and sides. It’s common to eat labneh with chopped tomatoes, mint, shatta, (red chili sauce) zaatar (a blend of aromatic spices, oregano leaves and sesame seeds) and is always topped with plenty of extra virgin olive oil.
The recipe for this labneh uses a Greek style yoghurt, so the finished labneh is mild in taste, especially when compared to a labneh made out of a good quality goat yogurt (think goat cheese) and though both are equally satisfying, the tanginess of a labneh made from goat milk yogurt, is amplified! Whether you choose to make labneh from cow milk, or goat milk, the technique is the same, so choose the yoghurt you like the most, or begin your cheese and Middle Eastern labneh making journey, with cow milk yogurt.
Prep Level: Easy
Yields: A 32 oz (907g) container of yogurt will make about 1 cup of labneh.
32 oz Greek Yogurt (I’m partial to Trader Joes European Style Plain Whole Milk Organic)
1 teaspoon salt, heaping
Medium large mesh strainer
Cheese cloth or big cotton kitchen napkin/towel (preferably unbleached)
Start in the morning because it takes about 24 hours for the yogurt to release its whey and become creamy labneh. Put, and stir, the salt in the yogurt (right in the container). Place the mesh strainer over the bowl. Line the mesh strainer with your cheese cloth, or napkin, leaving the edges to overhang the strainer. Pour the yogurt on the cheese cloth and envelope/cover the yogurt with it. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Take out the bowl and throw the whey (the yogurt’s liquid) sitting at the bottom. Bundle up the cheese cloth and twist slightly and squeeze over the sink or your strainer/bowl to let out more of the whey. Make sure the yogurt is covered with the cheese cloth and chill again. On the same day, repeat the process after a couple of hours. The labneh should be ready to eat the next morning but give the cheese cloth/yogurt a final squeeze if it still has whey/liquid left. Use a rubber spatula to scrape as much of the labneh spread as you can in your serving dish. The final consistency should be creamier, and less firm, than a cream cheese. Drizzle with EVOO and eat or add some of the garnishes I mentioned! If you’re not eating it right away, the labneh will keep well for several days chilled in the fridge in a covered container just level the labneh and add a thin film of olive oil which will help conserve it. Enjoy!