I first had labneh at a Lebanese restaurant in Tampa, Florida, and I became instantly enthralled. It had the tang of yoghurt and the richness of cream cheese, and it caused me to put away pita in a way hummus never could. I then spent many years purchasing it in fancy grocery stores before I realised I could make my own.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Actually, "make" feels like a strong word, as transforming plain yoghurt into this creamy, pleasantly sharp and spreadable cheese requires little more than stirring and waiting. Just grab some Greek yogurt, sprinkle in some salt, stir, strain, and let it hang out and drain in the fridge. It's barely a recipe, and all you'll need is the following:
- A tub of full-fat Greek yogurt (I've heard you can use low- and non-fat, but I wouldn't do that to myself or you.)
- Salt (Some people measure, but I just aim for a "healthy pinch". For 450g of yogurt, I used the amount of Kosher salt pictured below.)
Line a sieve of some sort with a few layers of cheesecloth, stir the salt into your yoghurt, and scoop it into the sieve.
Fold the excess cheesecloth over the yoghurt, place it in the fridge, and let it strain for 24 hours.
After the sun has set and risen, and a full day's-worth of hours have elapsed, transfer your now somewhat-stiff, but still spreadable cheese to a bowl and give it a good drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of za'atar. Scoop it into your mouth with pita.
You could eat labneh in only this fashion for the rest of your life and be very happy, but it's a surprisingly versatile spread that can be used in many interesting and delicious ways. Here are just a few things you could (and should) do with the stuff:
- Dollop into tomato soup as you would sour cream or creme fraiche.
- Use it as a base for a super bomb onion dip.
- Top it with fresh fruit and drizzle on a balsamic reduction.
- Use it literally any way you would use sour cream.
- Chop up vegetables and Kalamata olives and stir 'em in for a very Mediterranean sandwich spread.
- Use it as you would mayo in chicken salad.
- Spread it on your morning bagel.
Basically, if you think a food thing would benefit from a creamy, tangy, dreamy spread, reach for the labneh.