Labneh is the easiest cheese you’ll ever make. Although called cheese, this Middle Eastern staple occupies the space somewhere between yogurt and cheese in the dairy spectrum.
It is made very simply by straining yogurt in muslin overnight until all the whey water seeps out resulting in the most luscious ‘cheese’—labneh.
Although making labneh at home requires little fuss, it does need some prior planning. I like to make them into little balls, like so, and that needs about 24 hours of draining time. I sometimes also make it more like a spread which would need less, but we’re still talking 12 – 15 hours. Having said that though, I usually make a bigger batch than I immediately need and it helps that it keeps well in the refrigerator for a good amount of time. Not that it ever lasts more than three days in our house, but just saying.
When we have a batch of it in the fridge, it goes on everything: slathered on toast, used as a dip with vegetables or scooped onto shards of crispy pita breads. Used widely in sweet dishes all along the Mediterranean, you can substitute labneh in place of cream cheese in desserts too – it has the same consistency, distinctive tartness, and richness AND is significantly lower in calories. This cheese has super powers.
Fresh figs with a dollop of labneh and a good drizzle of honey makes for the quickest summertime dessert. Labneh cheesecake, mousse, tiramisu (!) or just simply sweetened with sugar and maybe a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon, the choices are endless.
In a similar vein, the versatility of topping options are unlimited too – fresh herbs, za’atar, a combination of the two, follow your own adventure!
- 500 grams full-fat plain yogurt
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Dried red chilli flakes
- Dried mint
- extra virgin olive oil
- Muslin or cheesecloth
- A heavy object to weigh down the yogurt (I use a mortar, but even a can of beans should suffice)
- Line a colander with muslin or cheesecloth. Set the colander over a bowl, one deep enough to not let the strained whey water touch the bottom of the colander.
- Stir salt into the yogurt and pour into the muslin. Hold the ends of the cloth together and weigh it down with a mortar or any heavy object of your choice. Leave in the fridge for 12-24 hours depending on how thick you want the labneh to be. I usually leave it for 24 hours to get the consistency of cream cheese.
- Once thick enough, remove the strained labneh from the muslin and roll them into balls. I like to do them about the size of ping pong balls, but it doesn’t really matter what size they are; just do them as you like.
- Mix together equal quantities of sumac, chilli flakes, and dried mint on a plate and roll the balls gently in the spice mix. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Move the weight around every 6 hours or so, so as to get the maximum whey water out of the yogurt.
- If you want to use the labneh as a spread, 12 hours of straining is ideal.
- These labneh balls stay good refrigerated for up to 3-4 days. It’s common to find them submerged in olive oil and stored for up to 15 days or more.
- My 500 grams of yogurt made about 250 grams of labneh, but those quantities might vary slightly based on the yogurt used.
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