Labneh

What can’t one do with labneh, the soft, creamy, yogurty cheese of the Middle East? Some things you can definitely do: Dip your veggies in it. Spread it on bread. Use it as a “dressing” on a salad of spinach, red onion, and tapenade. Dunk your over-easy eggs in it. Here’s how to make labneh the easy way.

You won’t believe how easy this is:

  • Plain low-fat yogurt without stabilizers
  • 1 tsp salt per 10-12 ounces of yogurt

Yes… that’s really it. However much yogurt you use, you’ll get 60-70% of that quantity in labneh. I used around 12 ounces of yogurt, and got 8 ounces of labneh. You can do this in larger batches, but it’s probably best to start small on your first try. You can also use Greek yogurt or goat’s milk yogurt, but plain cow’s milk yogurt will give you the cleanest, least tangy (but still characteristically sharp) flavor.

Grab a strainer and place it on top of a bowl. Line the strainer with one paper towel (two if you’re doing a very large quantity). Mix the salt into your yogurt, and spoon the yogurt onto the paper towel. If you can, fold the ends of the paper towel up so that the yogurt is covered a bit. You can also place another paper towel, loosely, on top of the bowl.

Put this in the fridge for 18-24 hours. You will notice that the whey from the yogurt will drip down into the bowl: if the bowl fills up too much and the liquid touches the bottom of the strainer, empty the bowl and put it back in the fridge. Once you’re ready to jar or use the labneh, spoon it into a container or bowl and stir it gently to incorporate any rogue salt. I sometimes top mine with za’atar and olive oil before serving.

The longer you leave the labneh, the harder it will set. If you’d like to serve labneh balls instead of a labneh dip or spread, change the paper towel you’ve used to hold the labneh every 2-3 hours (after its first few hours in the fridge, the yogurt should “flop” easily from one towel to another–just use your hands to flip one towel over onto the next). In the above recipe, the time the labneh spends sitting on the saturated paper towel is what keeps it soft like a spread, instead of thicker like a goat cheese. You can roll the harder-set labneh into balls with your hands, roll them in spices to coat their outsides, and keep them in a jar with olive oil. They can be served with a butter knife, like soft cheeses.

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