Deliciously rich, tangy and creamy, labneh is a Middle-Eastern soft cream cheese. Food writer, Malou Herkes, shows you how to make it using two basic ingredients.
What’s labneh anyway?
Popular in the Middle East, labneh is a soft cream cheese, made by straining yoghurt overnight. It’s creamy and slightly tangy, and is delicious eaten with lots of olive oil, a sprinkling of za’atar and hot pitta breads for dunking. Try it as a swap for regular cream cheese, dolloped into baked sweet potatoes or spread into sandwiches. Use it for dunking hot potato latkes or veggie fritters into, or as part of a Middle-Eastern mezze with hummus, smoky baba ganoush and pickles.
The best thing about making it yourself is you can decide how thick you like it. The longer you strain it, the thicker it will be. Around 12 hours will give you a loose labneh, 24 hours will give you something much thicker. On a trip to the Middle East, I found it common practise to roll thick labneh into balls and leave them to marinate in olive oil. Try flavouring the oil with lemon zest and herbs, leave them for a couple of weeks in the fridge and see for yourself: a game-changing appetiser!
What yoghurt do I use?
Recipes often call for Greek yoghurt but you can use any plain yoghurt. Of course, the looser the yoghurt, the longer you may need to strain it but the end result will be the same. It doesn’t need to be limited to cow’s yoghurt either. Sheep’s or goat’s yoghurt work really well too. Or if you’re feeling up to it, make the yoghurt yourself in these 5 simple steps.
Aside from yoghurt and salt, you’ll also need a cheesecloth or muslin. If you have neither of these, a tightly woven tea towel would work just as well.
4 easy steps to homemade labneh
Put 1kg of natural, plain yoghurt into a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of salt.
Line another large bowl with muslin, a double layer of cheesecloth or a clean, tightly woven tea towel. Pour or spoon in the salted yogurt.
Tie up the edges and secure with string or an elastic band, then hang it up to drain either at room temperature or in the fridge – a kitchen tap would be great for this. Wherever you put it, make sure to have a bowl underneath to catch the drips! Alternatively, place the bundle in a sieve and rest it over a deep bowl. Leave it to drain for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours.
Spoon the labneh onto a plate, then use the back of a spoon to smooth it out, allowing for some dips and grooves for your olive oil to pool into. Drizzle over some quality olive oil and serve with a sprinkling of za’atar. Alternatively, top it with fresh mint or oregano leaves, pomegranate seeds, toasted nuts, paprika, chilli flakes, balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon zest… the list is endless!