I first had labneh at a Lebanese restaurant in Tampa, Fla., and I became instantly enthralled. It had the tang of yogurt 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 realized I could make my own.
Actually, “make” feels like a strong word, as transforming plain yogurt into this creamy, pleasantly sharp and spreadable cheese requires little more than stirring and waiting. It’s traditionally made with goat’s milk yogurt, but you can make it with full-fat cow’s milk yogurt if you can’t find goat dairy in your area. I like to use Greek yogurt, as it’s already strained—labneh is extra strained, so starting with a thicker yogurt can cut down on the wait time.
Once you have your yogurt sorted, you’ll sprinkle in some salt (to help draw out the water), stir, strain, and let it hang out and drain in the fridge.
Easy Homemade Labneh
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- 1 16-ounce 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.)
- 1 heaping 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Line a sieve of some sort with a few layers of cheesecloth, stir the salt into your yogurt, and scoop it into the sieve.
Fold the excess cheesecloth over the yogurt, 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. (Labneh will keep in the fridge in an air-tight container for two weeks.)
You could eat labneh in only this fashion for the rest of your life and be happy, but it’s a surprisingly versatile spread. 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, tuna, or potato 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.