14 September 2015
Simple herbed labneh: Middle Eastern yogurt cheese
If you like to use yogurt for all kinds of different sweet and savory uses -- curries, marinades, soup garnishes, and smoothies are my usual suspects -- you likely have a big tub of plain, unadulterated yogurt in your refrigerator. Well, now you can add one more use to that list: labneh.
Labneh is a very simple concoction: yogurt drained well and transformed into a spreadable cheese. It's very similar to Greek yogurt, depending on how long you let it drain. While labneh is occasionally stocked in Middle Eastern specialty markets, it's frequently easier -- as well as more versatile -- to just buy ordinary yogurt and make it yourself. If you happen to make your own yogurt to begin with, that's even better.
Labneh adds a delightful tang and a thick, creamy texture to any number of dishes while simultaneously removing the need for a separate container of Greek yogurt. What's not to love?
What can you do with labneh? I tend to go very simple and eat it spread on bread or crackers, but you can apply it nearly anywhere you'd normally use either Greek yogurt or sour cream. Mix labneh with mashed avocado to make a super-rich and delicious dip. Spread some in a burrito along with a generous helping of salsa. Garnish a bowl of spicy dal. Use it to make tzatziki and eat it with juicy meatballs or lentil kibbeh. Serve it with a platter of hummus and vegetables, add a drizzle of olive oil and some pita bread, and go to town.
The main piece of equipment you'll need to make labneh is a fine strainer. I use a very fine-mesh nylon strainer set over a measuring cup to make my labneh. You can also use a slightly more open-mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Aim for something that will allow liquids, but not solids, to escape.
full-fat plain yogurt
a fine-mesh strainer
a bowl or cup to set your strainer over
Set your strainer over your draining vessel, making sure that there's a good inch or two of space between their two bottoms. Fill the strainer with yogurt.
Leave your yogurt in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 12 hours. 24 hours is an ideal draining time. As the yogurt drains, it will reduce in volume by approximately 1/3 to 1/2.
Remove your finished labneh to a container of your choice. Store in the refrigerator until needed. Use your accumulated whey to make bread.
1 cup finished labneh
green herbs of your choice
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper
Mix your finished labneh with as much chopped herbs as you like. I used dill and parsley for this rendition; pretty much any green herb you like should work well. Smash and finely mince a clove of garlic and add it to the mix. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir together.
If you like, you can make your labneh into balls. Pick up spoonfuls of labneh, drop them into a bowl of chopped herbs, and gently roll to coat in the herbs. I tend not to bother with this, because I'm just going to spread my finished labneh anyway.
Leave your herbed labneh in the refrigerator for at least a couple hours before serving, to give the flavors a chance to develop.
I ate my labneh on toast with a handful of pickled peppers, and threw some dilly beans on the side for extra pickle action.
Have you ever strained yogurt at home? What's your favorite way to use it?