About a year ago now – I was heavily pregnant at the time – we woke up one Sunday and decided that the ONLY thing in the world that we wanted was labneh on toast for breakfast. Pretty simple, right? Not so, as it turned out. We spent most of the morning scouring every supermarket, deli, and health food store for labneh and we were on the cusp of heading right across town to the New Farm Deli (by this time, keep in mind, we were STARVING).
We did eventually find, and devour, some labneh that morning (and many mornings since) but of course the real lesson learned was that if one wants labneh on-demand, you best learn how to make it yourself!
If you’ve never had labneh before, then you’re in for a real treat. Labneh is a Middle Eastern dish made from yoghurt strained of the liquid whey until it is the consistency of cream cheese. It is impossibly creamy, and retains the lovely tang of yoghurt. It is also healthier than most cheeses and much more versatile. Have I convinced you to make a batch yet?!
Labneh, as it turns out, is surprisingly easy to make. Which is a good thing, as we eat a fair amount of labneh in this house. It does take a couple of days so you can’t whip it up on a whim, but if you have yoghurt, salt, and some foresight on Friday afternoon, by Saturday afternoon you’ll have delicious homemade labneh. You can then marinate it in herbs and oil overnight and by Sunday morning – breakfast!
In much of the Middle East, labneh is served drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with za’atar and eaten with pita bread. You can also stir a few generous spoons of harissa through your labneh just before serving to give it a kick. One of my favourite ways to eat labneh is one of the most simple – spread thickly on a slice of sourdough and sprinkled with spices and fresh herbs. Some of our other favourite labneh combos you can see in the photos below – spread on toast with with chargrilled asparagus, a soft boiled egg, sea salt & cracked pepper; with slices of fresh fig, sprinkled with rosemary, and drizzled with honey. The possibilities are endless!
The recipe here is for straight up labneh, but you can also add any variation of spices – simply stir the spices into the yoghurt along with the salt, and then proceed with the rest of the recipe. Some great spice combinations are fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and finely grated lemon rind, or caraway seeds, fresh thyme, and cracked black pepper. Play around until you find a spice mix that works for you. However you make it, you’ll love it – trust me.
Makes approx. 2 cups
1 kilo greek or plain natural yoghurt
Line a colander or sieve with a double layer of muslin or cheesecloth (I use muslin baby wraps!).
Mix the salt through the yoghurt (if you’re adding spices, put them in at this point as well) and pour the yoghurt into the prepared cloth. Bring the corners of the cloth together, pull tight, and tie with a string. Suspend the bundle over a bowl or jug to allow the whey to drip out, and refrigerate. Make sure you use a bowl deep enough so that the bottom of the bundle isn’t sitting in the liquid.
After about 12 hours, take it out of the fridge and give the bundle a good squeeze, using your hands to squeeze downwards from the string and encourage the excess whey to drip out. If you like it a bit softer and velvety, your labneh will be ready at this point, but the longer you leave it the thicker it gets. I like to be able to form my labneh into balls, so prefer to leave it for 24 – 36 hours.
When it’s ready, untie the string and transfer the labneh into a bowl. If you’re planning to eat it as a spread/dip, transfer to an airtight container where it will keep in the fridge for 5 – 7 days.
To store in oil, use your hands to form small balls of labneh and gently place them into a clean jar. Add whatever spices and herbs you like to the jar (for this batch I used 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns, and a few springs of fresh thyme). Pour extra-virgin olive oil over the whole lot and leave to marinate for at least 12 hours before eating. Stored like this, your labneh should last about 4 – 6 weeks in the fridge – although ours always gets eaten well before that!