Labneh – the best possible thing you can make with a pot of yoghurt?

If you ask me, Labneh must be the best possible thing you can make with a pot of yoghurt. A bold statement for sure, but hopefully one you agree with once I share my tip for making the tastiest possible Labneh and show you all the wonderful things you can make with Labneh, both sweet and savoury.

If you are not familiar with Labneh, Labneh is technically a type of cheese and it is what you end up with if you strain your yoghurt so that the whey drips out of it. (So in a way, Greek yoghurt is already a form of Labneh since it gets its rich texture from straining out some of the whey). Labneh is so delicious because the process of removing some of the moisture from the yoghurt concentrates all the flavours and increases its fat content.

How to make Labneh

  • If you want to make your own Labneh, there are no hard and fast rules for how long you need to strain your yoghurt until you can call it Labneh. It depends both on how liquid the yoghurt you start with is and also what you want to use the Labneh for. Just beware, the more liquid your yoghurt is (and hence the more whey it contains); not only will more whey strain out of it, you will also be left with very little Labneh compared to how much yoghurt you started with. 
  • Note that the longer you strain the yoghurt, the drier your Labneh will get and fairly dry Labneh is sometimes also shaped into small balls and rolled in different herbs and spices and then preserved in olive oil.
  • And it goes without saying that the tastier the yoghurt it is made from, the tastier the resulting Labneh will be. Now different people may have different preferences when it comes to yoghurt, but I find that the best yoghurt for making Labneh is a creamy full-fat yoghurt with only hints of acidity (e.g. Greek yoghurt) – this will result in a rich and creamy Labneh reminiscent of cream cheese and yet entirely it’s own thing. 

Further below I will share how I typically make Labneh. And I must say I usually make it in large quantities, starting with 1kg of yoghurt. Labneh keeps well (even better than yoghurt), and is just super versatile.

How to serve / eat Labneh 

In the Middle East (where you can often buy readymade Labneh in supermarkets in similar small tubs to cream cheese), there are a number of different ways of serving (and eating!) Labneh: 

  • At its most basic, seasoned with nothing but salt it can be served as a dip alongside other mezze (even better when there is a pool of good olive oil in the middle and maybe a sprinkle or two of za’atar). Labneh can also serve as the basis for lots of different dips, e.g. with beetroot or red peppers. 
  • Labneh is also the perfect bed for roasted vegetables (like these roasted carrots with zhough), but also as part of breakfast, topped with fried eggs and za’atar oil and some sourdough bread for dipping on the side. 
  • Labneh also works beautifully as a filling for savoury buns like these Labneh and Za’atar Buns

But Labneh can also used for sweet recipes where it is a great stand-in for both cream cheese and mascarpone in many recipes – for example in this Strawberry Tiramisu with Labneh and Sumac (see the photo below this post) or indeed this Labneh Cheesecake with Cardamom and Roasted Apricots with Saffron (see the photo below). I would also happily eat some lightly sweetened Labneh topped with oven-roasted plums and some buttery crumble or toasted nuts. I can also easily imagine a Swiss roll filled with a lemony Labneh mousse and maybe some sour cherry compote. 

Labneh – a recipe

If you start with 1kg of thick Greek yoghurt you should end up with around 700g Labneh if you leave the yoghurt to drain overnight (and slightly less if you leave the yoghurt to strain for even longer). While many recipes call for the yoghurt to be seasoned before straining, I prefer to do so afterwards – not only is it easier to judge the saltiness at that stage (since the straining actually concentrates flavour so you risk oversalting if you do so before straining) but it also means I can use the labneh not just for savoury but also for sweet recipes. And don’t throw away the whey leftover from straining the yoghurt – it’s both tasty and delicious and a great addition to smoothies and bread or flatbread doughs.

Ingredients

1kg Greek yoghurt (min. 6 percent fat)
Generous pinch of salt (optional)

Directions

Line a sieve or colander with a nutmilk bag, muslin or clean kitchentowel and place above a bowl. Add the yoghurt and let strain overnight if you want to use the labneh as a spread and up to 24 hours if you want a labneh firm enough to shape into little balls to preserve in oil.

Once strained, season the labneh with salt should you so wish and store in the fridge until ready to use. Labneh should keep at least a week in the fridge.

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