I’ve had a mild obsession with labneh for some time now. I first learned about this Middle Eastern yogurt cheese in one of Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipe for Health columns, where she first refers to it, uninspiringly, as “drained yogurt.” I’m glad I decided to keep reading, despite the unappetizing subhead, because this is what followed:
“Drained of much of its water content, yogurt becomes a thick, creamy product known in the Middle East as labna or labne. Drained yogurt is like a moist, fresh, tangy cheese, and it makes a great spread or dip. In Turkey and in the Middle East, a number of dips and salad dressings are based on drained yogurt combined with pureed garlic and chopped fresh herbs.”
And at that point, I was sold. I love yogurt, I love cheese, I love spreads. I love that when you drain yogurt, it turns! into! cheese! And I had thought that making paneer was suspiciously easy!
I make labneh with greek yogurt (nonfat works fine), which already has much of the whey drained out; if you start with regular yogurt, it’ll probably just take longer to get to a more solid consistency. If you drain it long enough, you can get it to the point of making little cheese balls, but I’ve never been patient enough for that.
You can flavor the labneh any way you like, but I love it with lemon juice, olive oil, and za’atar. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is how they serve it at Zaytinya—and eating it there only served to enhance my fascination with yogurt cheese.
Also, for the record, while this is my third Zaytinya-inspired post, I promise I am not unduly obsessed with the restaurant. But seriously, labneh and pita, plus fried brussels sprouts and shrimp with mustard and dill, would be a pretty fabulous meal at the restaurant, and it’s one that you can make with very little fuss at all at home.
All quantities are loose here—use however much yogurt you want, and adjust other ingredients to taste.
Spices or herbs of your choice
Drain the yogurt in cheesecloth for about two hours—the consistency should resemble a soft cheese more than yogurt. (If you’ll be draining it for longer than two hours, you may want to put it in the fridge,)
Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and spice to taste. Serve with pita or other flatbread. (I really love it with Trader Joe’s frozen naan.)