It is known as yogurt cheese, although no rennet or dairy maturation is involved in its preparation. The labneh, laban or leben (لبنة or labana in Arabic), really belongs to the vast world of strained or drained yogurts, of great importance in many Mediterranean countries and numerous European regions. In the Middle East, it is a common part of breakfasts, mezze and appetizers, or as a complement to fillings in pita breads, sandwiches and other doughs. It is almost addictive and is extremely easy to make at home.
For its preparation you only need two ingredients, yogurt and salt, and a couple of basic utensils. In addition to a regular medium-sized or large bowl-type container, it is necessary to have a good fine mesh strainer and a cheesecloth, gauze or fine cloth that does not shed thread. There is no need to light a fire or complicate life with exact temperatures or times, it just requires some patience.
We could say that the result that we will obtain will be that of a kind of Greek yogurt -the real one-, very creamy and thick, without added creams, starches or gelling agents, so common in commercial substitutes. The labneh is but a very concentrated yogurt to which we eliminate almost all the water, depending on the texture we seek to obtain.
It is therefore essential to start with a good quality yogurt. Labneh is traditionally made with Sheep or cow milk, and can also be used from goat. If we want a neutral flavor, we will choose cow’s yogurt; the milk of the other two animals, especially goat’s milk, has much more personality and a more pronounced flavor, slightly acidic, which can be very tasty but perhaps gives us less play in the kitchen.
Let’s forget skimmed yogurts and fermented milks that are dressed in yogurt, also those enriched with extra fat, sugars, sweeteners or any other flavoring. A good labneh starts from 100% natural yogurt, based on pasteurized whole milk and ferments lactic. If we make homemade yogurt regularly, we can use it.
Although there are versions that start by first boiling a quantity of whole milk that is then mixed with a part of yogurt, in our domestic version it is much easier to start with a single dairy ingredient, which will also accelerate the process of obtaining that thicker and more concentrated cream. In specialized stores you can find commercial labneh in different textures, packaged in formats similar to yogurt.
Choose a clean gauze or gauze cloth that does not lose thread or have strange odors, avoiding those that have been washed with fabric softener. Arrange covering a large strainer, preferably fine mesh, and place this over a bowl, so that there is a wide gap under the strainer.
Drain the liquid that the yogurt can carry when opening it, add the salt and stir. If individual yogurts are used, mix them all together first in another container with the salt and stir with a few rods.
Pour carefully over the gauze. Put it in the fridge and let it rest for several hours, stirring it a little every three or four, if possible. Depending on the type of yogurt and the desired consistency, we can leave it from 12 hours to a maximum of two days.
Finish draining by squeezing the ends of the gauze well, twisting it. Scoop out the labneh with a spoon and keep refrigerated, in an airtight container, up to ten days, slightly less if it is constantly opened. Or use immediately, served with olive oil, spices and herbs to taste.
How to serve labneh and how to make the most of it in the kitchen
As we have pointed out at the beginning, labneh is a staple in the Mediterranean gastronomy of the Middle East as part of a table of mezze or appetizers, also common in breakfasts. It goes very well with hummus or baba ganoush, accompanied by crunchy vegetables and flat breads pita type for dipping and spreading.
You just have to season it well with good extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices, like za’atar. Other typical dressings that go very well are edible flowers – rose is typical in some countries-, nuts chopped, roasted seeds like sesame, or pickles. In general, any ingredient that provides a crunchy and sour or salty contrast will enrich the labneh taste deliciously well.
It can also be used as base or bed of vegetables, meats and even fish. It is perfect to put on top roasted or fried vegetables, very crisp and spicy, like these tandoori carrots. It also combines very well with poached or boiled eggs, with the yolk well melted and honeyed. Being a mild dairy it can bring balance to very dishes spicy, and it is not at all unreasonable to merge it with recipes from India or Mexico.
If we let it thicken to the maximum, we can form creamy balls to marinate covered in olive oil and abundant herbs; This will keep it even longer in the fridge. In a more liquid texture, it becomes a good wildcard to dress to taste and serve as a sauce or salad dressing or any dish that we want. In its creamiest version, it lends itself to being spread on breads of all kinds.
It also admits sweetest pairings, served for breakfast or dessert in a bowl with fresh fruit, jam, honey or syrups, even grated or chopped dark chocolate is fine. And, of course, it is offered as an ideal ingredient for the preparation of shakes, smoothies and smoothie bowls, which need a thicker texture. The labneh is a blank canvas for which there are not many limits in the kitchen.
Photos | iStock – jules – say_cheddar – WordRidden
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