Labneh is a nutritional powerhouse and an excellent culinary canvas. 

By Lia Picard
August 23, 2019
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanches; Food Styling: Torie Cox; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

If you’ve ever eaten yogurt and wistfully longed for it to be even thicker and tangier, good news. That treat exists: It’s called labneh, and it’s way dreamier than its dairy counterparts.

Labneh is a Middle Eastern farmer's cheese made by straining excess moisture from yogurt. It’s high in protein and relatively lower in calories, making it a nutritional powerhouse. Its briny flavor lends itself nicely to savory applications, but it’s really an excellent canvas for anything.

Zach Engel, James Beard Award winner and the chef-owner of Galit, a Middle Eastern and Israeli restaurant in Chicago, first had labneh on a trip to Israel when he was very young. “I didn't really know what it was. My parents just told me it was yogurt, and then I realized there's a huge difference.” He recalls the joy of visiting the bustling shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv where women cook lachoch (flatbread) on domed cooking tops. “They slap the bread on there and then they roll labneh on it, za'atar, and oil, and roll it up. And you walk around and that's a good snack to have,” he says.

Get the recipe: Beet and Labneh Salad with Duck Fat Granola

Describing a properly made labneh, he says, “It has a cream cheese-like texture when it's done really well. Not like sticky, tacky, but that super rich, overly dense cheesecake texture.” The chefs at Galit use it in a variety of ways, from a mayonnaise replacement in baba ghanoush to a dip made with preserved lemons and avocado.

How to Make Labneh

You could buy labneh at a Middle Eastern market, or you can try making it yourself. Making labneh is simple, but this isn’t one of those instant gratification recipes—plan on it taking at least eight hours. Here’s how Engel makes labneh:

Use a whole milk yogurt, preferably with cream on top. “You’ll get a weirdly sweet labneh if you concentrate Greek yogurt, and I don't find that appealing whatsoever personally.” However, you can still make labneh with Greek yogurt if that flavor appeals to you.

Whisk the yogurt in a mixing bowl with a tablespoon of salt. Then strain it. “We do multiple layers of cheesecloth and put in a colander over a bowl (for the liquid to drain into) and then cover it with plastic.” You can let it sit at room temperature or in the fridge for at least eight to 12 hours. Engel prefers letting it sit on the counter so that labneh gets more “funk.” Don’t toss out the whey that runs off either—Engel likes to use it as a brine for chicken, turkey, and lamb.

WATCH: How to Make Instant Pot Yogurt

 

How to Use Labneh

Here are a few easy ways to enjoy your freshly made labneh at home:

For a savory breakfast, make a mushroom labneh toast. Sauté your favorite mushrooms in a pan with a bit of butter and season with salt and pepper. Spread labneh on toast and top with mushrooms and a sprinkle of toasted chopped pecans.

Spread some labneh in a shallow bowl and top with veggies of choice. One of my favorite combinations is lemon roasted baby potatoes, halved cherry tomatoes, and a white balsamic vinaigrette, as pictured above.

Labneh also works well with sweet ingredients. At Root Baking Company in Atlanta, they serve labneh on toast with a seasonal jam. You can easily recreate that at home with the jam or fresh fruit of your choice.

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