How to Make Labneh

Because I'm Puerto Rican, people often assume that Latin food is my favorite. It's definitely very high up there, and I do tend to cook with those kinds of flavors and ingredients often, but the truth is that given the choice, I'm more likely to pick Middle Eastern dishes and flavors.

I love garlicky yogurt sauces, beautifully seasoned lamb, tangy cheeses, and crispy fritters. I go wild for desserts flavored with rose and orange blossom or drenched with honey syrup. I think Turkish delight is as delightful as the name promises, and am obsessed with chewy Lebanese ice cream. I garnish my savory dishes with sweet dried fruits and toasted nuts. My pantry is filled with jars of sumac, za'atar, aleppo pepper, pomegranate molasses, and harissa.

One of my favorite snacky treats is labneh--a yogurt "cheese" made from thick, strained yogurt that's been seasoned with a bit of lemon and salt.

It's simple to prepare--simply whisk together the three ingredients, and then let it drain overnight in a cloth-lined sieve. 12-24 hours later, and the yogurt has thickened into something luscious and spreadable.

(FYI that you'd typically use cheesecloth for this, but I couldn't find mine, so I went with a piece of leftover lace from my sewing box. Honestly, any sort of loosely woven cloth would work!)

You can enjoy it right then, but upon recommendation from one of my favorite chefs, Chef Philippe Massoud of Ilili Restaurant here in NY, I then whisked it until light and shiny. As a savory dip, top it with very good oil and a generous sprinkle of za'atar later, and it's absolutely perfect. A wonderful alternative to hummus or guacamole or any other dip. I also love it sweetened with honey or rose-flavored syrup and slivered almonds.

Labneh can also be used in other ways--try spreading it into a sandwich or on warm toast, dollop it over braised meat or soup, and you can even bake with it or serve it alongside a simple cake or other sweet treat.

It's beautifully versatile, and easy to prepare. If you're anything like me, I suspect that once you make it for the first time, you'll be tempted to do it again and again!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Middle Eastern-inspired recipes you might like:

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Homemade Labneh

2 cups full-fat plain Greek yogurt (do not use low or non-fat!)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I like mine salty, so I actually use a bit more than this--adjust according to your taste)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Olive oil and za'atar or honey, for serving (optional)

Place a sieve over a deep bowl, and line with cheesecloth or other loosely-woven cloth so that it overhangs on the sides.

In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt, and lemon juice.  Scrape into the prepared sieve, and cover the yogurt with the overlapping fabric. Place in refrigerator and let drain for 12-24 hours (the longer, the thicker. I usually like about 16 hours.)

Once drained, flip the labneh out into another bowl (discard the liquid (whey) or use for marinating meat!) and whisk it by hand for a couple minutes until light and and shiny. This makes it exceptionally creamy and luscious. You can technically skip this step, but it's really worth the extra effort...I promise!

Garnish it as desired and serve.
Ingredient Note: You can definitely use regular plain yogurt instead of Greek, but just keep in mind that this kind has more liquid in it, so it'll take longer to reach the thick creamy consistency + you'll also end up with a bit less of the final product than if you start with Greek yogurt, which has already been strained.

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