Labneh is a thick, creamy and mildly tangy Middle Eastern soft cheese prepared from strained yogurt. Easy to whip up in your own fridge in as little as twenty four hours, this indulgently delicious little delicacy makes for a tasty dip or spread to serve with crackers and veggies as a unique appetizer!
A Scrumptious Soft Cheese Made From Strained Yogurt
Being as big of a fan of dips and spreads as I am, I'm always on the look out for a unique recipe to test out in my own kitchen and serve on a Friday or Saturday evening as a bit of a special treat.
When I was recently flipping through the pages of a food magazine, my eyes spied a gorgeous thick, creamy soft cheese prepared from strained yogurt called labneh. Unfamiliar with it, I found my appetite piqued as I gazed at the beautifully rustic presentation which featured a drizzle of good olive oil with some herbs and spices sprinkled over top.
The labneh looked absolutely scrumptious and right up my alley, culinarily speaking (I love Middle Eastern cuisine), and I was enthusiastic that this recipe would be something new and fun to test out and play around with.
I can't tell you how delicious and healthy the labneh cheese tasted, and how easy it was to prepare in my own fridge in just 24-48 hours.
Being the type of person who appreciates being able to take an ingredient and turn it into something slightly different from its original state, this labneh recipe ended up being a fun and tasty little “experiment” for me.
This delicate soft cheese made from strained yogurt is the perfect cool and savory indulgence when I'm craving something unique. And I love that I can even flavor it according to my own tastes, serving it with crackers or colorful veggies!
How to Make Labneh At Home
The best way for me to describe labneh is to say that it's like a soft and tangy cheese (though prepared differently than a conventional cheese would be). It's the result of straining yogurt of its whey until the desired thickness is achieved.
I found that when I strained the yogurt for 24 hours, it yielded a consistency like that of super thick yet still very creamy Greek yogurt. But when I left it in the fridge to drain a little longer, about 36 hours, the consistency became similar to that of a super thick, spreadable cream cheese.
At 48 hours, labneh thickens even more as most of the liquid (whey) has now strained away. It becomes an even firmer cheese consistency which, at this point, can be rolled/shaped into balls and even marinated in olive oil and herbs, if desired.
So as you can see, the amount of time you choose to strain it depends on your desired level of thickness or spreadability.
It's easy enough to begin checking the labneh cheese at around the 24 hour mark, to see if that's enough for your taste. If it's not quite thick enough, go another 12 hours, and check again.
The 36 hour mark is pretty much my personal sweet spot as far as the consistency, as I like it thick yet spreadable.
I've found that the best kind of yogurt to use when preparing homemade labneh is plain, whole milk yogurt—it yields a wonderful consistency for dip. I don't use Greek yogurt because that's already been strained.
To make the labneh a little bit savory, all I do is add some sea salt to the yogurt before adding it to my cheesecloth-lined sieve or strainer, then I'm ready to strain and make my labneh cheese!
Here's a sneak peek at my labneh recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe further down...)
- To begin, I prepare a large sieve or strainer by lining it with a double-layer of cheesecloth, or a very thin tea towel. I place this over a deep bowl to catch the whey as it drains away from the yogurt.
- To prepare my yogurt for straining, I pour or spoon it into a large bowl, and gently stir/fold in my sea salt; then, I pour the seasoned yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer, fold the overhanging cloth over over top (or even twist the cloth tightly into a ball), and cover with a small plate for added pressure. (I like to cover the whole thing with plastic wrap, but this is optional.)
- I place the yogurt into the fridge and let it strain for 24 to 48 hours. I check it at 24 hours to see the consistency and to carefully drain any accumulated whey.
- Once my desired thickness is achieved, I spoon the labneh into a container to hold until I'm ready to serve it.
- When ready, I spoon the labneh onto a platter and garnish with desired toppings such as za'atar, and serve.
by Ingrid Beer
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Info: 115 calories (per ¼ cup)
Prep Time: 24 hours
Cook time: 0 minutes
Total time: 24 hours
- 4 cups plain, whole milk yogurt
- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Za'atar seasoning (optional garnish, for serving)
- Olive oil (optional garnish, for serving)
- Fresh herbs such as chopped dill, mint or parsley (optional garnish, for serving)
- Veggies or crackers, for dipping/spreading
- To begin, line a sieve or fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, or a thin, clean tea towel, leaving a bit of an overhang; place the sieve or strainer over a deeper bowl to collect the whey as it drains out, making sure that the sieve/strainer sits well above the bottom of the bowl to allow room for the liquid to collect.
- Add the yogurt to a bowl and sprinkle in the sea salt, then fold together to season the yogurt evenly with the salt; spoon the yogurt into your prepared cheesecloth-lined sieve or strainer set over a bowl, and fold the overhang over the yogurt to cover it, and place a small plate overtop for a bit of added pressure.
- Place the yogurt into the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours. (Check it after 24 hours, and if you'd like it to be thicker, keep it in the fridge for an additonal 12-24 hours, or until the desired consistency is reached.)
- Drain the accumulated whey, if too much is accumulating on the bottom of the bowl.
- Once the labneh has drained and is thickened, remove it from the fridge, and spoon it into a clean container to keep until ready to serve; or, if ready to serve immediately, spoon it onto a large plate or platter, swirl to create a pattern, then drizzle over some olive oil, and sprinkle with za'atar seasoning and/or fresh herbs.
- Serve with crackers or pita, and veggies.
Tips & Tidbits for my Labneh:
- Plain, whole milk yogurt for rich results: While you can use a lower fat yogurt to prepare labneh, the recommendation is full-fat or whole milk. This adds a nice richness and a good “mouth feel” to the end result. Also, make sure you're using plain yogurt. You don't want vanilla flavored labneh, unless you want a sweet version. (Sounds interesting, actually... 😉 )
- A pinch of sea salt for flavor: I add enough salt to give the yogurt a savory flavor. Once it's strained and becomes cheese-like, I like to sometimes fold in other flavors, or top it with interesting seasonings, spices and/or herbs.
- Strain labneh for 24 to 48 hours, depending on your desired thickness: For a slightly creamier consistency, 24 hours will suffice. Go to 36 hours for a thicker, more cream cheese-like consistency, or up to 48 hours for a more goat cheese-like consistency. You can check along the way until it's just right for you.
- Toppings for labneh: I love to sprinkle my homemade za'atar seasoning onto my prepared labneh just before serving it, and add a drizzle of olive oil and perhaps some fresh herbs such as dill, mint, parsley, or even all three.
- Flavoring your labneh: Sometimes I like to fold roasted garlic, or even grate fresh garlic, into my prepared labneh before serving it. This will give it a bit of kick, which makes it all the more delicious!
(Check out my homemade Za'atar Seasoning mix to top this labneh with!)