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In love with labneh

August 31, 2009

labna2Inspired by the happy coincidence of my friend Ms Melba’s recent gift of her incredibly good homemade labneh – that creamy, unbelievably smooth yoghurt cheese – and Miss J’s birthday gift of the gorgeous Saha: A chef’s Journey through Lebanon & Syria by Greg & Lucy Malouf, I decided on the weekend to have a stab at making some labneh myself.

Oh, and the third inspiration was driving past a humungous and ghastly Spotlight outlet, whereupon I could dive in and grab myself a thousand metres of muslin (I later sent some of that Ms Melba’s way, and she said that while she longed to drape it about her person for running through damp fields towards Pemberley,  she  promised to use it for cheese-related purposes).

Anyway, after tasting Melba’s labneh and gobbling it all in a week, I asked for her recipe, and then compared it with Greg Malouf’s in Saha which, by the way, is the most beautiful book. (I have just lent it to the Empress, who – prepare to bite out your own veins with envy – is planning a culinary trip through various Middle Eastern countries including Syria. Argh. We can only hope she comes back with some fine recipes to share, but I may find it difficult to speak to her for a while…)

Anyhoo.

Labneh, it turns out, is so easy peasy to make that I am never again buying that gorgeously silky Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Fetta in the black tin, because my labneh (while texturally probably quite different and probably-not-even-remotely-comparable-because-it-isn’t-feta), turns out to be just as delicious. And costs very little. The amazing thing about this stuff is the texture – so silky and creamy, but with excellent body and, depending on your marinade, a lovely soft and herby tang.

Greg Malouf’s recipe is here, and it’s the one I used, except I followed Melba’s lead and formed it into the little balls rather than just spreading over a plate topped with oil as he’s done. Anyway it’s hardly a recipe at all really – take a kilo of natural yoghurt, hang it for 48-72 hours, and then do as you wish with it. Melba hangs hers for anything from three hours to overnight, and it’s beautifully light. I did as GM says though, and hung it for 48 hours. The longer you hang it, the firmer it gets, and lots of whey comes out of it. Here’s what I did.

1. Take a good half-metre of clean muslin and line a colander with it over a bowl. A fine cotton tea towel would probably do just as well, but perhaps take longer.

2. Mix up a kilo of full-cream natural Greek-style yoghurt with a good teaspoon of salt and pour it into the muslin.

3. Tie up the  corners of the muslin any old how, and find a way to hang it. Easiest for us was get a large deep saucepan, tie the muslin bag to a long wooden spoon and rest the spoon over the top of the pot. Do tie it tight and hang as high as possible, as it does hang lower over the hours and ours eventually touched the bottom of the pot, necessitating re-tying half-way through. No big deal though and gave us a chance to drain the whey out halfway through.

labna14. Bung it in the fridge for anything from three hours to 72 hours. We did 48 and it resulted in easy-to-form, nice firm labneh.

5. Remove and form into balls, keeping your hands moistened with olive oil – stops the labneh sticking to your hands and the balls to each other.

6. Lay the balls in a jar or container, cover with oil and add some dried chilli flakes, dried thyme, fresh rosemary and a clove of garlic. Any dried herbs or spices you fancy would do, I reckon.

Use it spread on biccies as a dip; on toast or a sandwich instead of butter; plonk a ball in your spicy veg soup (that’s where almost all of M’s batch went – thicker and more delicious than a yoghurt dollop); toss on to steamed green vegetables, or just use anywhere you would sling a blob of yoghurt, I reckon.

This amount made three full medium-sized deli takeaway containers’ worth. The oil is obviously the costly bit of this, but given that one would never chuck away such lovely herby olive oil, instead keeping it for pasta sauces, salad dressings or whatever, I reckon this recipe is a contender for the frugal food post as well as just being a beautiful thing. And great to take to a friend’s when you’re turning up for dinner – they will be tres impressed with your domestic goddessness as well as gobbling it up in a flash like I did.

8 comments

  1. I think you get extra points for anything that requires hanging. And in muslin, no less. Something that has never, ever happened to me before occurred while I was reading this post. I thought, ‘I wonder where the nearest Spotlight store is…’


  2. All right, you got me. After salivating over ‘Saha’ every time I saw it for more than a year, I read this, put the computer to sleep, went to Gleebooks and snaffled their last hardback copy. Of course, now I can’t afford to eat, but photographs that beautiful are a sort of food… (Emaciation is unlikely for quite some time, but I look forward to becoming luminous, ethereal, and à la Melba, swathed in white muslin for full effect.)


  3. Miss Charlotte herself came and taught me the labneh thing, and I did my own variation this week: roasted some pears in a little olive oil till they went golden, then served warm with a drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of 2 day old labneh just scooped into a spoon shape on the side. Creamy, smooth, and different from yoghurt or ice cream. MIghth ave been richer if I had used full fat yoghurt, esp the Lush brand which is my absolute fave. Some smashed roasted pistachios would have gone well on this if I’d thought of it at the time.


    • Sounds VERY good Caro. I’m loving dessert labneh! And this sweet treat reminds me of another friend’s favourite snack; labneh on fruit toast – mmmmm. So maybe now we have to do two versions – one in the garlicky herby oil, and one just as cheese with no oil to use in sweety things?


  4. […] Labneh – mmmm. […]


  5. […] but it’s also very simple to make. Oh and I reckon this salad would be incredible with labneh too; that’s my next […]


  6. […] balsamic vinegar. Then tear up some marinated goat’s cheese  or even better, your homemade labneh) and toss it into the salad in chunks. Serve in a bowl at the […]


  7. […] moons again my friend M introduced me to the pleasures of making labneh – an incredibly easy thing to […]



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