GUIDE TO LABNEH YOGHURT
Julie Biuso shares how to make your own labneh, which can served as a snack, a sauce, a dressing, a dip, a spread, or a dessert, flavoured to suit.
Labneh, essentially yoghurt drained of its whey, can be served as a snack, a sauce, a dressing, a dip, a spread, or a dessert, flavoured to suit.
Smooth but not cloying, creamy though not at all rich, and lemony fresh, labneh, a soft yoghurt cheese, is a versatile product to have on hand. Turn it into a quick snack, or use it to smooth out a sauce, to add texture to a dressing, to soften a salty or over-spiced dish, or to provide a creamy mouth-feel to a stew, soup or sauce without bumping up the calories. It’s easily made. Start with whole milk and make your own yoghurt, or buy a good brand of natural unsweetened gelatine-free fullfat yoghurt. Then set about straining it. The yoghurt can be strained through clean muslin, or a coffee filter or a double thickness of paper towels. The best is muslin. A coffee filter holds only a small amount, and paper towels, while good for a short draining, can split.
First, beat yoghurt with a little salt in a bowl until smooth: I use 4½ cups of yoghurt to
1 teaspoon of salt. Line a sieve with muslin and set sieve over a bowl large enough to contain it but deep enough so the yoghurt will not be sitting in the strained whey as it accumulates. (The yoghurt will lose at least a third of its volume during straining; you can pour it off from time to time.) Tip in yoghurt. Fold the sides of the muslin over the surface of the yoghurt to avoid liquid dripping from it as it becomes saturated. If using paper towels, ensure the edges of the paper are not hanging over the side of the bowl for the same reason, then loosely drape the top of the bowl with plastic food wrap. Refrigerate.
WHEY TO GO
The flavour of the yoghurt becomes more lemony and the texture firmer and more velvety the longer it drains. You can use it at any point during the draining period.
You will notice whey accumulating after 30 minutes. At this point, what you have is a slightly thicker yoghurt. Nice. If you add a spoonful alongside a slice of tart or cake, it won’t weep.
AFTER 12 HOURS
After 12 hours a lot of whey will have accumulated. The yoghurt at this point is thick and creamy, more luscious than regular yoghurt, and can be used to accompany desserts, or cereal and baked fruit, that sort of thing. It can also be added to a dressing to make it creamy and to give body. A dollop added on top of a soup will hold its shape.
AFTER 24 HOURS
After 24 hours the yoghurt is still losing whey and is becoming firmer. It is now officially labneh and can be used as a soft spread.
AFTER 48 HOURS
After 48 hours you will have a thick, glossy labneh that can be used as a spread, a dip or a dessert. Whip in whatever flavourings you fancy. Or use two spoons to shape into blobs to serve alongside sweet or savoury items.
AFTER 72 HOURS
After 72 hours the yoghurt is firm enough to carefully shape into small balls or ovals. Traditionally, labneh balls are transferred to a clean jar and covered in olive oil and used as a mezze. I recommend refrigerating them on a tray for 24 hours before putting them in oil, to dry the surface and to ensure they will not exude any more whey. The balls can also be rolled in toasted coarsely ground spices or chopped herbs or nuts and served as a mezze with crusty bread or flatbreads, or included on a cheeseboard.
TRY: Use the drained whey in baking such as scones, bread, muffins and cakes – it makes them nice and light – or use in smoothies or soups. The drained whey will keep for an extra couple of days after the labneh is fully drained. TRY: After 72 hours … Shape labneh into small balls. Drop into a mound of toasted desiccated coconut, chopped walnuts and a dusting of cocoa. Serve on top of roasted fruit or serve with fried bananas or pineapple flamed in rum.
TRY: After 48 hours … Put spoonfuls of labneh alongside chargrilled lamb cutlets and sprinkle with dukkah, sumac or za’atar. Serve with fried eggplant and a Greek-style cos salad. TRY: After 24 hours … Whip fresh vanilla seeds and a little coconut or brown sugar or maple syrup into drained yoghurt and serve with seasonal fruits roasted with white wine, fresh bay leaves and rosemary sprigs and a sprinkling of sugar. Or puddle the top with EVOO, strew with fresh herbs and serve with chargrilled vegetables and flatbreads. TRY: After 12 hours ... Sprinkle labneh with dukkah, lemon zest, chopped herbs and oil for a tasty dip.