Labneh

labneh 1

I have always loved Middle Eastern foods. The fresh vegetables, the liberal use of herbs and seasonings, including a touch of spiciness at times, and the casual way of eating that the food encourages. Meze is the term that’s used to define all the “little plates” that get brought out to begin in a meal, served in little bowls often with pools of olive oil in the middle, waiting to be sopped up with soft pita or other flatbreads.

When I wrote about the Lebanese meze I’d had on a trip to the Middle East, I didn’t realize that a number of people were all that interested in what vegetables went into it. (But who can blame them? I wanted to remake it, too.) Like a lot of those foods, people aren’t necessarily following recipes – they’re following their nose, and yup, you got it – they cook by taste.

yogurt draining for labneh

Lebneh is made by draining full-fat yogurt for a few hours, or overnight, where it thickens and gets extra-tangy. To make a vegetable-flicked version, when it’s done, you can mix in finely diced vegetables. But don’t do it too far in advance as you want to vegetables to remain somewhat distinct. And in my case, the red radishes tinted the labneh just a little pink. Which isn’t the fin du monde, but I usually like my labneh snowy white.

drained yogurt for labneh recipe diced radishes

In French, you would call the dice of vegetables a mirepoix, and I remember one of my first restaurant jobs, I worked for an obsessive chef and he required the we make mirepoix for stock. It seemed like a colossal waste of time, but I’d spend hours finely dicing the vegetables (he would get mad if they weren’t perfectly square – even though I often mentioned to him that many vegetables came rounded), only to watch him dump all the vegetables into the big pot of simmering liquid, only to be strained out later, and tossed.

Avoid the tendency to want to jazz it up too much. And I mean it. Instead, sprinkle herbs or whatever you want on top, so they don’t get lost in the mix. Flat leaf parsley, tarragon, or fresh mint would be wonderful chopped up and scattered over the top. And resist the tendency to complicate it. Like many Middle Eastern foods, the flavor comes from using good olive oil. And unless you want to stir up any more conflict in the region, I would heed my advice.

labneh

Labneh with Fresh Vegetables

Serves 4 to 6

You should use full-fat yogurt for best results. Not sure how lowfat would work, but this is pretty healthy as is and a little goes a long way – if you can resist it! If you want your labneh very thick, you can drain it for up to 24 hours. But I like it a bit soft and velvety. Finely diced celery, carrots, radishes, celery, kohlrabi or any firm-textured vegetable would work. Just beware that if you add red radishes and plan to keep it for any length of time, you’ll find that the skins will tint the labneh a soft, rosy hue like mine did here. (Because something pressing came up and I had to refrigerate it for a while. And my photo editing skills are lame.)

If you wish to swap out other vegetables, use about 1/2 cup (75 g) of chopped vegetables, total. You can also make half recipe, although it keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and it’s nice to have something to dip into. It also makes an excellent sandwich spread, with sliced vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, or whatever else you like on sandwiches. I added za’atar and an extra pinch of sumac. You can find them in Middle Eastern markets, online, or make za’atar yourself.

  • 1 quart (4 cups, 960 g) full-fat plain yogurt
  • big pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup (40 g) finely diced radishes
  • 1 tablespoon finely diced scallions, spring onions, or green garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced carrots (peeled)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Za'atar, or fresh herbs

1. Line a nonreactive strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth or muslin cloth (called étamine, in French.) Set the strainer over a deep bowl, one deep enough so that the bottom of the strainer is a few inches above the bottom of the bowl, where the strained liquid (whey) will collect.

2. Stir the salt into the yogurt, then scrape the yogurt into the lined strainer. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth or cloth over the yogurt and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

3. Remove the strained cheese (labneh) from the cloth, which will be thick, and put it into a bowl. (Some people save the liquid whey and use it in soups, or as liquid in bread recipes.)

4. Stir in the diced vegetables.

5. Transfer the mixture to a shallow serving bowl and make a few swirls in the labneh, then drizzle in a fairly generous amount of olive oil. Top with za’atar, or some lively fresh herbs, and serve with bread for dipping.

Storage: While it might be tempting to make it all in advance, I prefer to add the vegetables as close to serving as possible so they retain their crunch and remain a bit distinct. You can make the strained labneh up to four days in advance.



Related Recipes

Hummus

Eggplant Caviar

Spanakopita

Za’atar (101 Cookbooks)

Cucumber-Feta Salad

White Bean Dip


61 comments

  • This looks luscious. Have you tasted freshly pressed olive oil? It’s just like fruit juice. I guess it IS fruit juice. Anyway it would be ahmazing here. PS: when I’m feeling esp. OCD I cheat for mirepoix at home by slicing with a mandoline first then using a knife to cut a stack into lengthwise strips, then the dices. It’s very satisfying to execute such perfection some days : ) But for a stock where all that work is tossed? Mon dieu…

    • Yes, I’ve picked and pressed olive oil, and you’re right – it is amazing. And a little goes a long way, so when people tell my they’re avoiding eating oil, I say just use the good stuff, and eat a little bit of it (if you can!) I actually like chopped salads a lot so I use my chef’s knife. But I just got a mandoline and should probably make more use of it.

  • ces jours-ci tu parles tres peu de romain. on est toujours en couple? le premier mariage aura lieu le 29 mai a montpellier. on va meme sortir le grand ecran! il faut en profiter.

  • David, this labneh looks amazing. I especially love the idea of incorporating finely diced vegetables. Something I am definitely going to try as I make my own yoghurt and am often stuck with left overs to use and I think this will be the perfect way to use it up.

  • an absolute favorite! Though one topped with minced meat is my favorite ;-) or even cumin scented and sumac sprinkled with dried mint!

  • Your words ‘Middle Eastern foods’ made me run get my Lebanese tabbouleh from yesterday’s marché. I thought I came to Paris for the radishes and carrot rapee…
    Little did I know…

  • I’m glad that you mentioned the importance of using good olive oil. In simple dishes like this, good quality ingredients are everything!
    There is some amazing, locally made yogurt here in Normandy, so I am excited to try this!

  • I make my own labneh all the time but I’ve never thought to incorporate fresh vegetables into it. I especially like the idea of finely diced radish .. definitely going into my next batch this weekend.

  • I´ve been straining natural yogurt for years now, to use as greek yogurt, which we can´t get here (the only ones come in tiny containers and have added sugar). So I guess I can say I use labneh all the time! I like the idea of it being a dip. And sometimes when i get sent a just pressed gallon of olive oil by friends I have in Mendoza (where the best malbec is made), it is like having a completely different oil.

  • The consistency and the olive oil look unreal in the pictures! The bread also looks divine! But now back I go to desk lunching…

  • I love Labneh!! This looks so lovely!

  • I make strained yogurt quite often, since it isn’t always easy to get organic greek-style yogurt. But I always wonder if there is something that can be done with the whey. It seems a shame to just dump it down the drain.

  • Wonderful. I love the minty/spiciness of Middle Eastern Food, too!

  • I learned to make this when I was 11, on an archeological excavation in Iran. I’d sometimes help the cook and kitchen staff; they’d let me make snacks for the dig’s cocktail hour, and I would make a platter with labneh, herbs, vegetables, and toasted lavash “crackers”. Great memories!

  • Lovely photographs of a favorite food. I lean toward savory, especially at breakfast, and labneh just does the trick. Minced (perfectly, le sigh) veg? What a great idea! And radishes are popping out of my garden at a fast clip, so merci!
    If you have some unadulterated labneh leftover, give my breakfast a try – toasted sliced almonds and a whisper of pomegranate molasses.

  • One of my favorite foods ever. So decadent, yet healthful. Thanks for the tips!

  • I have made labneh using goat milk yogurt, available at Trader Joes in Los Angeles, and the results are truly delicious.

  • In Albania they mix a little feta style cheese into it and it makes a delicious side for grilled prawns.

  • Hi David–

    This is seriously off-topic, I’m afraid (but I will try the labneh). I followed a link to your hummus recipe from five years ago, and discovered that you got your start at Cabbagetown. I thought you might want to know that you still have a presence in Ithaca.

    Our mayor now is a 25-year-old, Svante Myrick, Ithaca’s first African American mayor. He’s a Cornell grad and a very popular mayor. The mother of one of my neighbors, an unreconstructed ’60s liberal, was delighted that he was elected. When she came to visit for her birthday, as a surprise her son invited Svante to come to a little party. Although Svante had never met any of us, he came (walking–he doesn’t own a car), and sat with us on the porch for an hour talking about this and that.

    Here’s where you come in: I made your mint chocolate chip ice cream for the party, using spearmint from my back yard. Svante said it was fantastic.

    This is so off-topic, I don’t expect you publish it–I didn’t know a better way to let you know that you’re still feeding people in Ithaca, albeit indirectly.

    No need to reply. I’m a great fan of your blog and books.

    Dan

  • Is labneh the same thing as Greek yogurt?

  • Love lebneh! It tastes so much richer than it actually is, I would take lebneh over sour cream anyday…

  • I think I went crazy for labneh in an earlier post of yours. Thank you for posting a recipe! Middle Eastern food is among my favorite.

  • David, in your pictures, is that cheesecloth or muslin? Also, I’m dying to know what kind of bread you have pictured. It made me drool nearly as furiously as the lebneh!

  • Claire: I use étamine, which is cotton cloth and available in fabric stores in France. There is no cheesecloth here (although someone told me to buy large gauze at the pharmacy!) although this is prettier, as well as inexpensive and reusable. The spelt bread (pain d’épeautre) is from Du Pain et des Idées.

    JS: I love it too!

    Angela: I’m told that authentic Greek yogurt is, but I hear some brands add thickeners and so forth. I don’t buy it, since I’m perfectly happy with plain whole-milk yogurt, so I don’t know all that much about it.

    Dan: Thanks for the memory of Ithaca. I still will never forget how cold those winters were! (And walking up all those hills..!)

    Susan: I love goat milk yogurt and sometimes use that as well.

    Avery: That must have been an interesting experience. I’ve always wanted to go to Iran and hear it’s really interesting, but with all the upheavals in the past few years, I’ve had to put off going. Someday…

    Rachel: I mentioned in the post that some folks use it for making bread and in soups. But if anyone else has suggestions, please let us know ~!

  • The combination of yogurt and diced vegetables made me think of our Indian raita. But this looks exotic and oh-so-delicious! I’ll be making it soon!

  • I make labneh frequently — I use a coffee filter to strain the yogurt overnight — it works perfectly!

  • Yum. Fabulous pictures again.

  • I love finely chopped vegetables in labneh or any creamy yogurt. With radish my favorite combination is to add some walnuts and red chilly flakes. It is divine.

  • Hi –

    I love the labneh as a dip and look forward to trying your suggestion! I also have a totally off-topic question for you. I found your recipe for Seville orange marmalade and just received a huge crop from a friend’s tree. However, when I cut open the oranges, I found they had almost no seeds! Literally one or two per orange. Will this be enough to make a marmalade? Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you for your wonderful recipes, photos, and thoughts.

    • They should be fine, although I can’t say for sure – they sound like something you just need to try (perhaps do a small batch first). They may be a hybrid of some sort because I’ve seen a lot of Sevilles and they always are loaded up with seeds.

  • Since I was in Greece for the first time I buy Greek Yoghurt (or since the time I live in France, I also use one brand of 20% fromage frais) and ‘throw’ anything I like in it – I’m literally living on Dips all summer long – I love it with my garden herbs, fresh spring onions, flat parsley, finely chopped peppers, radishes, fennel, cucumber, whatever I’ve got my hands on, some fleurs de sel, a dash of fresh pepper, and a tiny ‘drink’ of the wonderful virgin olive oil – and Kiki is a happy bunny….
    Maybe i’m totally ignorant but I never strain my ‘dips’ – is there a special reason I fail to recognise?
    I’d just also like to thank you for looking so very well after all of us, David.

  • Yes, keep the whey. As long as the yogurt you strain has “live and active cultures,” whey makes a great “inoculant” (starter culture) for preparing your own lacto-fermented foods. Some of my favorites include country-style mustard, fig jam, kvass and kimchi. You can find recipes for all of these easy to ferment foods through a google search (as well as on my blog). If you’re like me, once you start fermenting foods at home, you’ll never want to discard the whey again.

  • Oh yum – I love lebneh! I’ve never thought to mix in some veg though. Will definately give this a go!

  • When I tried this after your initial post, I did use lowfat yoghurt as I usually do for labneh – it’s fantastic. (The caveat is that I use organic yoghurt with no additives, though, which is divine on its own.) I used red onion, carrots and capsicum (red peppers), herbs and sumac in mine – I hesitated over whether the capsicum was too juicy as per your warning, but it was fine. (I didn’t let it sit any time, however.) It was delicious and served with pita chips I made myself it disappeared in record time.

    • Thanks for letting us know that it worked for you with lowfat yogurt. A number of them do have stabilizers, and so forth, to give them additional thickness so it’s good you searched out a brand that didn’t have additives. I love sumac and recently read a cookbook review and the writer was peeved that a recipe called for it, and he said he couldn’t find it anywhere – in New York City! I find it in Paris, and it’s great stuff.

  • i love you.. or, at least how you show and tell me heavenly flavours.
    so beautiful.

  • Luscious and inviting. I prefer simple high quality ingredients like these – great for entertaining and treating yourself. Nice recipe!

  • There is a restaurant across the street from my apartment that serves labneh as a meza. It’s my favorite one! When I go there for brunch, I choose whatever entree gives labneh as a side!

  • Rachel — this sounds weird…but I find the whey to be a refreshing drink. Chilled and slightly salted. Maybe not for everyone but I love it.

  • thanks for a stellar radish idea. i always want to buy radishes, but never have any ideas. now i do! and i’ve just read another of your posts pairing them with tapenade.
    so don’t worry, i’m ON it.

    i read somewhere drinking whey straight is great for clear, glowing skin!

  • i’ve never heard of this dish, but it’s very beautiful. i cannot imagine taking the time to dice/mince all the vegetables for stock! i barely wash mine…

  • I have used whey in place of buttermilk in cake recipes with great success. I wonder if you could use it to make ricotta. The whey left from making cheese goes into many ricotta recipes so maybe yogurt whey would work too.

  • So after drooling over your trip reports to Lebabnon, I happened into a new little shop here in NJ (heart of the “Italian food only”) and was delighted to find a lovely Lebanese family had opened an interesting little place!!

    they had homemade tabouleh, hummus, babaganoush, and a section of dry goods- GIANT BAGS of SUMAC!! as well as other little canned and jarred goods (including a bunch of different tahini’s)!

    So I just a little tiny bit less jealous today, reading your post!

    thanks for the recipe!

  • Beautiful pictures! I love the color contrast of the oil swirled into the labneh.

  • Looks delicious, as ususal! I’m never sure what is meant by “full-fat”, is ist 3.5 or 10%?

    • Whole or full-fat milk (in the US) is 3.25% milkfat. Depending on where you live, there are lowfat/reduced fat milks that are 1-2%.

  • Lebni (Labneh) is a life-saver! It is a staple in Armenian/Middle Eastern kitchens, and go to meal when there’s nothing else. The best way to eat it is to mix or top it with dried herbs such as crushed Aleppo red pepper and dried mint leaves, and top it off with good olive oil. We usually make sandwhiches with it in pita bread, and add green or black olives or fresh vegetables like cucumber or tomato. One variation includes adding pickled jalapenos or turnips in the labneh and serving it alongside deep fried pita chips. YUMMM! Would love to meet you next time I’m in Paris!

  • For aretephora – I’ve had a Seville orange tree for 25 years, and find some years there are lots of pips, sometimes very few. Variation due to rainfall, I suspect. But the oranges always make a fabulous marmalade. I think the fairly thick skin supplies enough pectin to set the marmalade. Enjoy!

    David, loving your middle eastern posts, thank you, thank you.

  • Lebnehhhhhh! I am Lebanese from Holland.

    I love your bloggggg

    Xxx

  • David, could this dish be made (for children who aren’t into radishes and onions) with a tart apple or pear and some walnuts or other type nuts finely chopped?

    thanks,
    Claire

    • You could add anything, but I would avoid anything not crunchy. Otherwise they’ll get lost in the labneh.

  • Mmmmm looks amazing. thanks for sharing David!

  • I think it’s a great receipe..I love yogurt and I Think it’s interesting the association with vegetable! good! by ITALY

  • You make everything look so divine. I can’t wait to try this.

  • I’ve loved labneh for years (my wife is Lebanese), but have never thought to make it myself….silly me. Off to the market for some full-fat goodness now!

  • I make it from time to time and use it on sandwiches and I love it on cracker biscuits with slices of tomato. Yum!

  • Only recently started cooking Middle Eastern food. At the moment I only have 3 recipes in my repertoire but they are all ridiculously delicious, super simple and cheap to make: mujaddara (lentils, cumin, caramelized onions), batata harra (red potatoes, garlic ,cilantro, olive oil and cayenne) and homemade pita bread.

    I look forward to trying this Labneh recipe. I suspect a smear of this will go nicely inside homemade pitas that have been stuffed with a little mujadara. Thanks David!

  • I have one of those Saltons and still use it. It makes a fine yogi. I use it to make goat’s milk yogurt. Works like a charm! If your readers should decide to go for goat’s milk labneh – a quarter ts or so salt added to the yogurt before straining makes it taste better (IMO). Also a few chilies mixed in for the straining is fun)

    I use non fat Kirkland Greek yogurt (from Costco – for you in the US) to make labneh – it comes out just as delicious as full fat.

    Labneh (without the added veggies and so forth) can keep a couple weeks in the fridge. If you sorta scoop them into balls and cover them in oil they can keep a good month.

    David’s old boss would hate my dicing skills… but so far nobody has fired me (fingers crossed for the future).

  • I was desperate to try this, and as I was expected to bring treats to our final choir rehearsal party before summer vacation, it was perfect timing. I wanted to follow your recipe to the letter, but even more, I didn’t want to have to go to the store. So I used fat free Greek yogurt that I had on hand. I thought to put some sour cream in it to fatten it up, but my sour cream had pink spots all over it, so it didn’t seem like it would be tasty. Otherwise, I did everything you suggested, including the za’atar, which I had made previously. It was delicious, and a great success at the party. I served it with focaccia that I made. Très yummy!.

  • David – do you have a recipe that you follow for Mujaddara? A very long time ago I was served a pilaf dish that was rice, bulgur, lentils, raisins, and I suspect onions and stock. I have been craving it, probably since I’m reading the new Hosseini book. Everything I’ve found on the web seems close, and I can attempt to do it myself, but would love a suggestion.