Labneh Balls

I don’t want to brag, but back in the day, I was a real DIY trailblazer. Before bread machines, before instant pressure cookers, before the rise of the Cuisinart, before whatever came (and in some cases, came and went…like the motorized ice cream cone), I had a yogurt maker. It was a marvel of sleek pop design, made by Salton. Yogurt started booming in America thanks to a clever ad campaign by Dannon, and the machine meant that anyone could DIY their own yogurt with this boat-shaped contraption, which seemed like a miracle to me.

When I worked in a natural food vegetarian restaurant a few years later, we made our own yogurt in empty gallon mayonnaise jars. Proving that DIY folks can always make room for exceptions, we bought Hellman’s mayonnaise because we used it by the gallon for salad dressing and our kitchen was anti-machine, and no one wanted to make (or had the muscles) to make 2 gallons of mayonnaise at a time by hand.

We weren’t alone; years later when I lived in San Francisco, a friend was the pastry chef at a very popular, and very busy restaurant. She made all her ice cream from scratch but ended up buying locally-made vanilla ice cream because she simply couldn’t keep up, or churn up, with the demand. It was hard to criticize her because some days, in my professional baking days, I used to go on a tear where I worked, and make 20 gallons of vanilla ice cream at a time, then spend the day churning it all in our modest machine, just to keep up with demand. I love making ice cream but it took me away from creating other things and nowadays I’ve learned that life gets a little easier when you realize that you can’t do everything and it’s about priorities.

The upside of using store-bought mayo was that it came in large glass jars, which we used for making yogurt. And nowadays, I’m fine buying yogurt, and using that time to do other things…like write my blog!

Still, I’ll admit to a DIY streak and in addition to making all of my ice cream at home, from scratch, even though there’s no shortage of cheese in France, it’s fun to make your own, which anyone can do at home. No machine required!

Greek yogurt has become a “thing” in the U.S. and while it’s available in France, too, I generally buy regular plain whole milk yogurt because Greek and Greek-style yogurt is a little too thick for me to enjoy on a daily basis. Still, it’s a faster route to labneh, although I did make these labneh balls with regular whole milk yogurt and with Greek yogurt, just to see what the differences would be.

With the plain whole milk yogurt, which contains more water, I let the mixture drain and strain for 3 days. Then I rolled the balls (which were rather sticky, and didn’t look perfect at first) into rounds. After I chilled them uncovered for two days in the refrigerator, then rolled them again in my hands once they were drier, so they’d look nicer. I rolled those in seasonings, namely za’atar and smoked paprika. Because of all the whey that came out, from a quart (900g) of plain yogurt, I got 15 labneh balls.

Using full-fat Greek yogurt, I drained and strained the yogurt for 2 days in the refrigerator. The balls were firm enough to roll by hand right away, but if you have the patience, they’ll be easier to roll if you can let them chill overnight on a plate (uncovered) in the refrigerator. I got over twice as many labneh balls from Greek yogurt.

I did find the Labneh balls made with plain yogurt tangier than the ones made with Greek yogurt, probably because the plain yogurt is more reduced than the Greek yogurt. But with the higher yield, and ease of rolling, I found Greek yogurt to be the way to go.

For do-ahead entertaining, labneh balls are hard to beat. Some say you can keep them at room temperature as long as the balls are completely submerged. But being a nervous nellie, I know that sometimes the cheese slides down the interior of the glass and isn’t covered in oil, and while my refrigerator is always crowded, there’s always room for cheese in there.

Labneh Balls

I've made these with whole milk plain yogurt, as well as Greek yogurt and you can read some of the differences in my post, above.
You can use any of your favorite aromatic herbs, like thyme, sage, or bay leaves in the oil you pack the balls in. I like to add some chili flakes too, but while it’s tempting to add fresh garlic, there are some health hazards associate with that, so if you do, the labneh balls and oil should be used within 2-3 days. It's nice to roll the finished balls in za’atar, chili flakes, Aleppo pepper, fresh or dried thyme, oregano, or mint, or paprika, before placing them in the jar and covering them completely with olive oil.
One quart of whole milk yogurt will yield about fifteen balls. A quart of Greek or Greek-style yogurt will yield about three times as many.
I don't know if it makes a difference but as a precaution, I poured boiling water in the jar first and let it sit for 10 minutes then poured it out and let it dry (and cool) upside down before using.
These labneh balls should last a few months in the refrigerator but make sure the labneh balls are fully submerged under the oil, not sticking out above it. If the oil solidifies in the refrigerator, remove the jar about an hour before serving, letting them come to room temperature.
Course Appetizer
Servings 8
  • 1 quart (900g) Greek or Greek-style plain yogurt
  • 2 cups (500ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if necessary
  • za'atar, paprika (sweet or smoked), sumac, Aleppo pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, a few sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary (some suggested flavorings)
  • Line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth or food-grade muslin (called étamine in France). Set the strainer over a deep bowl and scrape the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Fold the cheesecloth over the cheese, set a small plate on it with something not too heavy, such as a 14oz/400g tin of tomatoes, and refrigerate for 2 days.
  • Prepare any seasonings that you wish to use (if you want to roll them in something) and spread them on dinner plates. Pour the oil into a clean 1-quart (or larger) jar.
  • Use a spoon to scoop out labneh into rough 1-inch (2,5cm) rounds. Use your hands to roll them into smooth balls and drop them into whatever seasonings you want to roll them in, if using, then roll them around to coat them. (If keeping them plain, just drop them into the oil with any seasonings added, being careful to avoid letting them slide down the sides of the jar.)
  • If you wish, add a few branches of fresh herbs, some chile flakes perhaps, and additional olive oil if the labneh balls aren't completely covered in oil. Cover with the lid and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

Serving: Serve the balls on their own, as part of an appetizer spread, with hummus, eggplant caviar, tarama, and baba ganoush, along with flatbread. They can also be used as a base for tartines, open-faced sandwiches, topped with smoked salmon, radishes, pickled carrots, sliced tomatoes, and a scattering of fresh herbs, or whatever you prefer.
Storage: Store the labneh balls in the refrigerator. The olive oil may thicken, and if it does, remove the jar an hour or so before serving, to the labneh balls are easy to remove. They'll keep for at least two months if the balls are completely submerged in olive oil. 

 

 

Labneh Balls

71 comments

  • Margaret
    October 15, 2021 11:09am

    I started making labneh balls from my Honey & Co cookbook last year during lockdown, taking to family and friends. Nothing like labneh balls to cheer everyone up :) My SIL started making too — it saved us. Love your seasoning ideas — must try.

  • Margaret
    October 15, 2021 11:26am

    PS, and love your serving ideas too — I’m going to make eggplant caviar with the last two eggplants from my garden and have a party, thanks David!

  • Laurie Gafni
    October 15, 2021 2:49pm

    Can’t wait to try making these, even though they’re readily available here in Israel. Would you recommend using the 10% Greek yogurt, imported from Greece? It’s far better than the “Greek” yogurt produced locally.

    • October 15, 2021 2:54pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think you can use any kind. I used one that (I think) was 4% but I know in France and in the U.S., Greek or Greek-style yogurts can vary. But best to think of this less of a recipe than a technique and it’s hard to go wrong – it just may take less time to strain if using a higher-fat product, so it’ll be ready sooner : )

  • Debra
    October 15, 2021 2:54pm

    Ooh, great idea! A DIY worth doing. Thank you!

  • Alison Faid
    October 15, 2021 3:16pm

    I always drain my yogurt through a coffee filter in a cone (propped up in a bowl) and it works like a hot damn!

    • October 15, 2021 3:58pm
      David Lebovitz

      In the restaurant business, we had giant coffee filters that were as wide as a pie (we actually used them for lining pie and tart pans before adding weights for pre-baking the crusts), but since this starts with 4 cups (900g) of yogurt, you’d need a pretty big one : )

  • Marcella
    October 15, 2021 3:23pm

    Thanks! That’s very cool, I’m going to try it :)

  • SavoryGourmet
    October 15, 2021 3:29pm

    Do you reuse the olive oil for the next batch?

    • October 15, 2021 3:57pm
      David Lebovitz

      Not really. I’d use it for vinaigrettes, salads, and roasting vegetables.

  • Carol Kent
    October 15, 2021 3:33pm

    What do you think of using Icelandic yoghurt?

    • October 15, 2021 3:59pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s delicious but we don’t get it in Paris easily, or I’ve not seen it. I know it’s fairly costly and may not be worth it in the finished product but if you do try it, let us know how it works out!

      • Brooke
        October 25, 2021 9:22am

        I came across Icelandic yogurt at monoprix in the 16th. They have a wide selection!

  • Charlie
    October 15, 2021 3:46pm

    David: Would Skyr work for this?

    Have a wonderful day.

  • Linda from Indiana
    October 15, 2021 3:49pm

    I remember those Salton yogurt makers, too. I remember thinking, who needs a special machine to make yogurt? as I was already making it in large containers. I still make it that way (now using commercial yogurt containers!) because I don’t like buying and throwing out all those plastic containers. But I might have to buy some Greek yogurt to try this!

    • October 15, 2021 3:56pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think back then, people weren’t used to making it themselves as yogurt was sort of new in the U.S..and fun! But if you do a search online for ‘yaourtiere vintage’ you can see some cool-looking vintage French ones from way-back-when, too.

  • Linda O
    October 15, 2021 3:57pm

    Is this an “age” thing, but I had to laugh because I also had that Salton yoghurt maker. It was a miracle machine. I have no idea what happened to it.

  • Tanya Dobbs
    October 15, 2021 4:20pm

    I love Lebneh and I’m lucky enough to have a Lebanese fishmonger nearby who introduced me to lebneh balls.
    During covid lockdown I couldn’t always get it so I started making it using kefir, a cultured milk product.
    I love labneh with olive oil and zatar for breakfast with toasted naan and of course, it’s a great appetizer. Also the marinated balls are really delicious with lamb chops. Great blog!

  • Becky R.
    October 15, 2021 4:27pm

    I make labneh balls, and I really appreciate your suggestions for adding herbs I had not considered. I think my plain ones are fabulous on whole grain toast. Thanks, David!

  • October 15, 2021 4:32pm

    This idea and recipe is something my family would love. Also a great opportunity to infuse with herbs from my garden, sorrel sounds interesting.
    What do you think about half drained Greek yogurt and half fresh goat cheese?

    • October 15, 2021 4:46pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think it wouldn’t be the best use of fresh goat cheese since that’s already been drained (and it’d be more expensive) but you could use goat milk yogurt for that nice tangy flavor.

  • Susan
    October 15, 2021 4:45pm

    I’m excited to try this. I’ve been making yogurt in my insta pot and I really like that I can vary the amounts I make. A quart takes a few hours , half gallon about 7. Wanted to reduced plastic in my life. My mother had one of this yogurt makers probably around 1970!

  • Nancy C
    October 15, 2021 5:05pm

    I’m wondering if you could use half plain and half honey vanilla Greek yogurt, and make dessert labneh. Roll them in cinnamon sugar + almond slices? But then, what oil to soak them in….

    • Roberta Smith
      October 23, 2021 8:33pm

      Maybe lemon zest and olive oil? Reminds me of those wonderful olive oil cakes.

  • Kathleen Sawtell
    October 15, 2021 5:33pm

    My grandmother always had yogurt she made with milk and a little bit of the last batch of yogurt, leaving it the gas oven overnight.
    She was born in 1898 in Oklahoma and not a gourmet. :)

  • Janet
    October 15, 2021 5:38pm

    I had that yogurt maker too! Then circa 1977 I kept goats for a few years and made yogurt by the gallon.

  • Christina
    October 15, 2021 6:21pm

    Omg! We had that yogurt maker too!

  • October 15, 2021 6:31pm
    David Lebovitz

    Janet, Christina, Linda O: Bonus points if you had a crêpe pan (from Pier 1 Imports, I think…), too! ; )

    • Roberta Smith
      October 23, 2021 8:35pm

      How about those upside down crepe pans? Remember?

  • Susan
    October 15, 2021 6:56pm

    Showing my age here…..I used to make yogurt using the recipe from Whole Earth Catalogue ( my granola too!). That was when gas stoves had a pilot flame and that has gone the way of the Dodo. I also had a gadget from, I think, Yogourmet in CT. that was a glass jar that fit into a thermos type sleeve and produced wonderful creme fraiche. This brought back some memories David. Thanks! Now I feel even older!!

  • October 15, 2021 7:08pm

    Try rolling the balls in black pepper and then serve the cheese on sourdough toast (or crackers) and drizzled with lots of honey, HEAVEN. (https://bit.ly/3aH1qdB)

    Also! While you’re on a DIY streak, you might want to try quark (https://bit.ly/2YXYUgO), and if you try quark, you GOTTA try Belper Knolle (https://bit.ly/3FP7uyY). Soooo good!!!

  • Patricia
    October 15, 2021 7:18pm

    I have been making yogurt since you put out a post with the instructions to make yogurt at home. I love the process and I love to experiment with different levels of fat in milk and even adding some cream to make richer yogurt. Stuff I didn’t know before. Recently, I saw commercial prepared labneh at grocery store catering to Middle Eastern people. It’s much saltier than strained Greek yogurt which is probably why I love it so much. I haven’t tried making it myself but I sure plan to make some this weekend. Storing it in olive oil just sounds so over-the-top delicious – I can hardly wait. Thanks again David.

    • October 16, 2021 9:34am
      David Lebovitz

      I bought salted yogurt (the brand is called “Sohha“) in Brooklyn that was really great.

  • Debbie
    October 15, 2021 7:19pm

    Please clarify – is the 1 quart (900g) Greek or Greek-style plain yogurt WHOLE milk or could it be NONFAT Greek yogurt?

    • October 16, 2021 9:13am
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t tried it with nonfat yogurt but personally, I would use full-fat, as I mentioned in the post. If you do try it wtih nonfat, let us know how it works. I’d be interested to hear!

  • Carole
    October 15, 2021 7:24pm

    I had that very same yogurt maker!! I wish I had kept it. I moved on to a much larger maker.

  • Stacy
    October 15, 2021 8:02pm

    Any downside in using a small ice cream scoop to make the balls for uniformity and ease?

  • Louise Yenovkian
    October 15, 2021 8:21pm

    You can also use Labneh that is sold in large yogurt type containers. Has a sweeter, milder flavor than yoghurt. Very creamy in taste. Delicious and can be used for many different recipes. All ready to go!

  • Joanne
    October 15, 2021 10:03pm

    Can these be made with lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt?

    • October 16, 2021 9:13am
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know how they are made, if they have thickeners in them or not. I would probably avoid non-fat but if you try it with lowfat Greek yogurt, let us know how it turns out!

  • Barbara
    October 16, 2021 12:06am

    Wow, I had the yogurt maker and the crêpe pan! I haven’t made yogurt or crêpes in years. Maybe time to start again. The labne looks and sounds delicious. Need to do that too!
    Thanks again for another wonderful edition of this great blog.

    • October 16, 2021 9:12am
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks Barbara! Funny that I had a crêpe pan – I was inspired to get one after eating crêpes at The Magic Pan, at the mall ;)
      I remember that it was domed and you heated it up and turned the dome side down into the batter, than turned it back over to cook. Not sure who came up with that idea – or if it was better than just swirling batter in a regular pan, but it was how I learned to make crêpes. I also remember making Chicken Mornay (or something like that) to go in the crêpes, which has an abundance of flour it in so was quite thick, which I think was another tendency at the time; when we thought “French” meant thick, gloppy sauces. But I do remember…it was still good!

  • Carolyn Z
    October 16, 2021 1:26am

    I still have two of this yoghurt makers in the attic. Have switched to making kefir now. Last spring I used the yoghurt makers to start Tomas, cucumber and zucchini seeds. In on Friday, up on Monday!

    I digress. Lebneh, to keep the oil from solidifying could I use half olive oil and half grape seed? That’s what I do with salad dressing that I keep in the fridge.

    • October 16, 2021 9:32am
      David Lebovitz

      You possibly could – Salad dressing, since it has vinegar and other ingredients in it, may not solidify like 100% oil does. But you could give it a try and see!

  • Tobie
    October 16, 2021 1:32am

    I think I still have that same yogurt maker but it’s hidden away someplace!

  • Kathleen Sawtell
    October 16, 2021 1:33am

    Crepe pan, wish I still had it

  • Sarah R
    October 16, 2021 12:06pm

    I had that yogurt maker! I took it to college with me in 1976 and made yogurt in my dorm room (thank god for the dorm mini-fridge) along with a 1950’s popcorn popper that doubled as a hotpot. Ah, memories! I’m excited to try this recipe. i love a fresh cheese on toast with jam in the morning.

  • snuffcurry
    October 17, 2021 10:55am

    David’s link to helpful whey uses is pretty definitive (yeasted breads, which is my typical go-to, merits a passing mention).

    Given his latest book, however, I’d like to highlight one less orthodox practice, which is the whey cocktail. Most of us have probably heard of whey-based spirits, but the whey itself can feature as its own ingredient, too, anywhere a standard cocktail recipe’s chemistry can stand up to the distinct characteristics of dairy and dairy by-products.

    As for the balls themselves, whey can add some pretty interesting, delicate notes to a labneh salad vinaigrette.

  • Myk
    October 17, 2021 5:57pm

    Ah memories! I had that yogurt maker too. This looks like a good recipe to try now that we’re starting to get together again. Thanksgiving starter?

  • Barbara
    October 17, 2021 7:40pm

    Wouldn’t it be easier to use a scoop?

    • October 22, 2021 8:04pm
      David Lebovitz

      Sure, if you have one!

  • Carolyn D
    October 17, 2021 10:14pm

    This question is about the pickled carrots linked in above.
    Is the 1 1/4 cups water for blanching the carrots or the pickle juice?
    Thank you

    • October 18, 2021 9:58am
      David Lebovitz

      The water listed in the ingredients is used with the vinegar and other ingredients. I edited the recipe so it’s clear now : )

  • Gavrielle
    October 17, 2021 11:47pm

    I buy a lovely organic low-fat yoghurt here in NZ (with no thickeners) which I make successful labneh with. The only thing to watch is that they come out a lot tangier than with a whole-milk yoghurt. I don’t mind that at all, but I think some people might find the flavour too strong

  • Laurie
    October 18, 2021 3:48am

    Bonjour David,
    I can’t make labnehs because we’re a vegan family. That said, I recently made your Cranberry Chutney and my six-year-old child loved it. In fact, he even asked for a second serving of it. Three cheers for a great hit!

    • October 18, 2021 9:59am
      David Lebovitz

      Am glad you like the chutney…and so does your six year old! I haven’t use plant-based yogurts but wonder if they can be drained, like dairy yogurt can? I know there are people who make vegan ‘cheese’ but it’s something I don’t have a lot of experience with.

  • Thais
    October 19, 2021 4:19pm

    I’m making now.

  • Christin
    October 19, 2021 5:01pm

    Looks so, so good! Will definitely try, and may even go ahead and make yogurt again to do so! Do you think infusing the olive oil with garlic and then cooling and proceeding with the recipe would carry a similar risk profile to fresh garlic? May have to just stick to roasted garlic as part of the charcuterie plate I imagine this cheese nestled on :-) Thanks for all of your content! Always a great read!

    • October 19, 2021 5:26pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know much about the science and safety of using garlic with oil so you might want to do some research (on a reputable website) about that. I like the idea of garlic but you do want to avoid any issues ;)

  • Tanya Dobbs
    October 19, 2021 5:43pm

    Maybe you can use an already flavored garlic olive oil.

  • jane
    October 19, 2021 10:53pm

    I’ve made a vegan version of the balls using coconut yogurt but I use them right away – it totally works! But I’ve never tried storing them in oil so I will see how that works out, would love to have a jar or two in the fridge!

  • AM
    October 20, 2021 3:45am

    Just had some comfort food at Fadi’s restaurant in Texas – labneh is my favorite side there. They mix in walnuts and chives. Will have to try this at home!

  • Suzi Sholin
    October 21, 2021 12:33am

    Just made a batch. Interestingly, no more liquid came out after the first 24 hrs. but the yogurt was very firm and rolled up great. Used 2 jars since my big ones are filled with other goodies. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Christin Hopkins
    October 21, 2021 12:39am

    Yes, may work :-). Will try as is first!

  • Shira McKernan
    October 21, 2021 3:18pm

    Regarding Skyr in Paris Franprix and Monoprix started carrying Danon brand Skyr the last couple of years and more recently Siggi’s which I love. I believe Skyr is usually non fat, however.

  • October 21, 2021 4:17pm

    Hi David!

    I love your Blog!

    I would definately recommend Goat Milk for Labneh Balls.

    In Lebanon labneh balls are usually made from goat milk to give them that extra tang!

  • rrose
    October 21, 2021 5:21pm

    PS: the reply buttons on the comments do not seem to be working fyi

    • October 21, 2021 6:53pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks. The Reply button is working for me but I’ve heard from a few others it’s not working for them as well so will have my web folks look at it. Appreciate your letting me know.

  • hana
    October 22, 2021 5:35pm

    Comments on your pickle links are closed but this applies here too: roasted pickled veggies like carrots and radish are delicious on tartines like this as well. Discovered by accident in the kitchen one day and now love them. They’re great in a bunch of things actually – especially cooked radishes – who knew they are so nice braised?

  • Keely
    October 24, 2021 7:28pm

    A few years ago I bought 2 of those yogurt makers for $5 each at an estate sale just because I wanted the pretty white glass cups, lol. Kept the machines for a bit but got rid of them when I realized I’d never use them. Still have the white glass yogurt cups of course.

  • Chris Riggle
    November 1, 2021 4:52pm

    I’ve been making my full-fat yogurt in my Instant Pot for about a year. Used to make it in the Salton but there were too many watery failures. Costco has great Greek yogurt.

A

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