The first labneh recipe I ever made was from Feast with Sababa by Tal Smith – one of my favourite South African cookbook authors. She tops the tangy, creamy yoghurt cheese with a mix of olives, pine nuts, herbs and spices. Even though there are now several labneh recipes in my repertoire, her labneh topping still makes a regular appearance on my snack table.
Calling how to make labneh a recipe is perhaps a bit of a stretch. It takes two ingredients (yoghurt and salt) that you mix, strain and store. As simple as that. But pair it with the right friends – like Tal’s olive topping – and it becomes something extraordinary.
What is labneh?
Labneh is a Middle Eastern strained yoghurt (or yoghurt cheese). Straining the yoghurt reduces the liquid whey content and turns it into a spreadable yoghurt cheese with a creamy texture and slightly tangy flavour.
It is delicious spread on flatbreads or toast. Or serve it as part of a mezze spread with toppings. You can even use it in cooking instead of normal yoghurt to reduce the risk of curdling.
Which yoghurt is best for straining?
Greek yoghurt (or Greek-style yoghurt) is a creamy strained yoghurt. Some labneh recipes require Greek yoghurt specifically – others refer to labneh as Greek Yoghurt. It can all get a bit confusing. But essentially, you can use any full-fat natural yoghurt. Merely adapt the straining time to get your desired thickness of yoghurt cheese.
I use a double cream plain yoghurt that delivers a luxuriously thick and creamy strained yoghurt. If you use your favourite full-fat natural yoghurt, you are guaranteed to love the taste of the resulting cheese. You can also use goat’s milk yoghurt for a more tangy flavour. Or use a blend of the two. Just avoid flavoured or fat-free varieties.
This labneh recipe produces roughly 2–2½ cups from 3½ cups (1 kilogram) of yoghurt – depending on the yoghurt and straining time. But you can scale the recipe down if you want to make less.
How to make labneh
Making strained yoghurt at home could not be simpler. You only need two ingredients (full-fat natural yoghurt and salt), muslin or a clean tea towel and – depending on the straining technique used – a bowl and a sieve.
Start by mixing the yoghurt and salt. Then strain the salted yoghurt to reduce the liquid whey and thicken the yoghurt. There are two ways of achieving this.
Strain the yoghurt in a muslin-lined sieve
Place a sieve over a large bowl and line it with muslin or a clean kitchen towel – use a double layer of muslin if your yoghurt is thin. And place the salted yoghurt into the muslin-lined sieve.
Secure the yoghurt inside the muslin by folding the muslin or tying it together with string. Yoghurt should not be able to bypass the fabric and spill through the sieve. It needs to filter through the muslin.
If you use the sieve method, place a weight on top of the securely covered yoghurt. I use a bowl and a jarred condiment from the fridge. The extra weight applies gentle pressure to squeeze out the whey.
Place everything in the fridge and leave to strain for 24 to 48 hours. After a few hours, you will see whey collecting in the bowl. And the yoghurt will start to thicken. Below are images of double cream yoghurt strained for 12 hours.
Your results will differ depending on the type of yoghurt you used.
Strain the yoghurt by hanging in muslin
Alternatively, you can secure the yoghurt inside the muslin (or tea towel) using string.
Hang the parcel somewhere to strain – like a wooden spoon balancing over a large bowl, or tie the string to a tap over the kitchen sink. It will still need to strain for 24 hours.
In the warmer months, I prefer to place the yoghurt in the refrigerator while straining. This makes the sieve method easier to store everything in the fridge until ready.
The wait is seriously the most challenging part of the process.
So, if you are in a rush, you can gently squeeze some whey out using your hands. But take care not to squeeze the yoghurt through the fabric. The whey is a yellowish liquid. So as soon as you see white drops of yoghurt appearing on the fabric, you need to back off. Keep an eye on the consistency of the labneh throughout the straining process until you find it to your liking.
Use the leftover liquid whey to make flatbreads
Don’t discard the liquid whey you drained from the yoghurt. Add it to smoothies or use it as a cooking liquid. I like to use it to make quick flatbreads to serve with the strained yoghurt.
You don’t have to use the whey straight a-whey (I couldn’t resist). Store it in a sealed container in the fridge. Several sources say that whey can last for weeks in the fridge as long as it is only whey – so no yoghurt made it through. But I prefer to use it within a few days of straining.
To make quick and easy no-yeast flatbreads, use this recipe for yoghurt flatbreads. But for each 1½ cup of flour (180g), use half a cup of liquid whey and one tablespoon of olive oil to replace the yoghurt in the recipe. The dough is a bit more sticky this way, so flour your rolling pin and surface liberally.
Related Post: Quick and easy (no yeast) yoghurt flatbreads
How to store labneh
You can store labneh in the fridge in a clean, sealed jar for about two weeks.
If you need to preserve it for longer, add enough extra virgin olive oil to completely cover the yoghurt cheese. Stored like this, it will keep up to a month in the fridge. The olive oil will solidify at the cold temperature. Just bring the container to room temperature to pour off the olive oil.
Use the olive oil in salad dressings or drizzle over the labneh when serving as a dip.
You can also roll the labneh into small balls, leave them to set in the fridge overnight and then store them in a jar of olive oil for up to one month. See garlic and herb labneh balls in olive oil for the full instructions
Related Post: Garlic and herb labneh balls preserved in olive oil
How to use labneh
Labneh is a versatile ingredient to have in the fridge. Here are just a few uses for your homemade labneh.
- Spread labneh on bread and bagels as you would cream cheese. It makes a great addition to avo toast, and it adds a luxurious touch to simple boiled eggs on toast when sprinkled with sumac or za’atar.
- Labneh is often served as a dip or part of a mezze spread. You can find the instructions for the classic za’atar topped labneh below, as well as a range of different topping ideas.
- But the usefulness of labneh extends beyond spread and dip. You can use it in cooking as you would yoghurt. Labneh does not curdle as quickly as unstrained yoghurt does when heated. Molly Baz has a delicious recipe for “Brown Butter & Labneh Banana
BreadCake”. The recipe is from her first cookbook, Cook this book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes to Repeat, and it is one of my favourite banana breadcakes out there.
Labneh with Za’atar
Spread the labneh in a shallow bowl and use a spoon to create a textured surface. Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil. And sprinkle with a tablespoon of za’atar, a few pinches sumac and flaky salt.
You can also add toasted pine nuts or chopped pistachios. Serve it with toasted pita triangles, sourdough, or flatbreads (try these quick and easy ones).
Or try some of these labneh topping ideas:
- Harissa on Labneh: Mix equal parts harissa paste and extra virgin olive oil. Pour the sauce over the labneh and finish with a sprinkling of salt.
- Roasted Tomatoes on Labneh: Similarly, harissa roasted cherry tomatoes are a delicious labneh topping. Or try this quick pan-cooked version for sweet and spicy tomato sauce on labneh.
- Chopped Olives on Labneh: Roughly chop stoned olives, garlic and parsley and mix with toasted pine nuts before scooping over the labneh. Finish with a teaspoon of sumac.
- Lemon and Herbs on Labneh: Mix the juice and zest of a lemon with salt, olive oil and chopped herbs such as mint, parsley, coriander and dill. Pour it over the labneh and serve.
- Figs, Pistachios and Tahini-Honey on Labneh: You can even go sweet. Top the labneh with fresh figs, pistachios and tahini-honey for a quick no-fuss summer dessert.
Labneh is more than just a tasty toast topper or dip. It’s also a great way to preserve yoghurt. And did I mention how easy it is to make? So go on, buy your yoghurt in bulk and make some yoghurt cheese.
How to make labneh (yoghurt cheese)
- Muslin cloth (or tea towel)
- Glass bowl
- Sieve (optional)
- Sealable jar for storing
- 1 kilogram (3½ cups) natural yoghurt, see notes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- extra virgin olive oil, to preserve (optional)
To serve (optional)
- 1 tablespoon za'atar (optional)
- ½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
- 2 tablespoons pistachio nuts (optional)
- flaky salt (optional
- Mix the yoghurt and salt in a bowl.
- Line a sieve with muslin – spacing the muslin evenly so that the yoghurt can be securely covered – and place it over a large bowl. Tip the salted yoghurt into the muslin-lined sieve. Cover the yoghurt by folding over the muslin or tying it together with string. It should be impossible for yoghurt to leak out.
- Alternatively, you can tie the muslin together using string to ensure that no yoghurt leaks out. Hang the yoghurt-filled muslin ball over a bowl to strain.
- If you are using the sieve method, place a small weight on top of the yoghurt. I use a bowl and a condiment jar from the fridge. The extra weight helps to squeeze out the whey.
- Place everything in the fridge and leave the liquid to strain off for 24 to 48 hours – depending on your preferred consistency.
- Once ready, spread the labneh in a serving bowl and create ridges with the back of a spoon. Add toppings – see the full blog post for topping ideas – and enjoy with toasted pita triangles or flatbreads.
- Or to store, place the labneh in a clean, sealable jar. It will keep for about two weeks in the fridge. If you need to preserve it for longer, cover it with olive oil. This way, it will last for months.
- You can use any full-fat natural yoghurt for this recipe. The choice of yoghurt will determine the flavour of the labneh. Use goat's milk yoghurt for a more tangy cheese, stick to cow's milk yoghurt, or use a combination of the two.
- I have not yet tested labneh with vegan yoghurt. Once I do, I will report back here. But in principle – and according to the internet – it should work just fine. Let me know if you try it!
MADE THIS RECIPE?
I would love to see! Tag @non_guilty_pleasures on Instagram and use the hashtag #nonguiltypleasuresrecipe
This recipe is so easy. I’m never buying labneh in the shop again!
I know, right? I adore homemade labneh.