I remember the first time I tried sweet chilli sauce. Savoury, spicy, AND sweet. Mind blown. It was the early 2000s, and we were all students. No social gathering was complete without cream cheese smothered in cloyingly sweet shop-bought chilli sauce.

This labneh dip, with its sweet and spicy cherry tomato sauce, pays homage to that snack. The one that allowed me to play hostess – even with my limited kitchen experience. It hits all the spots – creamy, crunchy, sweet and spicy. Perhaps in a slightly more sophisticated way.

The homemade burst cherry tomato sauce takes only 15 minutes to make, so really nothing fancy. But it certainly feels more grown-up. For one, you need to own a pan to make it.

Homemade labneh dip with quick harissa tomato sauce as an appetiser.

If you have time, by all means, make the slow-roasted version and serve it on labneh as I do here. But this appetiser is intended as a dish that you can throw together almost as quickly as chucking shop-bought chilli sauce on cream cheese.

The sauce gets its fragrant, spicy kick from rose harissa which pairs brilliantly with the smoky maple syrup. Together with the quick pan-roasted tomatoes and garlic, it makes the perfect hot topping for a delicious labneh dip.

What is rose harissa paste?

Harissa is a fragrant North African red pepper and chilli paste – often with toasted spices and garlic. Rose harissa also contains rose petals or rose water. You can buy rose harissa ready-made or make rose harissa at home.

What is a good substitute for rose harissa?

I adore the spicy, fragrant and floral pepper paste. But if you can’t find rose harissa in the shop and is in no mood to make your own, use normal fragrant harissa. Add a teaspoon of rose water to the marinade if you still want those floral notes. Keep in mind that the flavour and levels of chilli heat differ across shop-bought harissa brands.

If you really can’t track down harissa paste, use tomato paste with a teaspoon of rose water. Add a mixed teaspoon of cumin and caraway seeds to the pan with the garlic to get closer to the harissa flavour profile.

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. Labneh is simple to make at home. Make a large batch whenever you do, as it is fantastic spread on flatbreads and toast. Or serve a labneh dip as part of a mezze spread, like this version with sweet and spicy cherry tomato sauce.

Aside from being simple to make, labneh keeps well in the fridge for at least a month. If you are making labneh at home, keep the drained liquid whey and use it to make quick flatbreads to go with this labneh dip.

What is a good substitute for labneh?

If you don’t have labneh and no time to spare, you can also use thick Greek-style yoghurt as Yotam Ottolenghi does in his famous “Hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt” from Simple. See Ottolenghi’s recipe as published in The Guardian. The yoghurt will melt more than labneh when hit with the hot tomatoes, so it definitely needs to be served straight away.

Bright red dherry tomatoes on a concrete surface.Before starting your sweet and spicy tomato sauce, get all your ingredients ready. If you are making your own flatbreads, now is the time to do so. You can always reheat them gently in the oven or toaster before serving. I love to make this sauce with small, sweet cherry tomatoes. But you can really use any small tomato.

Spread the labneh in a shallow bowl or plate. Use the back of a spoon to make ridges, creating little waves and dips for the sauce to settle into. You can do this well in advance. Just refrigerate the labneh if you are not close to serving.

Ingredients for labneh dip with quick harissa tomato sauce.

How to make quick sweet and spicy cherry tomato sauce

This sauce takes a mere 15 minutes on the stovetop. It is ideal as a quick trick to feed unexpected guests.

Maple syrup sweetens the sauce. But it also allows quicker caramelisation in the pan. You can omit this if you have sweet peak summer cherry tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes to a pre-heated pan and char for a few minutes. Then add the olive oil and garlic – taking care not to let the garlic go too dark. There is no space for bitter garlic in this sweet and spicy sauce. Next up is the sauce ingredients – rose harissa, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and salt. Squash a few tomatoes with the back of your spatula and cook until everything is thick and bubbly. I like to stir a final tablespoon of olive oil through the sauce right at the end to loosen it up a bit. The recipe card below has detailed instructions.

Homemade labneh spread with the back of a spoon to form waves.
Sweet and spicy burst cherry tomato sauce in a skillet.

How to serve this labneh dip

I love to serve this labneh dip with the burst cherry tomato sauce still piping hot, allowing the labneh to melt at the edges. However, if you want to assemble the dish ahead of time – let the tomatoes first cool in the pan. Or you can make all of the components well ahead – storing the labneh and sauce individually in the fridge – and briefly reheat the tomato sauce before serving. If you are lucky enough to have any leftovers, this sweet and spicy tomato sauce is also an excellent relish. Generously spoon it over roast veg and burgers alike.

The dip is topped with toasted nigella seeds and pine nuts. Nigella seeds (also known as black caraway, black cumin or kalonji) has an earthy taste similar to cumin seeds. But I also adore the way they look – black specks highlighted by the white labneh. So, for the closest thing visually and taste-wise, use a combination of cumin seeds and black sesame seeds.

Spicy harissa tomatoes on homemade labneh with flatbreads to enjoy as an appetiser.

Serve this creamy labneh smothered in sweet and spicy harissa tomato sauce topped with crunchy pine nuts and earthy nigella seeds the next time you entertain – or feel like having a luscious snack. It’s (almost) as quick and easy as spooning shop-bought sweet chilli sauce on cream cheese.

Labneh Dip with Sweet and Spicy Burst Cherry Tomato Sauce

5 from 10 votes

This creamy labneh dip is topped with a sweet and spicy cherry tomato sauce topped with crunchy pine nuts and earthy nigella seeds. The tomato sauce is ready in 15 minutes, making this the perfect snack for unexpected guests. The recipe serves 4 to 6 people as an appetiser or snack.
If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, the tomato sauce is a great relish to spoon over veggies or burgers.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Appetizer, Mezze, Snack
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 4 people


  • A 10-inch (25 cm) pan


  • tablespoon rose harissa
  • ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 350 grams (1½ cups) labneh
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 350 grams (2 heaped cups) cherry tomatoes, or other small tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed with the flat side of a knife and then sliced
  • flaky salt
  • flatbreads or toasted sourdough, to serve (optional)


  • Place a pan over medium heat to warm up. I use a 10-inch (25 cm) skillet.
  • Prepare the sweet harissa sauce by mixing the rose harissa, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and salt together in a small bowl.
  • Get a shallow serving bowl or plate and spread the labneh in waves using the back of a spoon to create creases for the tomato sauce to nestle into. Set aside while making the tomato sauce.
  • Once your pan is hot, toast the nigella seeds and pine nuts for a minute, giving the pan regular shakes or stirs. The nigella seeds will pop. Continue until the pine nuts are light golden in colour, keeping a close eye on them – they burn easily. Place the toasted nuts and spices in a bowl to cool down.
  • Return the pan to the stove, increase the heat to medium-high and add the cherry tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time until the tomatoes are slightly charred.
  • Add the garlic and one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and cook for another minute or two until the garlic is fragrant and lightly golden. There will be sizzling as the tomato sauce starts to form.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the sweet harissa sauce to the pan. Squash roughly half the tomatoes with the back of your spatula. And cook until you have a sweet and sticky tomato sauce with a few whole cherry tomatoes – approximately 3 minutes. Stir through another tablespoon of olive oil to loosen the sauce slightly, if needed.
  • To assemble, spoon the warm and spicy burst cherry tomato sauce over the thick and creamy labneh. Scatter with the pine nuts, toasted nigella seeds (or cumin) and a pinch of flaky salt. And serve immediately with flatbreads or toasted sourdough.


  • If you want to set your table in advance, you can serve the labneh and tomatoes at room temperature. Leave both to come to temperature individually before the final assembly. Or alternatively, prepare your tomato sauce and reheat it briefly in the pan before serving. This is my preference. I love the warm tomatoes that melt the edges of the labneh.
  • You can also serve the spicy burst cherry tomato sauce on thick Greek-style yoghurt, but it's well worth the extra effort to make your own labneh. See the full post on making labneh at home. You will need to do this a day or two in advance. Make a large batch – it keeps well for a month in the fridge!


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