Let’s go to the Middle East to learn more about one of the oldest and most popular recipes, labneh, labna, labni, lebni, or labani (Arabic: “لبنة”).
How to make labneh
Labneh is a kind of cheese made from fermented milk (rayeb), after draining in a cheesecloth or after concentration in a bota bag or a porous jar, allowing the evaporation of part of its water.
The labneh is found in several forms: semi-liquid yogurt, with a slightly granular texture, but also in the form of cheese balls preserved in olive oil flavored or not with spices, dried herbs and/or or seeds.
This diversity of forms comes from the process of manufacturing labneh: it is a yogurt that needs to be drained more or less time. As a result, the longer it is allowed to drain, the more the yogurt will give a dry cheese that can be rolled into a ball.
In summary, the basic principle is simple: you just need to let the yogurt whey drip through the cheesecloth the time necessary to obtain the desired consistency.
For a fresh and tender cheese, 12 hours of rest are enough. On the other hand, for a firmer consistency, let it drip for 24 hours.
The labneh is traditionally made with sheep’s milk or goat’s milk. But cow’s milk is increasingly used because of its great availability all year round.
How to serve labneh
It is accompanied by pita bread or manaeesh bread, or you can serve labneh seasoned with olive oil and zaatar, or in a more consistent version, in the form of dumplings rolled in spices, herbs aromatic or oil seeds.
What is the origin of labneh?
Historical documents about the diet of the ancient Egyptian kingdom tell us about the “labna”:
In Egypt, the climate was very hot, the fresh milk could not be preserved, part of it was transformed into yogurt, from which a cream of soft cheese was produced.
According to historical sources, it was precisely the Hebrews that Moses led to the lands of Canaan, who brought the recipe for preparing Egyptian lebne in the Middle East.
According to other sources, it is a people of Hebrew nomads who, when they settled on the lands of the Nile Delta, brought the preparation of lebne to Egypt.
What we can say today is that the labneh from the Bedouin and the desert nomadic people was traditionally dried in the form of balls and covered with herbs and spices, to conveniently solve the problem of transporting it.
Labneh around the world
It is a fundamental part of the tradition of the Middle East, known and widely used in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, it is also found on the tables of Iran and Iraq and, in more or less similar forms, or less similar, in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Denmark, but of course under different names.
In India and Pakistan, for example, it is called chakka, in Iraq liban nashif, in Greece and Cyprus sakoulas, in Turkey süzme or torba, and it is even found in Iceland under the name of skyr.
In the UK as well as in the US, labneh is often sold as Greek yogurt.
In Israel, Syria and Lebanon, it is often served for breakfast with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and fresh herbs, first of all mint, accompanied by tea or simply with watermelon, lemon juice and grilled almonds.
Labneh is an indispensable part of mezze.
Some ideas to use labneh
Extraordinary resource in cooking, it can replace, depending on the consistency we decide to give it, ingredients such as sour cream and crème fraîche, cream cheese, or cottage cheese. It can be used for cheesecakes and cheese pies.
In the form of a silky cream, it is delicious as a salad dip for raw vegetables, as a side sauce, as a seasoning for salads, as well as for desserts, fresh fruits or simply in combination with fruit compotes.
Choose your milk, your spices or herbs, your bread and let yourself be tempted by the preparation of this marvelous labneh!
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 3 quarts whole milk
- 1 cup plain yoghurt
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pistachios (or 2 tablespoons dried rose petals)
- Boil the milk for 5 minutes over low heat.
Remove from heat and wait until warmed to 110 F.
- Mix the plain yoghurt with 5 tablespoons warm milk.
- Then add the yoghurt to the remaining milk.
- Wrap well in a blanket or clean kitchen towel and place the mixture in a warm place.
- Let stand for 8 hours.
- At the end of the 8 hours, refrigerate the preparation for 2 hours.
- Rinse the cheesecloth under hot water. Wring it and spread it on a large plate.
- Pour the yogurt mixture in the middle of the cheesecloth. Close with a knot or string.
- Hang on to a wooden spoon or place in a colander with very fine holes.
- Place the colander or the wooden spoon over a large salad bowl without touching the bottom and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
- The yoghurt will drip very slowly.
- After 12 hours, the cheese will be firmer. Beyond 24 hours, it will be very firm.
- Transfer the labneh to a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with a little zaatar, pistachios or some dried rose petals and enjoy with pita bread.