What Is Labneh?

Labneh balls
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What exactly is labneh? It's a soft cheese, similar in texture to cream cheese, made from strained yogurt and very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. You can buy it in specialty gourmet and ethnic food stores but it's actually quite easy to make at home. And, at about half the fat and calories of standard cream cheese, it's the perfect healthier alternative. It can be used in any way you would normally use cream cheese, such as a spread on bagels, as a baking ingredient or as a dip for your favorite fruit and vegetables. Despite its similarity in texture, however, labneh takes on the normal tang of yogurt which cuts the richness and gives a refreshing taste.

All About Lebneh

The primary ingredient in labneh, the yogurt, is itself a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. It's used raw as an accompaniment to breakfast or as a snack with fruit and it can be stirred into cooked dishes instead of sour cream or milk.

Making labneh involves stirring a teaspoon of salt into about 2 cups of plain yogurt, ideally Greek style which is already thicker, and then straining it through a piece of cheesecloth until you've achieved your desired consistency. After about half a day to a day of straining in the refrigerator, you will have a softish consistency that's perfect for dipping. Just drizzle on some good olive oil, sprinkle on some za'atar and grab the pita bread.

Variations

The longer you let it strain, the thicker the labneh will be until it is eventually the texture of a block of cream cheese. Then you can use it to make a lighter version of cheesecake, either baked, like this labneh cheesecake with honeyed figs, or no-bake like these pumpkin and labneh cheesecake parfaits or these ginger labneh cheesecake shooters. If you leave it on the softer side, it's ideal as a dip with the olive oil and za'atar or as a tangy substitute for sour cream on top of a stack of these potato and butternut squash latkes. Or you can stir in a flavoring such as honey or sweet syrup. Combining it with some of the juice in the arils of pomegranates makes a refreshing labneh with honey and pomegranate breakfast.

To make great appetizers, try taking the thick labneh, form it into 1 oz. balls with a cookie scoop, and marinate them in a jar of olive oil, za'atar, and herbs such as oregano. The little flavored cheese balls are then perfect for spreading on toasted bread or crackers with a glass of wine. You can also toss them into a dish of hot pasta the way you would with little balls of fresh mozzarella or burrata.