I grew up on a farm for part of my childhood, during the turbulent civil war in Beirut, Lebanon. As many other Lebanese, we fled the city (many more left the country altogether), in search of refuge in the mountains. As every family traditionally hails from a village, we returned to our home village of Baskinta. My father, an international lawyer, started a dairy farm and began planting the land where we grew just about everything. We were self-sustained, a practice my father still tries to uphold as much as possible today. So, when I was eight, I had the pleasure (or pain- when the thing decides to karate kick you) of sometimes milking a cow, picking apples and cherries for what seemed to be hours on end, watering garden terraces and making cheese, amongst them Labneh.
Some of the terraces I watered as a child.
Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes. I believe it’s green onions in the background.
Passing through the village, stopping to take shade under a cherry tree.
Labneh is a Middle Eastern soft cheese made by straining yoghurt in a muslin cloth, for about 24 hours or longer, depending on thickness desired. It is commonly made using cow’s milk but goat’s milk is also used seasonally.
In Lebanon, labneh is enjoyed for breakfast drizzled with olive oil, za’atar (wild thyme and sesame seeds mixture), tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, fresh mint and of course, arabic bread-the thin mountain bread is the best with this. It is also served as part of a Mezza, where pounded garlic is added along with some freshly chopped mint. Now that is a delicacy! School-bound children are given tartines for lunch; usually arabic bread wraps lathered with labneh, zaatar and the child’s preferred condiments- olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.
Although I absolutely love plain labneh, I’m also the adventurous type and I think it would be so fun to start introducing new ideas and flavours to this ubiquitous Lebanese ingredient. So, I’ve thought up of some different ingredients and flavours that would compliment creamy labneh.
I made the classic labneh (left) using goat’s milk, and a spicier labneh with red chillies, garlic, and dill as well as a sweet labneh using ginger and orange blossom honey. They were all a hit! To make the labneh balls, simply strain the labneh for longer until it hardens and becomes easier to shape into sturdy ball, then add the flavours and seasonings you wish, before preserving in olive oil.
Labneh is very easy to make and I guarantee that once you give it a try, it is surely to become a staple in your household.
- 500g/1 lb 2 oz goat’s milk yoghurt
- ½ tsp of salt (this helps to reduce the acidity and improves flavour)
- 1 bowl
- 1 colander
- A couple of layers of muslin cloth, washed and dried
- kitchen rope
- 1 portion strained yoghurt or labneh as per above recipe
- 1 tbsp finely chopped red chili (about 1 chili)
- 1 garlic clove, pounded
- 1 tbsp finely chopped dill
- 1 portion strained yoghurt or labneh as above recipe
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 1 tbsp orange blossom honey (or plain honey)
- ½ tsp orange blossom water
- In a bowl mix the yoghurt and salt to combine.
- Place the colander over a bowl, line with the muslin cloth and add the yoghurt mixture, then tie the muslin cloth and leave overnight or for 24 hours in the fridge for the whey to collect in the bowl.
- Transfer the strained yoghurt or labneh to a serving dish, cover and keep in fridge till ready to serve with a little bit of olive oil drizzled over and some tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and bread as sides. Alternatively, season as per below recipes.
- Note: Labneh becomes more sour as it ages. It should keep well covered and chilled up to 2 weeks. If made into balls and preserved in olive oil, then it will keep a couple of months and up to a year if done correctly.Do not discard the whey. You can use it in baking, soups, etc. It is full of healthy minerals.
- In a bowl mix all the ingredients above and then add to the yoghurt mixture. Strain further if you wish to create labneh balls otherwise serve immediately.
- Add all the ingredients to a bowl, mix well and serve with Arabic bread. Alternately, strain it further and roll into balls. I wouldn’t preserve these in olive oil as they are quite sweet.