Yoghurt Love and Labneh

In his excellent book, ‘The Yoghurt Cookbook‘, Arto der Haroutunian talks about the health promoting properties of the white stuff, and its supposedly life lengthening power. By my reckoning I should live until at least 180, providing the yoghurt can counteract a history of fags, booze and fast livin’.

Cultures which consume a lot of yoghurt, such as the Georgians, are huge believers in its supposed powers, and have used it as a cure for…well, pretty much everything actually, for centuries. I can’t vouch for the validity of those claims, but I can vouch for the taste, and its hangover curing properties. This buffalo yoghurt made in a traditional clay pot brought me back from the brink; I’m talking nausea, shakes, the creeping doom…not a whisker of it after I’d gobbled this lot down at the side of a rocky road in Georgia.

Yoghurt in Georgia 

The yoghurt I tried in Ethiopia recently was a little more…challenging. I asked the lady we were visiting how she made it, and she replied ‘well I just put the milk in this bucket (straight from the cow in the back yard) and leave it on the shelf for three days.’ That’s one approach, although it is of course really just curdled milk and not ‘proper’ yoghurt. The taste was very sour and it had a loose wobbly texture. The Ethiopians often mix it with chilli powder and drink the whole glass like a shot, and I can see why. I spent the next three hours concerned about potential gastrointestinal payback.

Yoghurt in Ethiopia

Mixed with chilli powder

Labneh, then, is basically yoghurt that’s been strained of its whey. Of course I adore it because, well it’s like yoghurt to the power of ten. Once strained, the resulting substance is more akin to cream cheese, but with the obvious tartness of yoghurt; that sour freshness that yoghurt-lovers crave.

I’ve found that the best brand by far for making yoghurt is Total. It’s even better than the mega expensive stuff I bought from the farmers’ market, which relinquished hardly any liquid. It is thick and creamy before straining  which is a good thing if you’re eating it straight up, but with labneh you want some residual sourness.

To make labneh, mix the yoghurt with a large pinch of salt, then wrap in muslin, or as I have done, a clean/brand new dishcloth. Hang in the fridge (to be honest I used to just hang it in a cool place but now I have a very hot kitchen so the fridge it is) and allow the whey to strain away for about 5 to 6 hours. The longer the strain, the thicker the labneh, obviously.

After this time it is ready, and can be used or preserved in a number of ways.

Try rolling in herbs and preserving in olive oil…it’s then lovely just spread on bread. It’s also delicious rolled in dukkah, or za’atar. Straight up it’s best topped with punchy flavours like anchovy and chilli, or dolloped onto salads as you would use a goat’s curd for example.

My favourite way to use it right now however is to stuff it into Turkish peppers before slinging them on the BBQ. They are lovely when wrapped up inside a flat bread with a kebab, oozing their creamy centres against the sizzling meat. If you’re up for it, you fly bastards, stuff some green chillies instead.

Labneh Stuffed Peppers

1 x 500g tub Total yoghurt
Large pinch of salt
About 5 mild green Turkish pepper for stuffing (you could also use the long red Romero peppers if you can’t find the Turkish ones)
Muslin or a dishcloth for straining

In a bowl mix the yoghurt with the salt. Line a bowl with the muslin or cloth and scrape the yoghurt into it. Tie the top with string or whatever you have and suspend it from something. I used to use a cupboard handle but now I have a very sun filled, hot kitchen and so I hung it in the fridge. Set a bowl underneath to catch the whey. Leave for 5 or so hours. It will be usable but soft after 3. If you want to make balls with it and preserve them in oil then the longer the better as the labneh will need to be fairly firm for rolling.

Cut the tops off the peppers and de-seed them without cutting the sides. Stuff with labneh. Rub with oil, salt and pepper and either grill on a BBQ or underneath a hot grill until charred in places and soft. Serve either in kebabs, or on toast, in pittas…

Category: Barbecue, Cheese, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , 39 comments »

39 Responses to “Yoghurt Love and Labneh”

  1. Shed

    I am absolutely with you on the yoghurt obsession. Not even four minutes ago, I returned from a special yoghurt buying trip to NYD (working near Borough Market is making me so bloody poor).

    My current favourite drink: yoghurt blended with ice and date syrup. Basically a sweet lassi, but with a more mellow, rounded sweetness from the date syrup. Lush.

    p.s. knobs.

  2. Helen

    That sounds LUSH. I can use the date syrup I gave you to drink after Donald made you drink that bitters stuff. Medicinal.


  3. Eileen

    Labneh is one of my favorite foods ever! So delicious and easy to make. I love the idea of stuffing peppers with it!

  4. Hungry

    mmm, i love labneh – and it’s so satisfying to make, (albeit that muslin smells like crap afterwards. Don’t ask me why I smelt it). It’s a pain to roll into balls but i love it when you have a home made jar full in olive oil in the fridge. AMAZING with a nicely flavoured honey on toast too. Even better on raisin toast.

  5. Julie

    I recently made labneh with half total yogurt and half goats. Labneh crossed with goats cheese – amazing!

  6. Helen


  7. Helen

    Okay I have never sniffed the muslin and that actually surprises me. Not going to do it now though…

  8. Helen

    I think it’s a lovely way to use it and it chars on the edges where its exposed. Yum.

  9. Y

    Wow, that chilli powder yoghurt drink looks lethal.

  10. Helen

    Yeah. Although it actually wasn’t that hot.

  11. John Gionleka

    What a great write-up. I have made labneh a few times and once came across some forgotten in the fridge that had dried a little. Turned them into arrancini balls that’s what I did and let me tell you that a jar of Aytar (Turkish spicy pepper dip) was all that was needed to turn me into a swirling dervish reciting Rumi’s verses to my imaginary beloved. As for the latest reincarnation of Philadelphia with chocolate, they can keep it thanks very much. Give me labneh and date syrup any day. Behold-he said- the silence of the night and the shooting stars chasing their fiery tails like celestial kittens etc etc

  12. Kerry

    Oh my god, those peppers look heavenly.

  13. Helen

    They are pretty damn tasty even if I do say so myself

  14. Helen

    That Philadelphia with chocolate sounds absolutely VILE, I agree. I can’t believe I have a jar of date syprup in the cupboard and I’ve never put it on labneh! I’ve heard about drying the labneh balls, apparently they go as hard as stone.

  15. pilsbury

    can you tell me a bit more about Turkish peppers? can you get them at khans?

  16. Helen

    They vary from very mild like a bell pepper to a teensy bit spicy occasionally. Yes you can buy them in Khan’s.

  17. Catherine

    Never made labneh, but first time I had it was at a Lebanese cafe in Maida Vale. Served with man’oushe flatbread, covered in sumac, and thyme, served with persian cucumbers and tomatoes. They only do the bread on a Saturday. I am inspired to make my own.

  18. Helen

    Make your own labneh? or the bread? Either way, do it! Ha ha. Making labneh is so easy it’s a no brainer.

  19. pilsbury

    thanks, i’ll try to grab some them as this looks deeeelish!

  20. Stacy

    Your fridge door set up made me laugh. I do a similar trick for making goats’ cheese. Love those stuffed peppers on the grill! I will definitely try it next time we are lighting the charcoal!

  21. Helen

    Excellent, let me know what you think!

  22. Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine)

    Ohh so cool! I have a love-hate relationship with yogurt. I love it for a week then won’t eat it for months, haha.

  23. Helen

    Hmmm methinks you should perhaps work on pacing your yog consumption…

  24. Catherine

    I want to make the bread to go with the labneh! Have been thinking about it for some time. The labneh can make itself, in my fridge!

  25. Jack

    I am sorry to be pedantic but the late Arto der Haroutunian was a man (regarding the first line of your post). On the same note, Grub Street is reissuing his excellent book “Sweets and Desserts from the Middle East” this September, which was out of print for ages.

  26. Helen

    Ah I see! Well do let me know how you get on if you make it.

  27. Helen

    Did I say ‘she’? OOPS! Ha ha ah ha. That’s not pedantry that’s just setting me straight.

  28. Bev

    This looks great. Do you use the whey for anything?

  29. Helen

    No. It looks all watery and useless but no doubt someone will tell me they use it for something or other!

  30. Lizzie

    love the idea of the labneh balls (hur) in olive oil. So pretty too.

  31. Helen

    I thought for a moment that said ‘(hurl)’

  32. Jess

    Actually have some cheesecloth so really must try this (or make some paneer which I have been meaning to do FOR YEARS).

  33. Helen

    I wonder if home made paneer is any better than the bought stuff? I always find it rather tasteless.

  34. Mallika

    Snooping around again for more BBQ recipes. Just had to say that I have an unhealthy relationship with Greek yoghurt, and we Indians call thick yoghurt strained through a muslin “hung curd”. Never sounded quite right to me…

  35. Mallika

    And just to add that I made my home made paneer for the first time recently and thought it was too much faff. I quite the Savera brand. More like the stuff we’d use at home.

  36. Helen

    Ooh I shall seek it out, thank you!

  37. Kim

    For the stuffed peppers you could use a food injector.

    You wont get them de-seeded though, but that would just add a little more spice :)

  38. Helen

    I admire your approach Kim! It’s really not necessary however, it’s very easy to get the labneh in there.

  39. Mary

    You knew there’d be a nerd out there! Leftover whey; I use it when making bread.

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