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)
Oil
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…

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38 thoughts on “Yoghurt Love and Labneh

  1. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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