February 21, 2017

Forget Philadelphia. Your new go-to cream cheese originated in Lebanon, and you make it yourself, starting with a container of plain Greek yogurt. With just a few minutes of prep and a day of "drain time," you'll be rewarded with a fresh, bright cheese that offers concentrated, tart flavor and silky creaminess.

Labneh (Lebanese Yogurt)
Labneh (Lebanese Yogurt) | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

All About Labneh

Labneh (pronounced LAHB-neh) is a classic favorite that's incredibly simple, is always popular, and goes with everything. Like a culinary version of the Little Black Dress, labneh, also known as Lebanese cream cheese, is endlessly versatile and easy to dress up or dress down, depending on your mood and the occasion. Want a protein-rich, on-the-go breakfast choice? Labneh. Searching for a party treat that knocks their socks off but doesn't bust your budget? Labneh. Yearning for the sort of hipster cred that allows you to offhandedly say, "Oh yeah, I'm a cheesemaker"? Guess what? Labneh.

If you have a container of Greek yogurt in the fridge, you're just 24 hours away from having DIY labneh on the table. Get out a colander and bowl, some cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel, and stir in a bit of good-quality olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. Put the draining mixture in the fridge forget about it for a day, or even longer if you prefer a firmer texture. When you check on your creation, you'll have an tangy spread that can be used in a multitude of creative ways. And you, my friend, are now free to call yourself a "cheesemaker."

A Few LAQs (Labneh-assistance-questions) to Get You Started:

Cheesecloth? What is it? I don't have it! Help!
Cheesecloth is a gauzy cotton cloth used to finely strain solids from liquids in cooking. In the case of labneh, you're literally separating the curds from the whey, just like Ms. Muffet.

Don't have any cheesecloth on hand?
Never fear. Simply line your sieve or colander with a kitchen towel, clean white t-shirt, or even a coffee filter.

It's gotten to the texture I want, but it's still a little...wet.
Pat finished labneh with a paper towel to remove excess liquid.

When can I get started?

How's now working for you? Here are two starter recipes:

  • Labneh (Lebanese Cream Cheese)
    "This Lebanese version of cream cheese is a lot tastier and lower in calories," says the recipe submitter. "Serve on a plate, sprinkled with olive oil, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and mint. Or simply spread it like cream cheese on pita bread."
  • Labneh with Fresh Mint and Dill
    "Creamy deliciousness! I used mint and basil...and loved it," says Buckwheat Queen.
Meatballs with Labneh
Meatballs with Labneh | Photo by Meredith

Can You Tell Me 6 Fun Ways to Use This New Spread?

1. Spread it on toast for a zingy morning treat. Add mashed avocado and a sprinkle of flake salt for a breakfast with great taste and satisfaction staying power.

2. Connect with labneh's Middle Eastern origins by using it to top warmed pita bread, drizzling it with good-quality olive oil and dusting with a Lebanese spice blend.

3. Make a labneh sandwich, adding leftover grilled meat or fish, mint leaves, chopped olives and a shake or two of za'atar, a spice blend made from thyme, sesame seeds, and ground sumac powder.

4. Mound finished labneh in a bowl, then use the back of a spoon to make a swirl pattern on top. Pour on a generous splash of good-quality olive oil and add a sprinkling of Dukkah, the spice blend made with hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander, and cumin. Dip with raw veggies, crackers, or pita bread toasts.

5. Let the yogurt drain until it's fairly firm, then roll into little balls, sprinkle with chopped herbs. Arrange on a platter and you've got a standout appetizer, called "labneh korat" or "labneh makbouseh" in Lebanese (If you're planning on serving these at a party, it's a good rule of thumb that each quart of yogurt will produce about six ounces of labneh).

6. Store labneh balls in a mason jar, cover them with olive oil, add a few herbs, and you're ready to go with an impressive hostess gift.

Once you've made a successful batch, you'll be ready to begin incorporating labneh into other dishes. Try this Veggie Labneh made with roasted cauliflower, topped with fresh rosemary, and served on toasted flatbreads.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Labneh Spread with Fresh Rosemary
Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Labneh Spread | Photo by Allrecipes

Want to read more about Lebanese cuisine? Check out how to plan a Lebanese feast for your next dinner party. And don't miss our collection of Lebanese Recipes.