Small Batch

Homemade Labneh

By • September 28, 2012 • 60 Comments

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Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, FOOD52 all-star Rivka Friedman shares some labneh wisdom that she picked up while living in Jerusalem. Rivka is the blogger behind Not Derby Pie.

After college, I lived in Jerusalem for two years. Thursday afternoons, with class and work over for the week, I’d flee my office in the suburbs and hop on the 21 bus, which took me right smack into the heart of downtown. From there, I’d bound up the stairs of the Jaffa Gate, pass the first few vendors in the Shuk (market), and hook a left. Tucked across from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and just steps from the hustle of the market was Lena’s, home of the best hummus and labneh Jerusalem has to offer.

To Jerusalemites, those may be fighting words; countless stalls would lay claim to that title. But Lena’s truly is the best. Their hummus is served warm, with plenty of fresh tahini, a pile of just-cooked chickpeas , and a more-than-healthy swirl of really fragrant olive oil. And their labneh is equally perfect, dressed, too, with plenty of that olive oil and a big sprinkle of za’atar.

My time in Jerusalem flew by. Before I knew it, I was back in the U.S., without either my fun non-profit job or my beloved Lena’s. The job I could replace, but the hummus and labneh I couldn’t live without. Within a week of moving to my apartment in D.C., I was testing recipes.

Hummus proved easy, in part because recipes abound. Over the years, I’ve settled on a formula very similar to the one Yotam Ottolenghi published in his last book, Plenty, with lots of garlic, an obscene amount of tahini, and the secret ingredient: baking soda.

But then there was the matter of labneh. My Israeli friends tried to intimidate me, saying the Jerusalem water makes the original formula not replicable. But I knew that was bunk, because a) since when is labneh akin to San Francisco sourdough? And b) Jerusalem water tastes disgusting.



As it happens, making good labneh is even easier than making good hummus. You absolutely need good olive oil and good za’atar. Those are non-negotiables. But the method is simple. Just stir a tiny bit of lemon juice and salt into Greek yogurt, set it inside a cheesecloth-lined strainer, and let time do the work.

After a nice long wait, the salt will dissolve into the yogurt, which mellows slightly as it sits. Most importantly, the whey strains out, leaving you with thick, concentrated labneh. All you have to do is drown the labneh in good olive oil, sprinkle more than a few pinches of za’atar overtop, and have warm pita at the ready. Were you hoping for something more complicated? Sorry about that.



Homemade Labneh
Makes about a cup

12 oz. your favorite brand of Greek yogurt (I like Fage)
A pinch (as in 1/16 of a teaspoon) good salt
¼ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil, preferably Mediterranean
1 tablespoon za’atar


Line a fine strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set over a bowl.

In another bowl, combine yogurt, salt, and lemon juice. Stir to incorporate. Spoon yogurt mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and fold layers of cheesecloth over the yogurt to cover completely.



Transfer yogurt (and strainer and bowl) to the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. After 12 hours, the yogurt mixture will have thickened into standard labneh; after 24 hours, it will have thickened further, into the extra-stiff labneh that you can buy in tubes at Jerusalem markets. When making it at home, I favor extra-thick labneh.

Remove strained labneh from the fridge, unfold cheesecloth, and transfer labneh to a serving bowl. Use the back of a spoon to make a swirly pattern in the top of the labneh. Drizzle the oil over the labneh and sprinkle with za’atar. Serve cold, with sliced vegetables and/or warm pita.

Save and print the recipe here.

Rivka will be answering questions about labneh on the Hotline for those of you who want to take on this project at home. For the quickest response, go to her recipe and ask a question from there -- we'll email her your question right away!

Jump to Comments (60)

Tags: DIY, small batch, rivka friedman, labneh, Israel, how-to & diy

Comments (60)

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3 months ago CurioCook

In NZ you can't get a proper greek yogurt anywhere (or I'm yet to find it). Would regular yogurt work, and just take a whole lot to get to the right texture or will it not work right? The beautiful thing about NZ yogurt is that plain yogurt never has sugar added!

Stringio

3 months ago katrina_yeaw

Plain yogurt will work fine. Greek yogurt is basically plain yogurt that has some of the whey drained out. Labneh drains even more of the whey out until it reaches a more cheese like consistency. You may need to leave it a bit longer and use a large quantity of yogurt but otherwise it should work fine. I also favor tying the ends of the cheesecloth around a large wooden spoon and balancing on the lip of the bowl rather than using a strainer since I think it drains better. You can also experiment with goat yogurt for a slightly different flavor.

Stringio

4 months ago Avi Ron

i hang it on the faucet and not in the fridge, taste amazing also mix goat and cow yogurt with lemon and salt

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6 months ago MUriel

I'd love your hummus recipe? Care to share?

Stringio

10 months ago Michele Laughlin

I just made this yesterday with plain nonfat greek yogurt and no lemon...I let it sit for 24 hours draining in the fridge and rolled half into little balls, stored in the fridge covered with olive oil. It is FABULOUS! The other 1/4 (well I ate some today!!) is going to be a dip for lunch tomorrow. Thank you for this easy and delicious recipe!

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10 months ago Rivka

So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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10 months ago nitya


I have been reading your blog regularly, but I simply enjoyed reading this post and the comments. I hardly ever comment but call it hung curd/drained yogurt/Chakka/labneh was too alluring. In gujarat (India) where people follow vegetarianism, it is used in mousse and mayo in place of eggs and I use it in my cheesecakes and cakes too. Since it’s very hot the yogurt is left to drain in the fridge. We do not add salt to the yogurt as we use the drained yogurt for dessert and my favorite is “mango shrikhand”, add powdered or icing sugar and mango pulp or any other fruit pulp, whisk and voila your (fruit flavored) shrikhand is ready
The left over whey… it is very healthy, and we use it as buttermilk, add a dash of salt, roasted cumin powder, a few chopped leaves of mint and you have a summer cooler. We also use the whey to knead the dough for thepla (akin to paratha/flat bread) and kadhi(gujaratiyogurt soup).

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10 months ago Rivka

Thanks for your comments, nitya. I also use a concoction similar to labneh when making Indian curries. When I have time, I make a proper raita - but even if I don't, I find that serving curries with plain yogurt helps cut their pungency.

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about 1 year ago Ismat Ihsan Tuffaha

Dear Rivka,

Such a delicious article I must say, and the creamy labneh in the photo looks amazing. I have a question I would be glad if you can answer, how much Labneh does every 1 kg of yogurt make?

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about 1 year ago Sa'ed

I think 750 gm.

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about 1 year ago Rivka

It all depends on how long you strain it. I aim to reduce the volume to about 3/4 of the original, per Sa'ed's comment, but you could let it strain for a few days and it would become firm enough to roll into balls and marinate in oil, mozzarella style. The timing on that can vary, so be patient.

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about 1 year ago Dima Haddad

well i love my labaneh zaatar free :) however the pictures look amazing ...

Stringio

over 1 year ago adele93

is there an alternative for cheese cloth?

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over 1 year ago reddragon

I use a very fine strainer, and it works beautifully. Just make sure you put the yogurt in gently.

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over 1 year ago reddragon

Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/CIA...

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over 1 year ago Superyalda

I've used everything from a cotton table napkin to a clean cotton diaper (the single layer ones). You can use any clean smooth fabric I guess. Never did try the strainer, I'd be afraid to lose even a single drop of the labane :) you'd definitely need a very fine strainer. The nice thing about the fabric is that I tie it to a wooden spoon and dangle it in my tall pasta pot to drain.

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over 1 year ago Michael Wiener

A Coffee filter is a good alternative of cotton cloth
http://www.gd-wholesale...

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about 1 year ago Dima Haddad

Just use a good quality kitchen paper towel, use to layers of towels and strain :) My mother has been using this method for ages.

Carole_cancler_2009

almost 2 years ago Chef Carole

There is also "quark" and "yogurt cheese". I believe quark is a German version of drained, thickened yogurt, although not very tangy--at least the product I have tried.

Carole_cancler_2009

almost 2 years ago Chef Carole

There is also "quark" and "yogurt cheese". I believe quark is a German version of drained, thickened yogurt, although not very tangy--at least the product I have tried.

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

Pretty sure quark is made from soured milk, not regular milk, which would account for its different texture.

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almost 2 years ago reddragon

As Asuysal points out, Turkish suzme yogurt *is* labne. As a marketing gimmick, there are companies (e.g. Pinar) that sell packaged labne, as though it was something new. If you strain regular yogurt a bit, you get 'Greek yogurt'. You strain a bit more, you get labne. For some, there's no difference between 'Greek yogurt' and labne.

The sourness depends entirely on the sourness of the yogurt. And the sourness of the yogurt depends entirely on how long you let it incubate. I let mine incubate about 6-7 hours for a yogurt that's not very sour. The longer it sits, the sourer it gets.

Re creaminess, once you strain the yogurt, if you stir it vigorously with a spoon. or better yet, with a whisk, it becomes super smooth and shiny.

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

Thanks for the intel - very helpful.

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about 2 years ago Asuysal

In Turkey, we have 'suzme yogurt' which is basically yogurt strained as described in your post, and also 'labne' which is more like a not-creamy cream cheese. I wonder what exactly the difference is. Is labne just strained yogurt everywhere other than Turkey?

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

Hmm. I was in Istanbul about five years ago, but I don't remember encountering labneh there, so I can't really speak to the differences between the two in Turkey. In general, I find labneh more downright sour than yogurt, and also creamier.

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about 2 years ago Superyalda

I've been making yogurt at home for several months now with tremendous success. I've tried to make some into labane but with little luck. Any advice?

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

What's gone wrong? Does the labneh not thicken? Not taste right?

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

Hmm - what has gone wrong? Did the labneh not set? Was the flavor wrong?

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almost 2 years ago Superyalda

Hi, Rivka
Sorry it took so long to answer, internet problems.
It thickens up nicely. I pour the yogurt into a clean white gauze and hang it to drain at room temperature until the texture is right. It's the taste. It's somewhat tasteless and has a overly sour smell. I'm using a good organic, active yogurt as a starter, and as mentioned, the yogurt is fabulous. It's the labane which isn't tasting/smelling right. Could it be salt? I haven't been adding any. Should I?
BTW, I'm living in Israel for 13 years now since my aliyah from the States, so I know what "real" labane is supposed to taste like :)

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

Salt definitely could be the answer, since it acts as a preservative. As you see, I don't use much. I used to use none at all, but I've found that even a pinch of salt makes a difference in the flavor. That said, there really is something about the packaged stuff that is so, so delicious. When I was there a couple weeks ago, I talked to my favorite labneh maker, and he said what sets his apart is that it's made from goat's milk. There are countless variations here, and while I think this recipe comes pretty close for those of us who can't buy it in a tub, when I'm in Israel, I don't make labneh at home. :)

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almost 2 years ago Superyalda

Thanks, Rivka. I'll add the salt next time.
And true, it's easy to buy here but I love making things from scratch. :)

Carole_cancler_2009

about 2 years ago Chef Carole

Oh yum. Thanks for the wonderful recipe, the stories, and everyone for the hummus links. A friend just brought me some zatar from Jerusalem....

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about 2 years ago sue_ann_canvasser

Can you use 0 fat yogurt or does it have to be regular?

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almost 2 years ago Rivka

you can use 0, but a) it will be less creamy and b) the final amount will probably be less, since I think 0 has more whey than 2 or full.

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about 2 years ago cheese1227

Just had a covnersation with a friend about making our own! Thanks Rivka!

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about 2 years ago JanieMac

Can't wait to try this! Years since I've had it and still dreamof it, thank you, thank you...

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about 2 years ago Anna Pieta

How long will it keep in the fridge? I have bought it rolled into balls and bathing in olive oil, is this to preserve it?

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about 2 years ago Rivka

The labneh that's rolled into balls is strained even longer than in this recipe. It may even be pressed at some point in the straining. The oil probably helps preserve it, but this will keep in the fridge as long as yogurt: it will get more sour as it sits, but it takes a very long time to turn.

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about 2 years ago BlueKaleRoad

Labneh is wonderful! I loved reading about your time in Jerusalem, too. We grill pita over a fire in our backyard and eat it with hummus and labneh. Our friends just brought us olive oil made on their moshav - heavenly on the labneh! I haven't added lemon juice to my labneh before but will now. Thank you for sharing your recipe!

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about 2 years ago lloreen

Do yo make your own za'atar? (I had to look it up...not sure where to find premade mixes) recipes?

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about 2 years ago healthierkitchen

this recipe has a za'atar recipe embedded in it:

http://food52.com/recipes...

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about 2 years ago healthierkitchen

So excited to try this, Rivka! Full fat Fage I'm guessing?

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about 2 years ago Rivka

you know me too well :) of course. Though 2% works well, too.

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almost 2 years ago healthierkitchen

Made, loved, devoured! Even used the full fat. Couldn't wait two days so let it strain for about 30 hours. No liquid in the bowl, though cheesecloth was wet.

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about 2 years ago healthierkitchen

So excited to try this, Rivka! Full fat Fage I'm guessing?

Mrs._larkin_370

about 2 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Yum. Could one make a sweet version of labneh if one wanted to? Also, hummus recipe, pretty please?

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about 2 years ago Rivka

hmm. never tried it, but if you do, please share - very curious.

As for hummus, here's the wikisourced version, with a nod to Ottolenghi: http://www.guardian.co...

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about 2 years ago Cookster1

Grreat recipe. When I made labneh frm homemade yogurt I found a recipe that called for ginger and honey. Not much honey. Wow was it incredible. The tartness of the cheese, with the slight sweetness from the honey and a kick from the ginger was incredible. I will have to try the za'atar. Thanks for posting

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about 2 years ago Panfusine

I've been buying tubs of these all along.. Never had a clue that it was so simple to make! Thanks for this fabulous recipe!

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about 2 years ago reddragon

I make labneh all the time too, but without the lemon juice. What's the function of the lemon juice? It's necessary for making cheese from milk, but labneh works fine without it.

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about 2 years ago Rivka

the lemon juice isn't to cause curds to form - it's actually for flavor. Too much would be overpowering, but American Greek yogurt (if you know what I mean) tends to be less tangy than labneh, and the tiny spritz of lemon juice helps it along.

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about 2 years ago SJS149

We make labneh at home all the time - my husband couldn't live without it! We're lucky that we have access to great store-bough labneh too. However, calling labneh an Israeli classic is pretty misleading - it's like calling pizza that classic NY invention because of how popular it is here. Just because something is popular somewhere, doesn't change its origins. Labneh and its accoutrements are commonly known to be Middle Eastern and a longtime staple of the Arabic-speaking world, a region far wider than just the one described in the tagline. Sahtein.

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about 2 years ago Rivka

Totally true. By calling it an Israeli classic, I didn't mean to suggest that Israel invented it - only that it's a staple on every table in Israel. Incidentally, Lena's is an Arab-owned restaurant in the Christian quarter of the Old City.

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about 2 years ago cdilaura

Christina is the Vice President of Commerce Operations for Provisions by Food52.

I love it with crudite too -- or with lamb!

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about 2 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Love!

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about 2 years ago Mayssam

Great article! Labneh is one of my favourite comfort food and a staple in all Lebanese homes... I actually wrote an article about the pursuit of labneh (and happiness) :) http://www.iciethere.com...

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about 2 years ago Gina Cola

This looks delicious, but do you just eat it with a pita?

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about 2 years ago Rivka

You can eat it with pita, with crudite, or (one of my favorite ways) in a pita sandwich with grilled eggplant and some harissa.

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about 2 years ago Mayssam

My favourite way of eating it is in a pita sandwich with olive oil, olives and cucumbers...

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about 2 years ago Superyalda

Labane is one of the many middle eastern side dishes which are "wiped" off the plate with pita. The classic way to eat it is to plate it exactly like Rivka explains, rip off a small piece of fresh, hot pita and dredge it through the Labane, catching some olive oil and zaatar on the way. Pop it into your mouth! IMHO, it should be served with good cracked olives in the side. The creamy-sour labaneh and salty-bitterness of the olives are a perfect combo.