David Lebovitz calls it “The Ottolenghi Effect,” the seemingly endless interest in Middle Eastern cooking that sparked a decade ago. That was when Yotam Ottolenghi published his first, namesake cookbook. Just one year earlier, in 2007, Lebovitz published a cookbook of his own, The Perfect Scoop, which is how we got to talking about Ottolenghi in the first place. We were talking about ice cream. Labneh ice cream.
This is one of 10 new recipes in the revised, updated, and recently re-released edition of The Perfect Scoop. And it was the first one to catch my eye, to hoot and holler, Make me! Make me! But Lebovitz, of course, saw this coming. The Ottolenghi Effect, right?
“Once I discovered the cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Anissa Helou, and Claudia Roden, I realized that Middle Eastern cuisine is a spectacular world of vibrant foods,” Lebovitz writes in the recipe’s headnote.
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“I’ve been fortunate to visit the Middle East, but you can get a taste of the region’s signature flavors just by visiting your nearest Middle Eastern grocer.”
Or don’t. As Lebovitz points out, store-bought labnehs vary in thickness and richness. Which can be tricky when your ice cream is mostly made of labneh. Instead, this recipe recommends making your own. Don’t worry: It’s not as labor-intensive or as finicky as it sounds. The hardest part is buying cheesecloth. (Psst, that isn’t hard either!)
Basically, you get a quart of Greek yogurt, plop that into a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer, set over a deep bowl, and let that do its thing in the fridge for four hours. Now, if you’ve made labneh before, four hours might sound suspiciously speedy. Some recipes recommend one day. Or two. Or three! But this is with olive oil–drizzling and pita-spreading in mind.
Four-hour labneh, it turns out, makes the perfect ice cream. It’s both rich and refreshing at the same dang time, like the tangiest ice cream, or the creamiest frozen yogurt. After you strain the labneh, add heavy cream, sugar, a smooch of honey, and a pinch of salt, then churn away.
What sends this over the top is the, well, topping—which, if you’ve read The Perfect Scoop, makes total sense. Lebovitz is as much about the custards as he is about the mix-ins and add-ons. Here, it’s a simple-as-ever brittle: sugar boiled until maple syrup–hued, then mixed with cracked pistachios and so many sesame seeds. Lebovitz recommends you sprinkle it atop the ice cream—the perfect scoop!—but we may or may not have eaten most of it before the ice cream was even served.
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.
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