Lebanese

My Grandma's Garlicky Labneh Is the Ketchup to My Fries, the Butter to My Bread

I put it on literally everything.

January  7, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

Labneh: a creamy, tangy Middle Eastern yogurt strained until extra thick. It’s sort of a cross between whipped cream cheese and sour cream—but better. Lebanese people eat labneh with chips, chicken, kibbeh, fries. Growing up, it was my version of American ketchup.

I consider it the butter to my bread.

This obsession dates back to my childhood in Lebanon (my family jokes that I switched from drinking my mother’s milk to the tangy spread). Ultimately, the smooth spread reminds me of my grandmother Odette, and all of the ladies who cooked in her kitchen.

Every summer morning, I'd rush to her beach house to find out what was on the menu for the day. It was often something grilled, not fried, like kebab, whole fish, lamb, chicken thighs with a bunch of delicious sides. These massive home-cooked meals were sort of like a catering business—and always made with love.

She served lunch every day for 10 to 15 people, even though her beach house (or chalet, as we called it) barely had a kitchen: It had a sink, a makeshift pilot burner, and 8x15 square inches of counter space. Everything, including her famous labneh, was prepped in advance and then finished at the beach house overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea.

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Top Comment:
“Personally, I like Fage brand yogurt. I plop some in a bowl with a good sprinkling of salt and put it in my gas oven to warm while I continue with the rest of the ingredients. My oven's pilot light radiates just the right amount of heat to warm the yogurt. I make a brown butter sauce, add some minced garlic, chipotle powder (and/or smoked paprika), a few crushed cumin seeds , then a splash of olive oil to stop the cooking. I top the yogurt with a poached egg, then drizzle it with the warm spiced brown butter and a grind of fresh black pepper. DELICIOUS! A slice of ciabatta toast (or warm pita) sops up the remains in the bowl. This is one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. You can easily customize this to your own liking. The possibilities are endless. Try it!”
— Sharon
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My grandma’s special secret? She had specific containers, clothes, and a fridge dedicated to her labneh-making. She'd let the freshly delivered yogurt strain in a cheesecloths for days, or sometimes three to four days to pickle or to turn into cheese.

As a child I'd catch myself opening the fridge and standing in front of it, mesmerized by my grandma’s thickening yogurt and all of the cheesecloths. The aroma alone held power over the whole fridge. That smell would engulf the kitchen in two seconds, which my grandmother would smell immediately and yell at me to close the door (as we never knew when the government was going to shut the electricity off for the day).

My favorite thing was when Odo would infuse the labneh. Sometimes with mint, oregano, or thyme. But my favorite was garlic—I loved the way it gave the yogurt a bite and kicked the taste up a notch, infusing it like no other ingredient. I was never allowed to have the garlic labneh before school for obvious reasons. So I'd begin my day with a labneh, olive, mint, and cucumber tartine in the morning, then normally for a snack after school. Pita chips or fries with labneh was always served with dinner.

In Lebanon, the “plain food diet,” comprised of rice and labneh, was king when you fell ill with stomach issues. Most boys and girls argued with their mom and dad about this meal, but I couldn’t put the bowl down—and even asked for seconds.


When I moved to America in 2004, I carried my labneh addiction with me to the Boston suburbs. I'd force my father to bring me to Cedar's Market a few towns over to buy labneh. Though this was a makeshift version, it still felt like I was back in my fishing village, Anfeh, thousands of miles away.

My new reality consisted of processed foods, but labneh was always there. I'd bring a labneh tartine to school, and my classmates would look at me in confusion. While they were devouring pizza squares, chicken burgers, and mozzarella sticks at lunchtime (which I dubbed “the golden lunch”), I was eating yogurt mixed with olives, mint, and cucumber.

Years later, Greek yogurt gained popularity in the States, and therefore so did my version of chips and dip.

It was a great source of pride for me to bring labneh with me, when I travelled back to Yarmouth, Massachusetts a few weeks ago to visit my best friend’s family at their Cape house. They’re your typical South-Boston, Irish-American clan, turned off by ingredients like black pepper, cilantro, cumin, and jalapeño.

But when I whipped out my famous labneh and Cape Cod chips, they all came over slowly with their beers and tried it. It won raves, and all were wondering where this “new thing” had been their whole lives. In that moment, my two cultures collided, and I converted them into labneh lovers, too.

What's your favorite way to eat Greek yogurt? Let us know in the comments below.

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Edouard Massih

Written by: Edouard Massih

23 Comments

Mary-Elizabeth T. February 3, 2019
Perfect timing! I'll be straining some yogurt this afternoon to get some whey for a different recipe. Now I have *2* recipes to look forward to
 
Leigh January 15, 2019
I can't wait to try this!
I love making tzatziki dip for garlic toast rounds for summer lunches. For a light dessert I short-freeze green grapes and mix greek yogurt and local raw honey to dip them in.
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 18, 2019
Frozen grapes with greek yogurt and raw honey sound's so refreshing and delicious! I hope you try this recipe - make sure to tag me when you post it @edouardmassih!
 
Sharon January 14, 2019
I've been making my rendition of this for several years. Personally, I like Fage brand yogurt. I plop some in a bowl with a good sprinkling of salt and put it in my gas oven to warm while I continue with the rest of the ingredients. My oven's pilot light radiates just the right amount of heat to warm the yogurt. I make a brown butter sauce, add some minced garlic, chipotle powder (and/or smoked paprika), a few crushed cumin seeds , then a splash of olive oil to stop the cooking. I top the yogurt with a poached egg, then drizzle it with the warm spiced brown butter and a grind of fresh black pepper. DELICIOUS! A slice of ciabatta toast (or warm pita) sops up the remains in the bowl. This is one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. You can easily customize this to your own liking. The possibilities are endless. Try it!
 
Leigh January 15, 2019
This sounds delish! Thanks for sharing it!
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 18, 2019
Wow I am salivating! This sounds AMAZINGGG!! thank you so much for sharing I need to try this soon!
 
Maria January 13, 2019
I loved reading about your childhood memories with your grandmother. And this looks delish! I’m definitely trying it out! Thank you for sharing!
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 18, 2019
Ahh thank you!! I'm so happy to hear that! I hope you make it soon - make sure to tag me when you post it @edouardmassih
 
Bubbi January 10, 2019
How do you measure Greek yogurt? Is 2 pounds equal to 4 cups? I would like to try this recipe as a test run in a smaller amount.
 
R January 11, 2019
Pounds is a measure of weight, rather than volume so you need to weigh the yogurt.
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 11, 2019
Thank you! R is right you would need to weigh the yogurt!
 
delectables January 10, 2019
I love labneh with olive oil and zatar...my local Lebanese fishmonger turned me on to it. He sells it in small balls rolled in zatar and finished in olive oil. It’s great with pita chips, Lebanese bread and my favorite topping on lamb chops!
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 10, 2019
I love labneh balls rolled in zaatar! Yumm! You should try making this labneh - super simple :)
 
Peggy W. January 10, 2019
I cannot find the recipe for your Garlicky Lebna. Please advise or email it to me. You have me intrigued. Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 10, 2019
Sorry you couldn’t find it! Here it is https://food52.com/recipes/77642-labneh-bi-toum
 
Brooke B. January 10, 2019
This sounds delightful! Do you mind me asking. If you’re not making your own yogurt, what type of store bought Greek yogurt have you found to be the most similar? I know it would never quite be like homemade but do you have a favorite that you recommend?
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 10, 2019
Hi, I normally use chiobani it has the great consistency for labneh making!
 
isabel H. January 7, 2019
It appears that in Step 2 of the recipe directions it doesn’t state that you should mix the yogurt in with the 3 other ingredients.
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 7, 2019
Hi Isabel,

Sorry for the confusion! I meant to say to mix lemon, garlic all of those ingredients that i mentioned in step 2 with the yogurt. I edited the recipe. Thanks for pointing that out!
 
howiff January 7, 2019
Is it ok to use full-fat Greek yogurt? I much prefer it.
Thanks.
 
Author Comment
Edouard M. January 7, 2019
Yes, of course! It will actually make it thicker. Enjoy!
 
howiff January 7, 2019
Perfect
Thank you
 
TC January 22, 2019
Full fat is much healthier too.