5 Ingredients or Fewer

Homemade Labneh

by:
September 21, 2012
1 Rating
Author Notes

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. (What is labneh? An ultra-creamy, slightly tart cheese made from straining yogurt. It's like sour cream, if it got magically thicker and more luscious.)

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 a labneh recipe. 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 is not my favorite, taste-wise.

As it happens, making good labneh is even easier than making good hummus. You absolutely need good extra virgin olive oil and good za’atar. Those are non-negotiables. But the method is simple:

1. Just stir a tiny bit of lemon juice and salt into Greek yogurt.

2. Set the mixture inside a cheesecloth-lined strainer, and let time do the work. (As in, 12 to 24 hours.)

3. 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.

From there, 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. —Rivka

  • Prep time 24 hours 2 minutes
  • Serves 4-6
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces of your favorite Greek yogurt (I like Fage)
  • a small pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon za'atar
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Line a fine strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set over a bowl.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 hummus and sliced vegetables and/or warm pita.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • bonnie witlam
    bonnie witlam
  • alamesa
    alamesa
  • Rivka
    Rivka
  • Goldie
    Goldie
I'm a healthcare consultant by day, food blogger by night, and I make a mean veggie chili. I'm eat a mostly-vegetarian diet, but have a soft spot for meat, especially braised short ribs. And this profile wouldn't be complete without an admission that I absolutely am addicted to cookies and chocolate. Finally, I love the idea of food52 and can't wait to share and read my and others' favorite recipes!

13 Reviews

Goldie October 8, 2018
I have found several types of za'atar in my local grocery store. Can you give me any hints to which one I should try? (There is one called Jerusalem)
 
saadat September 16, 2017
it turned out very well... recently I moved from the mid east back to Pakistan and was perturbed at the prospect of not getting my fresh labneh for my breakfast... after not finding it on the usual market shelves....i started toying with the idea of DIY..... came here and hit gold...!
Rivka....thanx for this special favor....thumbs pal... may you have many more...:))
 
Author Comment
Rivka September 17, 2017
So glad to hear this worked for you! I've never had Pakistani labneh, but I'd love to try it one day.
 
emcsull January 11, 2017
so what about kefir, can I use that ?
 
bonnie W. June 10, 2015
I'm relatively new to the world of labneh,found the best homemade at an international market in Houston. Really, really luv it with fresh figs and honey. Figs r out of season so I've just tried fresh peaches and honey! Wow , throw a few chopped pecans on top and truly delicious breakfast. Trying your recipe tomorrow!
 
dinaofdoom August 22, 2014
i've been using a strainer and greek yogurt to make "yogurt cheese", which has a chevre-like consistency. gonna try the lemon & salt and see how it goes!
 
ashley M. June 4, 2014
Mixing cow and goat milk yogurts makes for a delicious labneh.
 
sadenis December 8, 2013
I make my own Greek yogurt by setting my homemade yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Could I just add the salt and lemon partway through and continue with this recipe?
 
Author Comment
Rivka December 9, 2013
I don't see why not - let us know how it turns out!
 
Grandma L. October 2, 2012
Is there a particular za’atar you recommend? Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Rivka December 9, 2013
Sorry I'm so late to this comment! Don't know how I missed it. Mine is from Israel, so unfortunately I don't know a good American brand. I'd recommend buying it some place where you can smell it beforehand. If you don't have that option, I'd put my money on Kalustyan's having a good one, and you can order from them online.
 
alamesa September 28, 2012
Never made Labneh and cannot wait to give this a try. I'm constantly making hummus (garlic and tahini heavy!) and this is going to be a welcome change
 
Author Comment
Rivka September 28, 2012
Make both together! Nothing's better than hot pita with a shmear of each. Enjoy.